The NFL doesn’t care about Black people! This should come as a surprise to no one with any bit of cultural awareness and familiarity with the history of the United States, particularly as it pertains to ongoing racial discrimination and systemic oppression of marginalized communities—like Bush during Katrina.
On September 6, 2018, the NFL’s 2018-2019 regular season began amidst a brand new controversy concerning Nike’s decision to extend its contract with Colin Kaepernick and make Kaep the new face of its “Just Do It” ad campaign.
Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since he opted out of his contract with the 49ers and became a free agent on March 3, 2017. It’s been approximately a year and 5 months since Kaep last played and it is clear to any honest soul, he’s been white-balled[i] from the league for expressing his 1st amendment right to protest police brutality and racial discrimination. This is the same rampant discrimination that is continually displayed in daily news stories, on social media platforms, and video phone recordings captured by bystanders across the country and with 100 percent certainty, occur in every single one of the thirty-two city/states that house each NFL team.
Despite these seemingly never-ending harsh realities, prominent voices imbued with hatred, racist and racial biases towards marginalized communities, especially black people, have been more verbose over Kaep’s decision to protest by kneeling than they have over the countless instances of treason carried out by the current administration and its commander-in-chief. Talk about patriotism! Indeed, many of these folks from Agent Orange to the Air Academy Federal Credit Union in Colorado, Monument Tap Bar in Massachusetts, Hardwick Clothes in Tennessee, Borio’s Restaurant in New York, Papa Johns, country music artists like John Rich (yea, I never heard of him either) and Ted Nugent, and sadly—but unsurprisingly—the NFL’s own Dallas Cowboys. America’s team has expressed strong opposition and hatred for the incredibly beautiful show of player solidarity that swept the league after Kaep protested by taking a knee[ii]. A show of solidarity that expanded not just to players on other NFL teams, but players on teams in almost every other sport played in this country, and even other sports in other countries.
One of the NFL’s main culprits and anti-protest ring leaders is Jerry Jones. Jones, a wealthy white “owner”, has seemingly made it one of his most important crusades as an owner shutting down any player protests. Jones will activate this owner mentality by promising to penalize via fines or by cutting from the active roster, any player attempting to protest during the national anthem. Jones has used his clout as longtime Dallas owner to influence other teams league-wide to follow suit. In case it’s not clear, Jerry Jones doesn’t care about Black people either unless they are making money for him by putting their physical and neurological health at risk while playing this violent sport.
The vitriol and anti-black sentiment across the league and by many fans is bigger than one owner. In fact, many of these anti-Black sentiments associated with the #takeaknee and #ImWithKaep movement(s) sadly harken back to the era (and before) of former Cincinnati Reds owner and CEO Marge Schott (1984-1999), who famously referred to Reds baseball players as “her million dollar niggers”. The way current NFL owners have responded to and reprimanded players who have expressed solidarity with the kneeling protests —the majority of whom are African American—suggests tacit agreement with Schott’s viewpoint of her players. In a league that is almost 70% black[iii], one would think league owners would respond differently to these national protests and calls to action that bring attention to the centuries old issues of police brutality and racial discrimination. It is possible that the overwhelming whiteness of NFL ownership plays a part. Thirty out of the thirty-two teams are owned by white people and not a single owner is African American[iv].
Moreover, the NFL has had over a year to fix their image and give the right response. They have failed miserably and rather foolishly, by doubling down on their anti-black showings of force and attempting to implement new policies requiring all players to be present and standing for the national anthem or else wait in the locker room until it’s over.[v] Even this policy does not satisfy Jones’ or by implication President Trump’s thirst for control as Jones continues to threaten players with the aforementioned penalties, like any good owner would do to keep his money-making players in line, right?
Thankfully, many more prominent voices across these lands have come out in support of Kaep. Voices such as Jay Z, J Cole, Lebron James, Gregg Popovich, and companies such as Hyundai and Nike have expressed solidarity with Kaep’s protest[vi]. Now Nike has made its own great show of force by backing up their verbal support of the #takeaknee movement with their partnership with Kaep ensuring the sacrifice he has made does not get silenced by the many complicit NFL owners who want to return to business as usual.
Nike’s incredibly problematic origins regarding their use of sweatshops notwithstanding[vii], advocates are constantly voicing a desire for corporate social responsibility and changing the paradigm for marketing campaigns that typically work to lift up the wealthy, white, and/or elite types to the detriment of the lower-socioeconomic communities that disproportionately purchase their products. Interestingly enough, Nike has flipped this paradigm to some degree, possibly motivated by company profit, but certainly with an effect that ensures the national conversation around Kaepernick and why he chose to protest in the first place continues. This conversation will not be silenced any time soon by the NFL, especially since Nike is under contract to provide all thirty-two teams with their uniforms. This strategy was brilliant and showed that even if the NFL is able to physically stop Kaep from playing another snap, they won’t be able to stop Kaep from influencing the minds of other players still playing, stadium patrons, and the millions of viewers watching football on any given Sunday.
I like many other people, LOVE football. I’m a diehard Bears fan (#DaBears)!! It provides a level of escapism and competition that I have reveled in since childhood. It is hands-down my favorite sport! Still I must contend with the fact that so many simple-minded people have expressed that NFL players are merely “ungrateful.”
That Black players should be scolded and reminded that the owners and the public have provided these athletically gifted individuals with riches while simultaneously failing to acknowledge the years of training, hard work, physical abuse, possible CTE trauma, and other injuries endured as one fights their way into the 5.8 percent of college football players that make it to the NFL. Never mind talking about experiences of players off the field, particularly players of color like football players Michael Bennett[viii] and Desmond Marrow[ix], for example, who were both brutalized by police officers within the last year. What about these players’ families, their peers, fellow community members who don’t carry the clout of an accomplished professional athlete, but must still pay the traumatizing tax of having dark skin in America—a price often amplified when coming from an economically and politically disadvantaged and marginalized communities?
The often funny and always witty, Hari Kondabolu tweeted, “Racism & Fascism are life & death to the marginalized, while they are merely intellectual fodder for white elites”. There goes Hari being Hari again- speaking uncomfortable truths to power. I LOVE football. But given how the NFL has reacted to Kaep’s momentous and historic protest and subsequent acts of solidarity against injustice, it is painfully clear, the NFL does not care about Black people, and thus does not care about me. For that reason, I won’t be watching this season.
[i] That’s right, I said “WHITE-BALLED”! Why? Because the word “black” has over 50 negative connotations in the English language while the word “white” has fewer than 5. It’s about time we balanced that discriminatory scale, especially since it is primarily white owners and coaches who are keeping Kaepernick from playing in the NFL.
[ii] See the It Takes A Village Nation, Kneel With Kaepernick Infographic available at https://www.ittakesavillagenation.com/kneel-with-kaepernick/
[iii] The NFL’s Racial Divide by Jason Reid and Jane Mcmanus, available at https://theundefeated.com/features/the-nfls-racial-divide/
[iv] The Unbearable Whiteness of NFL Ownership by Shaun King, May 25, 2018, available at https://theintercept.com/2018/05/25/nfl-owners-white-kaepernick-protest-rule/
[v] NFL Puts National Anthem Policy On Hold, by Mark Maske, July 19, 2018, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2018/07/19/nfl-puts-national-anthem-policy-on-hold-under-agreement-with-nflpa/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f46d9d35ce25
[vi] See the It Takes A Village Nation, Kneel With Kaepernick Infographic available at https://www.ittakesavillagenation.com/kneel-with-kaepernick/
[vii] How Nike Solved Its Sweatshop Problem, May 9 2013, available at https://www.businessinsider.com/how-nike-solved-its-sweatshop-problem-2013-5
[viii] Michael Bennett Stop: LVPD deny Race Played A Role, September 29, 2017, available at https://www.cnn.com/2017/09/29/sport/michael-bennett-las-vegas-police/index.html
[ix] Former NFL Player Arrested After Police Mistook a Phone for A Gun, May 10, 2018, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/05/10/a-former-nfl-player-was-arrested-after-he-said-police-mistook-a-phone-for-a-gun-the-officer-has-been-fired/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9d9ccbe486c6