The NFL? …. Uh, That Would Be a No!

I am what might be considered an “uber” sports fan. I enjoy NBA and NCAA Men’s and Women’s basketball. I love the build up to the World Series. I get excited as we experience the Olympics. I love World Competition in figure skating and track and field. I can sit glued to the TV during Wimbledon and the US Open. And as the Bowl Championship Series comes to a conclusion on Monday I am anxious to see whether LSU or Clemson will be crowned the College Football Champion. However, since 2017 I have not purposely watched one down of the National Football League (NFL). Clearly there have been times when I have walked through an establishment and a game was being broadcast but I do not tune in on my own. I did not even watch the Super Bowl when my beloved Philadelphia Eagles won! I got calls from friends and family in Philly and when I went to Philly on business the following week I could see the joy and exuberance that flowed through the city. I was just not a part of it.

I stopped watching the NFL when Colin Kaepernick was effectively banned from the league for taking a knee in silent protest to the ongoing police brutality that plagues the Black community. For that one citizen act the league and its owners colluded to ensure he would never play in the NFL again. Proof positive that this happened is the fact that the NFL settled with Kaepernick for a reported $10million rather than have their unscrupulous behavior see the light of day.

Lots of my friends and family insist that my “boycott” of the NFL is meaningless. Indeed, data suggest that NFL viewership is at an all time high. But, I don’t boycott with the idea of hurting a multi-billion dollar industry. I boycott because my conscience will not let me enjoy a game that reflects a willful indifference to the suffering of Black people. When Botham Jean, a 26-year-old Black man accountant was shot and killed by an off-duty White woman police officer (Amber Guyger) his mother asked the Dallas Cowboys to honor her son at a game the Sunday after Guyger’s trial by conducting a silent protest. The team refused!

The latest insult came this week as the NFL playoffs got underway. As is true every year, unsuccessful teams decided whether or not to keep or fire their coaches. They call it the “coaching carousel.” In 2003 the NFL instituted the “Rooney Rule” (named after Dan Rooney, former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers). This rule requires a team looking for a head coach or senior football operations personnel to interview at least one ethnic minority candidate before extending an offer for a job. This rule is not affirmative action. There is no quota of ethnic minority candidates to be hired. Teams are just required to offer an interview to a candidate of color.

The coaches that were recently hired included a veteran coach (Mike McCarthy, former Green Bay Packers Coach hired by Dallas Cowboys), the Carolina Panthers hired Matt Rhule, a former college coach who has never coached at the professional level and the New York Giants hired Joe Judge, the former New England Patriots wide receiver and special teams coach. He has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator—jobs that seem to be prerequisite positions that Black candidates must have. It is also important to point out the work former coaches like Tony Dungy did to build a pipeline of Black coaches—Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Jim Caldwell, Mike Tomlin, and Leslie Frazier. We know there are and were successful Black coaches—Ray Rhodes, Dennis Green, Marvin Lewis, and Doug Williams to name a few.

The NFL is 70-75% Black but somehow Black coaches are not seen as cable of coaching them. It is virtually a plantation system and I cannot bring myself to support it. Some might claim I’m being hypocritical by supporting college football on the one hand but boycotting the NFL. The big difference for me is that college football at least offers the promise of an education (whether student-athletes complete their degrees or not). The NFL can be a lucrative career but the average tenure of an NFL player is 3.3 years (not as long as a collegiate who plays out his full eligibility). Contrast that with the tenure of NBA players. The average NBA player will make $24.7 million in his career. That is based on an average salary of $5.2 million and an average career length of 4.8 years and is $18.6 million more than the career earnings for the average NFL player ($6.1 million) (https://www.businessinsider.com/chart-the-average-nba-player-will-make-lot-more-in-his-career-than-the-other-major-sports-2013-10).

I realize I am missing out on all of the fun and trash talking that accompanies the NFL season. I am missing out on sensational plays and dazzling runs, hits, throws, and catches. But, I put my head down on my pillow each night with a clear conscience. I just can’t with the NFL!

Stay Black & Smart!

“The Right Way to Protest”

Over the last couple of weeks we have seen various commentators (and commentaries) about how wrong NFL players are to “disrespect the flag.” As a part of a campaign rally in Alabama the President claimed that they were ungrateful SOBs who should be fired for not standing during the singing or playing of the National Anthem. Lost in all of the kneeling, sitting, and locking of arms during the anthem is the man who started it all…Colin Kaepernick AND the cause for which he took a knee.

Last year Colin Kaepernick was a quarterback on the San Francisco 49ers. He began taking a knee during the singing/playing of the National Anthem to call attention to the rampant injustice in the US that repeatedly allows unarmed African Americans to be shot by police officers and most of those officers never being convicted of murder, manslaughter or even wrongful death. By the end of the season, Kaepernick was let go and NO other team picked him up. Some argued that Kaepernick was not “good enough” to be on a team. Kaepernick who recently took his team to the Super Bowl was “not good enough.” And, while experts can disagree I think Kaepernick is better than a number of current quarterbacks. Indeed, even if no team thought he was good enough to start, he is at least good enough to be a back up on some team. I can only surmise that Kaepernick is not on a team because the NFL owners have decided he is too publicly toxic to sign. And, I assume that they have colluded to insure that no one broke the code that said, “Do not sign Kaepernick!”

One of the things we hear over and over about Kaepernick and now the players who are protesting is what they are doing is “not the right way to protest.” So now I ask, “What is the RIGHT way to protest?” The players taking a knee are not disrupting the anthem. They are not causing a scene. They are expressing their Constitutional right not to stand during the anthem. At my university last year 2 of our basketball players decided to step off of the line away from the rest of their teammates during the singing/playing of the National Anthem. Again, it was not disruptive. It was a silent protest and yet at one game I heard a fan yell, “[Player’s name] step up to the line!” The fan disrupted the anthem, not the player!

If kneeling quietly before the anthem is not the right way to protest what is the right way? There has never been a protest movement led by Black people that was considered “right.” Nineteenth Century abolitionists were not protesting “the right way.” The protests of Black people throughout the South was not considered “the right way.” When Martin Luther King, Jr. led protests in Montgomery, Selma, Chicago, and cities across the nation it was not considered “the right way.” When John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico it was not considered “the right way.” When Muhammad Ali protested the Vietnam War it was not considered “the right way.” When Black people in the US staged protests on behalf of Apartheid in South Africa and were being hauled off to jail it was not considered “the right way.” None of these protests were considered “the right way” but it turns out every last one of these protestors was on the right side of history. Protests against big, powerful systems are almost always seen as “wrong.” But history almost always proves them right.

Colin Kaepernick is right! He was being respectful in his protest and he is paying the price for it. Indeed, a recent post on my social media wall says, “Racism is so American that when we protest racism the average American assumes we’re protesting America!” Thus, if the folks who claim that Black folks are not protesting “the right way” were honest with themselves they would admit that they think the only right way to protest is to be White!

Stay Black & Smart!

“And Who Else is Responsible?”

Ray Rice Press Conference

By now almost everyone has either seen or heard about the vicious assault that former NFL player Ray Rice did against his then fiance (now wife) Janay. Now we are in that place that America loves to go…analyzing what went wrong and who is at fault. The media, talking heads, and social media is going crazy with critiques on Ray Rice and indeed, he deserves the harshest punishment we can mete out but I must ask the question, “Who else is responsible?”
For one, we know the NFL is responsible. Domestic violence is notorious in the league. Some of you might remember that activist and Hall of Famer Jim Brown had a reputation for abusing women. He allegedly threw a woman off a balcony. Ahmad Brooks (Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers) abused his partner. Warren Moon (former Houston Oilers, and Canadian football player) allegedly abused his wife. Brandon Marshall (Chicago Bears) was involved in domestic violence. The statistics indicate that NFL players are more often involved in reported incidents of domestic violence. The league knows this, the coaches know this, and the Commissioner knows this. Clearly the NFL is also responsible for the domestic abuse Janay Rice experienced. But it is not only the NFL.
The justice system is also responsible. When we check how few NFL players are actually arrested and sentenced to jail time for domestic violence we recognize that the justice system turns a blind eye to these assaults. Many years ago a woman named Roxanne Gay was accused of stabbing her husband to death while he slept. Her husband was Philadelphia Eagle, Blenda Gay. The records indicate that Mrs. Gay called the police 20 times during the course of their marriage. At her murder trial she indicated that when she called the police they showed up and then fell under the awe of the celebrity of a local football star. Instead of responding to Mrs. Gay’s complaints and cries for help, the police officers sat around listening to football stories and getting autographs. So indeed, the justice system is responsible.
But who else is responsible? I say we are ALL responsible. We are posting and tweeting about Janay and victimizing her all over again. We ask why she stays when most of us have no idea what it is like to be in her situation. We claim we wouldn’t take this or that when the truth is most of us don’t actually know what we would do in her situation. We know nothing of her terror. We know nothing of her economic dependence. We know nothing of her emotional dependence. Instead, we gladly participate in the “victim porn” that this situation has become.
I ache for Janay Rice individually but I ache for women, particularly Black women, collectively. Through this entire ordeal all I could think about is how Black women’s bodies continue to be devalued and disrespected. We have watched them brutalized, sexualized, and objectified. When we view, post, and re-post fights between women and attacks on women we become responsible for what happened to Janay Rice. Who else is responsible…We ALL are!

Stay Black & Smart!