The NFL’s Disrespect of Black People Continues
by Abdushshahid Luqman
With all of the controversy surrounding Black NFL players today, we should understand that the discussion around race and the NFL is nothing new. From the outright banning of Black players to the President of the United States referring to them as “sons of bitches”, race continues to play a big part in the NFL. The NFL was slow to act, but eventually did the right thing, by addressing domestic violence within its ranks. The relentless attacks by the media, following the insensitive replaying of Ray Rice’s crime on television screens around the world, forced the NFL to act, and act they did, by making examples of mostly black players. White players accused of misogynistic offenses were largely ignored. But White feminist demanded blood after Ray Rice, and that blood was taken from Black men. What started as a righteous cause involving the protection of a Black woman, ended with White women getting highly paid positions in the NFL front offices. Black women, on the other hand, were left holding the empty bag of White feminist promises. Even Janay Rice’s pleas that her husband still be allowed to “earn” fell on deaf White women’s ears.
However, in the 1930’s, the White ears of NFL owners were receptive to Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall’s suggestion that Black players should be banned from the league. This ban lasted for over ten years until Woody Strode and Kenny Washington reintegrated the league. Woody Strode described his experience, as the first Black man to play in an NFL game, by replying, “If I have to integrate heaven, I don’t want to go.” Even though the NFL eventually moved in the right direction in regard to racial integration of the league, the Redskins, however remained an all White team until 1962.
Fast forward to Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49er quarterback, who began kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality of African-Americans, and he paid for that with his career. That initial protest has now been hijacked by the distraction squad. They have convinced the public that all of this “kneeling” isn’t about freedom of speech. This “kneeling,” says the distraction squad, is about not showing due reverence for the anthem, the flag, and the military industrial complex it represents. A military industrial complex, remind you, that saw fit to invade this all-American sport with nationalistic pageantry reminiscent of the old European fascist parades of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco. The fans, for the most part, have accepted this narrative and demanded an end to the kneeling protests. Now, two NFL teams — with others to follow — are punishing player dissent, and stomping on their First Amendment rights in the process.
As a Black man, how can I continue to support an institution which doesn’t respect Black life or Black grievances?
This whole debate was never about disrespecting the flag, it was and is about disrupting the flow of capital. That is the crime, and when Black people are involved, it is viewed with more hostility. Historically, Black dissent has never been well-received in this country. No one understood this more than Donald Trump, and like an “ambulance chasing” lawyer looking for the next car accident, he didn’t disappoint. Trump saw this as an opportunity to distract his base from his own presidential failures by stoking the flames of racism and classism in the hearts of those he abandoned. Trump will move on, but he handed the Conservatives a very expensive booty in his war against democracy. The White working class once again took the bait.
Now, the NFL has become another casualty of colonialist white supremacist ideology. America wants Black athleticism and not Black dissent. America wants a resigned, content Black population, Black people who exist solely to entertain and distract from the harsh realities of the American working class. But those “ungrateful” Blacks who challenge the moral consciousness of the country or the integrity of its institutions must be punished. Especially those who were allowed to drink from the fountains of fame and excess. Those Blacks are bad for business. They’re bad for the American “myth.” If Blacks, complained the White and privileged, would just remain silent, and pretend that all is well, then this “American experiment” can be shown to be a success after all.
The fact is that the NFL is caving in to a culture that sees Black dissent as an annoyance, and Black bodies as instruments for entertainment. Social justice for Black people is an inconvenient distraction from the all-important game of football. This doesn’t speak well of a league whose success largely depends upon a Black labor force of over 70%. The fact that the NFL is willing to submit itself to the tyranny of the stupid is beyond the pale of acceptability for me as a Black man, but it should be for all Black people. But the sad ending of this story is that Black millionaire talent, supporting a billion dollar industry, can’t have their grievances taken seriously enough to make anyone really listen. And Black people continue to get disrespected by the NFL.
Abdushshahid Luqman is co-founder of Luqman Nation Media