Black (Super)star Power: The Political Awakening of the Millennial Athlete
We have to start with Colin Kaepernick, right?
Kaep remains unemployed because his potential employers are either a) racist, b) spineless, c) lack any self-awareness, or d) a putrid cocktail of all three, but Kaep’s somehow become the villain for telling the truth, and that truth thing — especially as it pertains to race — has never gone over too well in this country. Even funnier, the “Kaepernick will be a distraction to the locker room!” narrative seems to have been accepted by all the ‘smart’ football pundits, except he literally never asked for any of this attention. Colin knelt silently, responded truthfully when asked why he was kneeling, and kept it pushing. I’m sure he had the foresight to know it might pick up some momentum, but enough to get him blackballed from the league? Word?
Anyways, Kaep, in the extremely off-chance you read this someday, I pray you get signed; if Jay Cutler can cash checks while not even pretending to try and Brandon Weeden, who’s never been remotely competent at the professional level, can gain a roster spot this late into the season, maybe — JUST MAYBE! — one of these owners recognizes they should sign you at some point for the optics, if nothing else.
This is all to say that political activism — particularly around issues of treating black people equally, regardless of how much money they earn for a profession they’ve spent a copious amount of time mastering — is ridiculously hard in the National Football League. Contracts aren’t guaranteed, and these owners, again, are clearly spineless; just two days ago, reports surfaced regarding Martha Ford, the owner of the Detroit Lions, offering to donate to charitable causes of the players’ choosing if they stood for the Star-Spangled Banner. Combine that with the fact that the NFL in 2011 began been receiving federal money for "elaborate, 'patriotic salutes' to the military," that a decent amount of team owners donated to Donald and I’d be willing to wager nearly all of them gave him their vote last November, and the constant pushback they get from folks who don’t want “politics” in their sports, and it’s hard to begrudge any football players who’d much rather keep their protests off the field or remain silent altogether. The majority of these athletes went from poverty to generational wealth overnight; their financial responsibilities would make blowing off these owners extremely reckless. And so, we’re forced to take Odell and Cam raising their fists during touchdown "celebrations" as the best “acceptable” protests we’ll see on Sundays.
At some point in the last 18 months, I’m assuming somewhere between black athletes kneeling for the anthem and subsequently being deemed unpatriotic, a select committee clearly came together and declared the Star-Spangled Banner the jingle of the United States military. I wrote this on Facebook thirteen (!) months ago:
“Maybe I'm misinformed. Or ignorant. Or naive. Or just not very smart. But never before Kaep's protest had I heard that this country's flag or anthem were tantamount to tributes to our armed forces.
Colin's protest spoke and continues to speak specifically to the systemic injustices we've faced since we were carted to the United States. ‘Patriots’ decided to invalidate Colin's argument, because invalidating the pleas of African-Americans happens to be a function of the system. That's a historical fact. Don't comment on this status arguing something that you can Google or Bing or Ask Jeeves.”
ESPN’s Bomani Jones made this exact same point on last Friday’s Pardon the Interruption: “They [protest] during the anthem because the anthem is the representation of America, and what they’re saying is ‘America is not necessarily giving us what America claims to be’ ... and I don’t think that level of self-analysis has taken place.” Bomani’s smart enough to know that self-analysis hasn’t taken place because it is so much easier to feign ignorance. Sure, continue to ignore all the intentional system failures harming people of color in the name of pretending we don’t have a legitimate gripe. Let’s also pretend these wealthy, black athletes weren’t dead broke once-upon-a-time, because in this fantasy, they shouldn’t complain about anything! They don’t have it bad at all! Or — even better — let’s continue to pretend that America has this spotless history, that the many terrible things happening right now in the United States — white supremacist rallies, mass shootings by domestic terrorists, the election of an incompetent imbecile to run the country — are just aberrations and not the byproduct of backlash from the eight years prior, anger not only of a black man being President, but of him being damned good at it, too.
Six days ago, National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver announced his expectation that NBA players will stand during the Star-Spangled Banner. The NBA has long taken on the veneer of “progressivism," supporting the players in protests around the deaths of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and a handful of others wrongfully murdered at the hands of “law enforcement.” And so, I figured Silver had to be somewhat ahead of this issue, that he’d spoken to some of the league’s superstars and fleshed out some compromise where they agreed to stand during the song in exchange for the right to protest otherwise.
Nope. The next day, a league memo emerges, "reminding" the players of their obligation, by league rules, to stand.
I tried to not be shocked, but that threw me for a pretty big loop. In the midst of this firestorm, with your athletes — your stars, no less — sticking their necks out on this topic, you’re going to leave them out to dry? You have LeBron James and Stephen Curry standing up to the office of the president, and instead of rallying around them, you forcefully remind them to comply with an extremely idiotic rule. Word.
NBA players have guaranteed contracts, so barring some sort of language that explains kneeling as a fireable offense, I anticipate a few folks will protest, as is their right. I just don’t really get the point of the debate. For a lot of people, their first impulse is to argue back; you tell people why you’re kneeling and more importantly, why you’re kneeling at that exact moment, and yet their rebuttal is to protest at another time, because paying reverence to some thread and a song both created during slavery — when, let’s remember, black people were considered chattel — is supposed to mean more to me than what appears to be the targeted genocide of my racial group.
I think I’ll pass.
I've done my absolute best to dedicate no more than 140 characters at a time to this administration. At this point, I’m compelled to talk about Donald to the point where I’m calling him by his first name, because I absolutely refuse to use his family’s surname. 9 months in, he’s already pretty clearly the worst president of all-time. That has to be a record, no? This goes beyond partisanship; I don’t think Ted Cruz is an amazing person either, but I’m also infinity-percent certain he’d at least be competent. This guy has zero clue. How are you faking it until you make it at 75-years-old? No entiendo.
I’m a huge proponent of ignoring him altogether; unrelated, but I’d also like news outlets to actually, you know, interrogate the guy when he plainly lies through his teeth. We’re giving all these platitudes to a news media who, I think, has actually succeeded in normalizing his unpreparedness for the job. Social media also doesn’t help, since everything becomes a joke or a meme nowadays, but way too many reporters are kind to him all in the name of access, just so they can write a fake-tough piece on the guy and interview him again in 2 weeks. He’s very clearly lost-in-the-sauce, so make him uncomfortable. He can’t answer your questions? Good. I thought that was the whole point of your profession.
Ignoring him, however, becomes impossible when he alludes to Kaep’s protest and calls Kaep and all those joining him “sons-of-bitches” deserving of termination from their job. To my knowledge, withdrawing an invitation for the Golden State Warriors to visit seemed pointless, since the public had zero knowledge an invite had even been extended yet. I spend so much time praying he’s simply a blowhard, a narcissistic, incompetent old man with rapidly diminishing impulse control. But, even if that’s true, his words carry a weight much more insidious than a whole lot of people would like to admit. Condemning the white supremacists at Charlottesville was much too hard for your president, but he managed to reserve all that vitriol for the black men and their allies who silently protest empirically proven racial inequities. Knowing this, fully cognizant this administration is hellbent on politicizing whether or not things aren’t that bad for black people in America, I’m supposed to sympathize with these leagues and the images they want to maintain? Spare me.
I’m not foolish enough to anticipate a leaguewide anthem protest once the NBA regular season begins. Just like many of the NFL players, these guys have a lot on the line, and I can’t begrudge them for putting the financial security of their families over the broad and slightly ambiguous goal of actually slicing through the ignorance and convincing people to listen.
But maybe just a couple? Maybe LeBron? Earl seems down to ride. Let’s make it happen.