Beginning with the absolute disaster in the handling of the Ray Rice situation, the subsequent and overwhelmingly disingenuous sexual assault awareness campaign, and most recently, the blatant and egregious non-verbal statements by NFL big wigs, i have about had it with the self-interested negligence and dare I say, abuse, inflicted by the league.
Many athletes, professional and otherwise, have taken to protesting on the field in the form of donning tee-shirts and making gestures as an outcry demanding justice and standing in solidarity with the thousands across the nation, and across the globe, who are taking a stand against police brutality and the killing of Black men, women, and children by law enforcement. These athletes have subsequently been chastised, condemned, and even banned in some cases, for their statements. The St. Louis Police Department, for example, demanded an apology from the St. Louis Rams when they came onto the field with their hands raised in the now recognizable "Hands up, Don't Shoot" gesture. Thought the Rams refused to give an apology, the STLPD tried to manipulate a statement to make it appear as though they had given one. At the high school level, Mendocino High School girls basketball team was banned from playing in a tournament at Fort Bragg High School in California when they refused to agree not to wear "I Can't Breathe" shirts during warmups.
However, despite the backlash and heavy criticism against athletes, this hasn't stopped big wigs in the NFL from brandishing their privilege and making their positions clear. Just recently, Jet's coach Rex Ryan was spotted sporting a NYPD cap, as was Giant's coach Tom Coughlin, and sports commentator Tony Siragusa. Siragusa, who I've never seen on TV wearing anything other than a football helmet on his head, boldly sported the cap during his national TV appearance as a commentator at the Giant's game this past weekend.
If you have been paying any attention throughout this movement, you have surely heard the question "Which side are you on?" on more than one occasion. This is a call for people to take a stand against police brutality and extrajudicial killing of Black people. It is a claim that there truly only are two sides, and that there is no playing the middle ground. It is a statement implying that silence on these issues is consent to what is taking place. Gone are the days when you could play the fence, as a "good cop" or "good white person," caroling tunes about "can't we all just get along" and "not all __________s are __________." This being said, many, namely some of the most privileged, are not being silent on the matter, but making the side they've chosen crystal clear.
Aside from the obvious, I have some serious qualms with coaches, commentators, and the like, actively and publicly supporting a fundamentally corrupt, white supremacist institution. About 67% of players in the NFL are black, as of 2014, the largest percentage of any racial group within the league. That's well over half of players belonging to one racial group. Black players in the league outnumber the total of all players of other races combined, significantly. And while they generally make a significant amount of money compared to the average working American, players' salaries don't even compare to the money made by coaches and owners. That being said, only about six percent of the coaches in the NFL are Black, and there is only one Black owner in the entire league. Reggie Fowler is a minority owner of the Minnesota Vikings, owning 40% of the team. This mean that Black players are doing the work, while white coaches and owners capitalize off of their efforts. Black players literally do the physical labor, risking their health, careers, and livelihoods on a regular basis, while white men sit in boxes high in the sky and watch them brutalize each other for their profit. Additionally, many non-star (and star) players find themselves in serious financial trouble when they are no longer able to play in the league. This is a result of many things including the young age that many players join the league, the lack of financial guidance and education provided to players, and players being taken advantage of by corrupt financial advisers and managers.
All of this in mind, the statements that we see being made by coaches like Rex Ryan and Tom Coughlin, and others who have made similar displays, in my opinion send a very clear message to the Black players in the NFL: "We do not value your lives." It suggests that these big wigs very literally perceive players as their property, as nothing more than a means of income. As chattel.
According to Forbes, "revenue in the NFL reached an estimated $9.5 billion in 2011-12. That is up $500 million (5.6%) from the year before, and $1.8 billion (23.4%) more than Major League Baseball ($7.7 billion)." The NFL is the single most profitable sports league in the United States. And it has built its success almost entirely on the backs of Black players, while simultaneously forsaking and sacrificing them at the league's convenience.
Take Ray Rice, for example. When the NFL found out about his domestic violence incident, before it went public, they handed him a 2 game suspension and washed their hands. Once the top blew off, the league sacrificed Rice for the sake of their own appearances, re-punishing him much more harshly, arguably to the point of inappropriateness. This is problematic not because Rice shouldn't have been punished harshly, but because the initial punishment should have fit the crime, regardless of public outcry, and that the NFL abandoned Rice, after pledging to support him, once the story broke and their profit margin was threatened. Meanwhile, players like Ben Roethlisberger have been all but congratulated on their egregious physical and sexual abuse against women. Or consider the two year suspension handed to Mike Vick for fighting dogs. The crucifixion he endured from the league at the height of that scandal, and the welcome and embracing he later received once he started making the league a lot of money post-suspension. The NFL will go to any lengths to protect its bottom line, even at the expense of those who dedicate their lives to the institution.
And now, NFL bigwigs sporting NYPD hats is nothing short of salt in the wound. To allow players to be condemned for taking their own position and then donning NYPD caps is the sports equivalent of the NYPD demanding a moratorium on protesting during the funerals of their officers and then staging their own protest during the funeral by turning their backs on the mayor. It is a proverbial "na-na na-na boo boo." It is the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality on steroids. It is telling players that their right to free speech is not respected, but yours is protected. That your privilege allows you to participate in activities that their Blackness prohibits them from engaging in. That you rule over them, and have the power to dictate their actions while you evade accountability for yours. And more importantly, that you see them only as expendable property; that their lives as individual human beings is not valuable to you and if they cannot make you a profit, they are not of worth to you. That you are the master, and they are your chattel.
My disappointment with the National Football League, and its massive shortcomings in so many areas, continue to frustrate me. Despite my love of football, given the current state of affairs, I cannot help but feel that I have a moral obligation to abstain from supporting the league in any way during this crucial time in American history. I truly hope that the NFL is able to make some much need changes to its core principles and beliefs, and the culture that it has created. Otherwise, I may have to find a new past time permanently.