NFL, We Don’t Believe You, You Need More People

An “End Racism” message in the end zone at Arrowhead Stadium | Jamie Squire | Credit: Getty Images

The NFL is really trying hard to clean up their image, apparently, they aren’t trying hard enough.

When I first heard that the NFL was going to have National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman perform at the Super Bowl, something felt off to me. It felt off in the same way that it felt when I first heard that they put the phrase “End Racism” in the end zones of various NFL stadiums.

To me, it felt like the NFL just had to find a convenient way of saying, “Ah yes. I, too, love the Blacks”.

Similar to the Presidential inauguration, I found that American unity was a constant theme in not only the Super Bowl broadcast itself, but also in the ads.

One Jeep ad, featuring Bruce Springsteen, spoke about the importance of meeting in “the middle” and how we should remember that “the very soil we stand on is common ground”.

Another commercial by NFL, spoke to the diversity of football fans, stating that “football is a microcosm of America” and even claimed that the NFL was committing $250 million in order to “help end systemic racism”.

Help end systemic racism.

That’s a bold task for a sports league with approximately 70% Black players and not even 5 Black head coaches… and let’s not even talk about Black team owners.

The funny thing is, the NFL probably even wouldn’t exist as we know it if it weren’t for systemic racism.

Think about it: How else do you think one develops a labor force comprised largely of young Black men, many of them affected by generational poverty and limited viable career options, who were pushed into an industry where success and job security is not always guaranteed and the toll on their bodies is devastating.

Additionally, I don’t find it wise, or even practical, to trust any multi million/billion dollar company that claims to be invested in ending some form of systemic oppression, let alone racism. Capitalism is far too intricately linked with systemic racism to divorce the two… trust me, my ancestors were the capital.

If your company has a billion dollars, there’s likely something about the status quo that is working in your interest.

So, no, I don’t take the NFL’s newfound commitment to “ending racism” seriously… not in the middle of a game where one of the teams is called the Chiefs.

Not in a league where we just stopped calling another team a racial slur toward American Indians last year.

Not in a league where we can conveniently overlook the fact that the league’s golden boy was once on camera with MAGA hat propped up in his locker.

Not in a league where you can find it to be a good idea to host a Super Bowl with approximately 25,000 fans in attendance, in the midst of a pandemic that affects some of the most marginalized among us.

Hell, maybe football is a microcosm of America after all.

Maybe the NFL is prime example of how many people, companies, institutions and politicians will do the most, symbolically and performatively, to create a public image of being progressive and “inclusive”. Yet, when it comes down to making real change within themselves, we see little more than pretty language and hollow statements.

The only people who are likely to believe in the NFL’s unity/diversity gimmick are those who want to believe it and seek comfort. Those who are invested in upholding a lie will never hold room for truth.

Basically, The NFL is what it is, no matter how many unity speeches they make, no matter how many Black poets they get to perform, no matter how many Lift Every Voice’s, Still I Rise’s or Wade in The Water’s they recite.

They are who they are, just ask Colin Kaepernick.

Philadelphia, born & raised. Writer, reader, part-time runner. Edinboro University, Class of 2011. Bylines: The Philadelphia Inquirer, Blavity, Philly Tribune.

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