If this is the NFL’s path forward after Roger Goodell’s “Black Lives Matter” statement last Friday, it should turn around.
On Tuesday, Troy Vincent, the league’s vice president of football operations, went on the league-owned network’s morning show.
Vincent started off talking about an op-ed he recently wrote for The Athletic about “The Talk” so many black parents give their children about how to deal with police, and that one of his daughters challenged him to speak up.
He even mentioned Colin Kaepernick (though it was mispronounced) — a rarity among NFL officials — among a list of players who began speaking up a few years ago “and we just weren’t listening.”
“We have a gap that has to be bridged between the playing field, the players [and] the fanbase,” Vincent said. “What do I mean by that? The fans love cheering for the player. They love him on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays. But when he takes the jersey off, we go silent. That can’t happen. The player is asking, ‘When the helmet comes off, I need you to love me beyond the jersey. Beyond the entertaining you on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays.’ They’ve been very clear from the very beginning on what the issues are, we just haven’t been listening.”
All true. All of it. Some of us have long understood the idea of seeing black men as fully-formed humans worthy of love and attention beyond what they’re contributing to our fantasy team, but we digress.
But then Vincent was asked what the next step is, and he said, “Action.”
“I challenge my peers, the players, with the passion that we’ve seen over the last 15 days, or, frankly, the last decades, we have to turn that action into solutions,” Vincent said.
He went on to challenge two young franchise quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, to talk to their team owners, Clark Hunt and Cal McNair, respectively.
Which seems to affirm what the cynical among us have long believed: Goodell’s statement and the NFL’s pivot toward fighting against the same racial injustice Kaepernick lost his job for protesting is little more than window dressing and talk.
First off, Vincent’s intimation that NFL players now need to start taking action after last week’s video that pressured Goodell into responding is disingenuous at best.
Over the last three years or so, players have put in the time and effort to help bring about real change. New England Patriots players Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and Duron Harmon (now with the Lions) backed the Promise Act in Massachusetts, which aimed for more equitable funding in public education, a bill that was passed. They also put their names behind a juvenile justice bill that sought to raise the age at which children could be charged with crimes.
Malcolm Jenkins and now-retired Chris Long, among others, have fought to end cash bail in Philadelphia and backed district attorney Larry Krasner’s efforts to create policy that doesn’t reflexively put people in jail when there are better alternatives; Demario Davis and Doug Baldwin have written an op-ed about the need to end corporal punishment in schools.
And over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen many NFL players taking part in protests around the country, demanding that the country that promises “liberty and justice for all” starts fulfilling it for all citizens regardless of skin color.
And Kaepernick — well, we may never fully know the extent of what he’s done. From the Know Your Rights camps to donating suits to using his birthday to care for others to raising and donating money to communities hardest hit by COVID-19, anyone saying he hasn’t done anything to back up his protests is willfully ignorant at this point.
This is similar to the “protest to progress” line the league trotted out a couple of years ago. Only now it looks even worse because anyone with 60 seconds and access to Google can see that a great number of players have gone well beyond protesting.
Secondly, telling Mahomes and Watson, who were among the 18 players in last week’s viral video demanding that the league do more, that they need to go to Hunt and McNair with the same words they used in the video, misses the point entirely.
It is not black Americans’ jobs to ask white Americans to be anti-racist.
That’s been tried for a long time. If it was effective, we wouldn’t be in the streets now, begging not to be choked to death for possibly using a fraudulent $20 bill or shot while jogging in our own hometowns.
Why is it the job of black players to “turn passion into solutions” but not the job of politically-connected multi-billionaire franchise owners to turn Twitter statements into solutions? Vincent was a league spokesman on the league’s network so no one expects him to publicly tell owners what they should be doing to remedy the racism some of them have condemned in statements.
But yet again, he and therefore the NFL were quick to turn the finger back on black players, as if they are the ones who have done nothing. Even white players are speaking up now, which was glaringly missing when player protests started in 2016.
The players have been about action. It’s the league and owners that aren’t.
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