Patrick Mahomes' activism is a chance for the NFL to show us how serious it is about social change

We’re about to find out whether $503 million in the NFL buys you juice or buys your silence.

Last week, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs broke the internet with news of the reigning Super Bowl MVP’s landmark 10-year extension, a contract that galvanized Mahomes as the present and immediate future of the league.

It came about five weeks after Mahomes’ surprising participation in the viral “Black Lives Matter” video that featured several other stars and demanded that the league recognize the scourge of police brutality and systemic racism.

We’ve since learned that Mahomes being one of the voices in that video caused commissioner Roger Goodell to take notice and respond the next day with a recorded message of his own, where he said that the NFL was wrong for not listening to players sooner when they were speaking up about those topics.

That’s power. Will Mahomes keep using that power? Will the Chiefs and the league support him?

We got a partial answer to one of those questions Tuesday, thanks to a profile of Mahomes by GQ magazine’s Clay Skipper.

Before his appearance in the players’ video, the conversation about Mahomes was different. There wasn’t a whole lot of talk about him being the NFL’s new darling as a Black quarterback in a league that historically has denigrated and maligned them.

Patrick Mahomes has used his platform to influence social change, and plans to keep doing so. Will the NFL let him? (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Patrick Mahomes has used his platform to influence social change, and plans to keep doing so. Will the NFL let him? (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

In truth, Mahomes hadn’t talked much about that fact. His father, former MLB pitcher Pat Mahomes, is Black and his mother, Randi Martin, is white. The fact that he’s mixed race doesn’t matter to some; when people want to let you know what they think of Black people, they don’t consider that you’re part white.

Mahomes has opened up in recent months about how he knows now that he was privileged growing up as the son of a professional athlete who was revered in their small Texas hometown, and how that reality spared him from having to endure some of the hurtful, targeted experiences some of his teammates and fellow NFL brethren have.

“I’ve known that I’m Black. And I’m proud to be Black,” he told GQ. “And I’m proud to have a white mom too. I’m just proud of who I am. And I’ve always had that confidence in myself.”

It was that confidence, both in himself and in being on the right side of history, that led Mahomes to agree to be in the players’ video when Saints’ receiver Michael Thomas reached out. Knowing that he was potentially affecting his future contract didn’t matter.

“I understand my platform,” Mahomes said. “I'm in the middle of negotiating my next contract, to hopefully be a Kansas City Chief for a long time, but I still thought this was important enough and this was something that had to be said. It wasn't something I could sit back on and worry about my next contract, because I needed to use my platform to help. Sometimes it's not about money. It's not about fame. It's about doing what's right.”

Since being part of the video, he has also joined LeBron JamesMore than a Vote organization, helping with voter registration and voter suppression efforts, encouraging Kansas Citians to tweet him proof that they’ve registered. Working on get out the vote initiatives shouldn’t be controversial and cause Mahomes to come under criticism, but before this year wearing face masks to help stem the spread of a pandemic wouldn’t have been seen as controversial either, so time will tell.

This is where the NFL can play a role and show if Goodell’s declaration is real. Mahomes said he talked to Goodell over the phone and told the commissioner about his desire to help young adults, especially in Black communities, get registered to vote as an important first step. He also suggested to Goodell that teams can help players become more effective in their cities or in their efforts.

“I remember talking about having maybe a social-justice officer that can point people in the right direction,” Mahomes said. “So whenever you wanna help out the community, you have someone that works with the team that can help.”

Mahomes felt encouraged by the conversation, but Goodell can’t do much without team owners’ permission. Some franchise owners (cough, Jerry Jones) still haven’t done anything to acknowledge the reckoning that seems to be happening. With public sentiment toward the Black Lives Matter movement growing increasingly positive and the current sustained calls for racial equity, will Goodell keep talking to Mahomes and other top players and keep pushing club owners to do the right thing? Will Mahomes, with the backing of so many players, keep using the immense influence he has to push the league and team owners in that direction?

Or will they look at this young man and feel that he has gotten his money, more than any player in the history of the game has been promised, and therefore has gotten enough?

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