Sean Beckwith: Watching sports and ignoring the message isn’t the right play
Has anyone else heard a timetable for the NFL’s foreclosure? Is The Rock buying that league like he did the XFL? I’m just wondering because I thought the most popular pro sports league in America was in big trouble.
Finding a Broncos update on denverpost.com is like trying to find a political opinion on Facebook; you don’t even need to click on anything, just open each respective website. That — along with a yet-to-be-seen ratings dive — tells me Coloradans are still enjoying their fall Sundays.
Game day may be on your neighbor’s couch, your couch or some place that’s not a crowded sports bar, but it’s still game day. As far as I can tell, people whose life revolved around NFL Sundays pre-pandemic are even more invested this season.
So what happened to “Respect the flag!” or “I don’t want politics in my football!” Kansas City Chiefs players were booed during a moment of unity on opening night that didn’t even take place during the anthem. The outrage lasted as long as the news story — so like 24 hours, maybe?
My guess is the NFL probably prefers it that way, too. Its “Moment of Unity” was about as self-serving a ploy as its “workout” for Colin Kaepernick.
“Here, look, we care about our employees. We even gave them a special time during pregame where they, er, I mean we can address racism.”
Messages in the end zones and on the back of helmets are the superficial cherry on top of the “Please don’t f— up my Sundays” sundae. Ask soccer how its on-field anti-racism ad campaign impacted change.
I mean, if you ask Noel Le Graet, the president of French Football (soccer), racism in his sport “does not exist.” Yet, Black soccer players are still routinely being taunted with banana peels even as tone-deaf businessmen fly the “Mission accomplished” banner.
Telling athletes to “Shut up and play” is some old school, antebellum South racist shit. Might as well as add “boy” to the end of that while you’re at it.
Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz posed the question: “How can you support us on the court but not off it?” I’d retort by saying they’re not always supporting you on it either.
You know when a player makes a mundane tackle after a 5-yard gain and you get mad because he celebrated? Or how about bat flips? You hate those, too? Probably not as much as you despise bad shots or hero ball. (Unless it’s Jamal Murray saving the Nuggets’ season from getting Plumlee’d over and over and over again.)
Disguised in a lot of the play-the-right-way rhetoric is play the white way — and it’s not limited to Black athletes. (See Tatis Jr., Fernando.)
I’m not sure why White people can’t figure out the concept of emotions.
“Celebrations should not go beyond a smile — no teeth — and a firm handshake. Inner turmoil should be bottled up unless it can be released anonymously online.”
The point of sports fandom is a release; a couple hours a day or week where we get to escape real-life problems.
While I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of athletes, as well, we’ve seen that it’s about more than football, basketball or any sport for many.
When you’re not properly represented in places of power, you have to make the important places you do occupy powerful. With even the most peaceful protesters being labeled as thugs and anarchists, I don’t blame athletes for using their platforms to speak out with, in my opinion, a tremendous amount of grace and poise.
If you’re upset they’re filling your sports with politics and activism, you can help them do something about it by, first, listening to what they’re saying because I guarantee you it’s not what you’ve been led to believe and, second, supporting their causes.
I sincerely believe the NFL and a majority of its owners think the shortened nature of NFL careers and the ease with which players are replaced (plus a large dash of hubris) will deter an NBA-type scenario where the entire league voluntarily doesn’t play.
It might not happen because, without fans, you can’t physically boo in person. But if you think the players didn’t notice that completely ludicrous display of bigotry by ungrateful Chiefs fans then you’ll probably be surprised when the divisiveness that’s engulfed the country seeps into your Sundays.
As the hierarchy of what matters changed with coronavirus, the importance of sports held strong, if not increased. Asking amateurs to postpone the college football season to the spring was like asking Republicans to wear facemasks. And that should only reinforce to athletes that their protests are being heard.
Sport without minorities is just croquet, and you’re not scheduling your weekend around mallet golf, but you might have to if you keep treating athletes like commodities instead of as an equal part in your communities.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.