Before the season even started, fans of the defending champs were mad
Last night we witnessed the long-awaited return of the NFL, and with it the endlessly entertaining Chiefs offense under Patrick Mahomes. Unfortunately, some real pieces of shit got to see it in person.
When, following the national anthem, the Texans and Chiefs linked arms in a display of unity, many of the small number of fans allowed into the game booed. It was one of those moments that, while disappointing and enraging, are wholly unsurprising and encapsulate so much about our current moment that they’re almost poetic in their awfulness.
If you’re lucky enough to have been unconscious for the last few years, here’s a quick refresher on the NFL’s recent history on race issues: In 2016 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to protest police killings of Black Americans by first sitting, then kneeling (specifically out of respect for The Troops) during the playing of the national anthem. He was ridiculed, villainized and blackballed from the league, effectively ending his career, despite his NFC championship run in 2015 and the seemingly inexplicable longevity of many far worse quarterbacks. Hack politicians turned it into a culture war issue and a cudgel against the broader racial justice movement as the NFL tried its best to hide from the issue.
When the whole country rose up this summer in support of Black Lives Matter after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the shooting of Jacob Blake, the league found itself having to pay lip service to racial justice while avoiding doing anything that a) reminded people how hard they screwed Kaepernick in the name of upholding white supremacy, b) turned off the league’s…less progressive, let’s say, fans, and c) threatened the socioeconomic order that keeps its owners, and by extension one Mr. Goodell, very rich.
That brings us to this week, Week 1 of our very strange NFL season where Tom Brady is in Tampa, most fans aren’t allowed at games, and racism is acknowledged as a problem in America. The way it’s acknowledged by the NFL is somehow even less sincere and substantive than the NBA’s pre-approved jersey slogans (Gordon Hayward’s “Education Reform” jersey is getting me real fired up to solve racism by opening more charter schools!): Tiny end-zone slogans of “End racism” and even tinier slogans on helmets. Allowing players to kneel during the anthem, the thing Kap was de facto banned for doing. Playing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the unofficial “Black National Anthem,” along with the “Star Spangled Banner.” The league leadership’s approach is to make the smallest gestures possible to keep players from revolting while showing fans and owners that, no, they’re not too serious about this whole “equality” business. (The Dolphins have said they’ll stay in the locker room during the two anthems, which is a sign that the players aren’t afraid to show that they know it’s all window dressing, too.)
The league’s moves to address racism in America are all purely symbolic, vapid gestures that, while technically better than nothing, in no way threaten the actual political, economic and social power structures that uphold racism (almost as if the wealthy people who run the league have some kind of financial interest in such a system—big if true!).
And yet, somehow, the entirely unobjectionable act of linking arms, for Unity, a vague and pretty uncontroversial goal, drew the same reaction that you’d expect a hammer and sickle to have elicited. The lesson here seems to be that no matter how many knots you twist yourself into to avoid offending the sensitive souls who were upset with previous racial justice protests, you’re not going to satisfy them. Maybe it’s not the “protest” part, but the “racial justice” part, that some people find objectionable.
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