Hypocrisy and Lies – A Story of the NFL
Back in June, the NHL pledged $250-million over 10 years to “combat systemic racism and support the battle against injustices faced by African Americans.”
Sunday during the Super Bowl, it appears a good chunk of that money was spent on the NFL’s “Inspire Change” advertisements and marketing campaign.
Seconds after the advertisement completed, the Kansas City Chiefs took to the field with fans, and the speakers at Raymond James Stadium blaring the tomahawk chop, a long condemned racist stereotype of Indigenous people.
Apparently while the NFL is willing to endorse the importance of Black lives, they aren’t willing to do the same for Indigenous people. Yes, the Washington football team changed their name…but they went out kicking and screaming in the process. After all it was only a few years ago when confronted by the issue of a racist name and logo that Washington owner Dan Snyder stated, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”
In the NFL’s June press release about their financial pledge, the league stated that they “first began a social justice program after players protested police brutality and racial injustice several years ago,” The NFL seems to have forgotten the rule they put in place in 2018 banning players from taking a knee during the national anthem, a rule which carried on into 2020. What were these players protesting? Racial injustice.
Lies. And Hypocrisy.
The other item that was noticeably absent from the NFL’s Super Bowl display, which most would agree was just a performative display, was Colin Kaepernick.
Kapernick was the keystone for protest and change in the NFL in 2016 when he was the first player who started to take a knee during the US national anthem. Since then, the talented quarterback has been blackballed from the league.
Sure, Roger Goodell “apologized” to Kaepernick, but followed it up with a few sentences gaslighting the former star by saying the league had invited him in for dialogue several times. Considering this “apology” only came out under extreme pressure following the murder of George Floyd and national protests, is seems disingenuous to mention Kaepernick in the same sentence.
The issue in the NFL is systemic, it’s deep rooted. It’s visible in the names and logos of teams, the punishment of players, and in the people who run the league itself, including Goodell.
Need another example? Woody Johnson, who is co-owner of the New York Jets worked in Donald Trump’s administration, and has a history of racist and sexist remarks. His generalizations of Black men, and his questioning of the validity of celebrating Black History Month are clear cut.
Add to this the presence of only three Black head coaches in the NFL, a point which was brought up by new President Joe Biden during the Super Bowl half time, despite an abundance of qualified candidates, and the top down, systemic system of division becomes more clear.
On the field, this year there were 10 Black starting quarterbacks in the NFL, a record. That is 31.25%. In a league however, that is made up by 70% Black athletes, the numbers don’t match. And if you choose to read into the stereotyping, and biased media coverage and terminology used referring to Black quarterbacks, you’ll see signs of why these numbers remain skewed.
It took until 2017 for the New York Giants to start a Black quarterback (Geno Smith), they were the last NFL team to do so. They weren’t, however, an outlier as the New England Patriots (2016 – Jacoby Brisett), Indianapolis Colts (2016 – Josh Freeman), Green Bay Packers (2013 – Seneca Wallace), and San Francisco 49ers (2010 – Troy Smith) were also late to the game, having started their first Black quarterbacks in the last decade or so.
Related to COVID-19, the NFL was ‘celebrated’ for not cancelling any games due to the virus. The league also, for the most part allowed fans in the thousands into stadiums. While people may say it was as few as a few thousand fans into huge stadiums, many teams also allowed more than 15,000 fans (some allowed none, thankfully). This in a world where we know COVID-19 impacts the BIPOC community disproportionately. Those numbers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include a 1.8x greater infection rate, a 3.7x higher rate of hospitalization, and 2.8x the death rate of Black individuals compared to their white counterparts.
When it comes to the NFL’s public display on Super Bowl Sunday, championing themselves as social justice advocates, and supporters of the Black (but not Indigenous) community, right now, it appears to be nothing but lip service.
And it’s falling on deaf ears with NFL fans, but not on deaf ears of NFL players, who had to sit through the booing of Kansas City Chiefs fans at their season opener this year during a moment of silence in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and unity.
It’s performative, it’s layered in hypocrisy, and laced with lies. Moreover, it’s dangerous, because it gives fans and the casual Super Bowl viewer a skewed view of the league, and the NFL’s allegiances.
Maybe 10 years from now the NFL will prove the league has changed, by its deeds and policy, not expensive Super Bowl commercials and marketing that will bring this to fruition.
Until then, the NFL remains a league built, bought, celebrated, and controlled by a system of systemic racism.
Line Change is an article series produced by CKSN.ca through the contributions and consultation of various authors and academics, looking at social issues in sport. The series, which aims to open discussion with sports fans, will focus on issues of inequality, and serve as a portion of our anti-oppression education and reporting. Line Change will look at issues related to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, gender inequality, socioeconomic divides, and much more, as they relate to sport and athletics.