Let’s Get a Few Things Straight: About kneeling and football

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The reactionary nature of the conversation around whether one should or should not kneel during the Star Spangled Banner’s regular caterwauling at the opening of a football game makes me wish for a rapid and quick death. There’s nothing more loathsome to me than seeing adults who should know better after 16+ years of imperial militarism run amok kowtowing to such a vile force over a sport that itself is laced with massive problems on a systemic level.

Ken Silverstein is probably going to hex me for this one but the simple truth is that professional football, up until this recent PR Hail Mary, was in some serious trouble owing to the concussion scandal. Roger Goodell, a complete bastard and monster, was the best thing that ever happened to players, their families, and retirees precisely because he is such a cretin. If a more competent and likable NFL Commissioner with half a brain in his head had been in charge over the past several years, who knows how many more decades would have gone by before the CTE concussion scandal would have broken into the news?

In February 2016, I interviewed Mike Araujo, whose late father George is a boxing legend in Providence, and we discussed briefly what happened when CTE began to take hold of the mind of a proud African American sports legend. The illness caused by long-term chronic blows to the head is not a laughing matter and it cannot be ameliorated through equipment adaptations or adjustment on the football field. Human anatomy is such that the brain will always be suffering the trauma that precipitates CTE later in life, whether it’s football or for that matter any sport that uses the head as a battering ram.

Photo credit SportingNews.com

The real issue of systemic racism that is not being discussed yet in terms of football is the number of players of color who were undeniably robbed by their employers. The existence of CTE as a debilitating illness caused by workplace injury is one of the most straightforward and uncontroversial workers’ comp cases in recent memory. It should not be a subject of debate.

But then you realize the scope and breadth of the implications for not just the NFL but the sport itself. The number of workers’ comp claims alone, totally divorced from lawsuits stemming from personal injury lawsuits which could (and certainly should) be filed against the league, probably would liquidate the assets of every team in the league and basically abolish the sport forever.

And on top of that you add the racial lens, which I see as vital because of both the percentage of players who are men of color but also the very problematic way that the sport functions as an exhibition of gladiatorial brutality for white people. While I certainly don’t think this of Washington Babylon‘s editor, there are many American men who see the weekly football game and men of color hurling themselves into each other in roughly the same way that Calvin J. Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, takes in with obvious voyeuristic pleasure the sickening and bizarre death matches between enslaved Black workers in the odious Django Unchained. Football lends itself to a homoerotic racist urge within many white American males who make players of color into sexualized totems.

And so we’ve got an obvious cover-up of a workplace safety hazard so to avoid paying the insurance bills and lawsuits, an audience that has moved further to the right politically while seeing the workers as “theirs,” and then the issue of hyper-nationalist patriotism which is calling for successful athletes of color to be fired because they dare point out that police are bastards.

This is the conversation we are not having. And that is because those who oppose racism are allowing our game show host president to control the discourse.

That’s a pretty big problem.

  • Karl Kolchak

    I happen to be one former NFL fan (season ticket holder for 13 years, in fact) who stopped watching in part because of CTE and the attempts by the NFL to cover it up. Maybe if they hadn’t at the same time watered the product down so badly by placing so much emphasis on the one position (QB) where there is not only not nearly enough talent to go around but if a team loses theirs they are basically fucked, it might have been different. Instead, the players are destroying their minds and bodies for a game that isn’t even all that good anymore.