Donald Trump as the Slave Master of the Black Athlete Plantation

September 29, 2017

Sports can reveal so much about where we are in American racial progress: Jackie Robinson, the Mexico City Olympics, Derek Jeter dating white women. White sports fans have made themselves the referees for what black athletes are allowed to do to move the racial equity ball down the field. And they’ll be more than happy to shut down a spectacular rush. And that’s the end of my sports metaphors.

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Enough has been said about Trump’s weird obsession with “ungrateful” NBA players and “ungrateful” NFL players. Except for white people who are in deep denial, anyone that has followed Donald Trump from his Central Park 5 ad, through his relentless Obama birtherism, to his comments about the “fine people” in Charlottesville, knows the man is a racist. He’s the modern kind of racist who says, “I’m the least racist person on earth. I have black friends!”

The way to frame the “I’m not a racist, but…” racism that is flowing down from the White House and across the Facebook feeds of white America is to think historically. They want to make America great again. And for “again,” let’s choose 1857. This was a time when one in four white families in Virginia owned African slaves. And, like the NFL, the best team owners made the most money. There were over a hundred planation owners who owned over a hundred slaves each. The slave labor on those plantations generated millions of dollars in revenue for the white elites, and it wasn’t just cotton sales.

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First, let’s get this out of the way. The NFL kneeling protests have nothing to do with the flag or the anthem. They are about the persistent problem of racism in America, especially with regard to policing. Trump and his army of racist overseer trolls can try to spin it anyway they want, but it’s about racism. (Trump lamented that white NASCAR drivers don’t bother us with this nonsense.)  They can act all butt-hurt about how much the flag means to them, but it’s not about the flag. It’s a common racist trick to make any unwanted racial protest an “attack on America.” Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights activists of the 1960s were routinely called “communists” who wanted to “destroy” America. Trump’s pathetic attempt to make this about the flag only reinforces the fact that this is about racism. “It’s not what the black people say it is. It’s what I say it is.” And I could spend thousands of words talking about how we disrespect the flag on a daily basis. Ever seen a Kid Rock concert?

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President Trump has fashioned himself as the ultimate plantation owner and these negroes better get back to work. He (and white America) owns them.  Black players are chattel. Trump’s Treasury Secretary,  Steven Mnuchin, made that clear on ABC’s This Week when he said, “They have the right to have the first amendment off the field.” As if the Constitution is suspended when the beasts are on the field. I guess these black bucks should be “grateful” that Trump is giving them their first amendment right when they aren’t picking cotton.

Obviously, racist whites don’t like any type of black protest about the persistence of racism, whether it’s a football player peacefully kneeling during our national anthem, written by a slaveowner, or Black Lives Matter protestors peacefully marching down a street. Racist whites didn’t like it in the early 1950s, when Trump said America was “great,” and they surely don’t like it now, after a black president. Racism has been solved and these blacks are just being ungrateful, right? They should be grateful “we” freed them, right? (Does “we” include the white guys waving Confederate flags? Post-racial America is so confusing.)

I spent some time on sports discussion boards this week, trying to get the pulse of the hard core sports fans. There was a lot of anger at Trump for inserting his weird version of patriotism into a multi-racial game, loved by many demographics. (Ask some of my Mexican family members about the role the Dallas Cowboys plays in their lives.) Many even recognized that when Trump referred to the protesting black players as “sons of bitches” to a roaring crowd of white supporters in Alabama, he grabbed a third rail. The mothers of football players are beloved, much more than ratings-obsessed politicians. There were obviously a lot of racists posts that moderators were working overtime to delete. However, plenty of “I’m not a racist, but…” posts slipped through.

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A trip through Twitter was more revealing. Not that these knuckleheads are actually going to do it, but a survey of #NFLBoycott posts was pretty harsh. Plenty of discussions of “ungrateful niggers.” And how much “we” pay them to entertain, not annoy, us. One white Facebook friend said she almost walked out a restaurant because they had an NFL game on. Of course she didn’t and if she did it would have had zero effect on the NFL or the need to solve America’s racial issues. But the blatant racism on Twitter has certainly been given a green light by Trump and his call to have these ungrateful negroes fired from their jobs.

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The term “ungrateful” is key in this issue. White men earn their income. Eli Manning earns his $21 million dollar salary. Black men are given their income. They should be grateful for their millions. I don’t have millions. Who are they to complain? (The average player in the NFL makes $1.9 million, so there are a majority of players who are not getting payed millions to cover Matthew Stafford’s $27 million dollar salary. If fact take a look at the 15 top paid players in the NFL. Thirteen are white guys,)

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Another friend on Facebook, who was angry about these “ungrateful athletes” said, “But we pay them millions!” (Something one of the indigent white hosts of Fox & Friends also claimed.) I asked, “Who is ‘we’?” Nothing. But the message was clear. White people pay them and the team owners own them. The don’t own Ton Brady, but they own Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, and any other black player raising a fist or taking a knee when they should be picking cotton and swearing allegiance to the the slave owner’s anthem.

In my nearly thirty years of research on white supremacists, one of the recurring themes is the anger directed towards African-Americans who made more money than them. In my original study of skinheads in Orlando, Florida, racists were completely obsessed with the fictional middle-class Huxtable family on The Cosby Show. Their parents had been laid off from a Florida textile mill, but every Thursday night there was this black family on TV that had everything they thought they deserved. “What’s wrong with this picture?” I remember one saying in 1988. During that study, the movie Mississippi Burning was released. There’s a powerful scene in it which Gene Hackman’s character is trying to explain the racist white mentality to Willem Dafoe’s character. It perfectly summed up the skinheads I was living with and many of the NFL fans burning Colin Kaepernick jerseys (who, apparently, has not punished enough).

Donald Trump clearly has a number of personal issues wrapped up in this circus act, including his legacy of driving the USFL, a football league meant to rival the NFL, into the ground. His Twitter barrages rile up his under-educated white base while distracting the country from his numerous legislative failures. Perhaps there’s also some admiration for Rocket Man Kim Jong Il. Nobody takes a knee during the national anthem in North Korea. Trump doesn’t have his dictatorship (yet), but if he can get enough of his knuckle-dragging followers to demand that these ungrateful savages be fired from jobs they’ve worked their entire lives to have, he can call it a win.
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Ratings for all sportscasts have been on the decline for the last few years. It’s because young people would rather watch YouTube videos instead of sports, not because a handful of athletes want to make a peaceful statement about the race problem in America. Watching these idiots burn their sports crap in protest reminds me of the same idiots who burned their Beatles albums 51 years ago because someone told them the Beatles believed they were better than Jesus. (John Lennon had just tried to make a valid point about the declining role of religion in young people’s lives, but DJ’s in Southern U.S. states and the KKK didn’t care about context.)

Racism is real and continues to traumatize Americans on a daily basis. A black millionaire football player is still a black man in America. Malcolm X once said, “You know what a white man calls a black man with a PhD? A nigger.” And here we still are. Those who are peacefully protesting racism by kneeling are honoring the flag and the men and women who died for the right that gives them the freedom to do it. They are the patriots, not Trump and his racist cult.

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Violence is the answer: I’m over football.

February 2, 2016

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I give up. I was ready to give up on American football before Concussion, the recent Will Smith movie that focuses on the NFL hiding the issue of the staggering number of serious head injuries among players. I was ready to give up before the endless stories of boys in high school who have died while playing football. I was ready to give up before the continuous stream of stories about college and professional football players beating the women in their lives. I was even ready to give up before Justin Timberlake ripped Janet Jackson’s bra off at Superbowl 38 and the controversy was more about almost seeing her nipple than it was about the implied sexual aggression against women. You can have it, but I’m giving up.

I was ready in 1978, the day I sat on the bus after a B-team football game with the rest of the members of my team at Redan High School. We had lost the game and I took it in stride. But I questioned another player who was in tears. He said, “If you don’t care about this team to cry when we lose then you don’t belong on the team.” And then he beat me up. I quit the next day and joined the punk rocker team.

It might surprise some folks that I was a huge football fan as a kid. I was obsessed with the Miami Dolphins in the early 1970’s and can still name the starting offensive team (including kicker Garo Yepremiam). In 4th grade I wrote a letter to coach Don Shula asking him why the Dolphins never played my hometown Atlanta Falcons. After that the O.J. Simpson poster was on the wall right next to Farrah. There was nothing more blissful than a Sunday watching the NFL highlight reel and all the great tackles shown in slow motion.

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In my podunk Georgia county (Dekalb in the 1970s), there were no middle schools. So 8th grade was the first year of high school. You want to feel small? And I skipped 5th grade so I was essentially a 7th grade kid in high school. The only way for a 12-year-old boy (or any boy) to stake his claim for Southern masculinity was to join the football team. No cuts. You show up to practice in the sweltering Georgia sun and you are on the team. You might be tenth string but you get to wear the jacket and be in the team picture and sit in the front at pep rallies. Oh, and you get cheerleaders cheering for you. And the only people that get to beat you up are your teammates.

So I rode the bench as an outside linebacker (#53) for three years. I was skinny but fast so when I did get to play I channeled those NFL films and did recover a fumble in one big game against Cross Keys High School. At most of the games me and the other sideline jockeys would smack our helmets against the bleachers to make it look like we got in some good hits. When I left in 10th grade I was happy to let the jocks have their game and get out without a serious injury. (The first year I broke my tailbone. The second year I broke my thumb. The third year I ripped a muscle in my back and got to sit in the hottub during afternoon practices.)

But it’s hard not to be a casual football fan with all the billions spent on hyping college and pro football. Even last year I wondered if feminism and Super Bowls could exist side-by-side. Football is the only major sport where there is not some reasonable equivalent for females. (And don’t you dare say, “Lingerie Bowl.”) At least Major League Baseball has women’s softball to narrow the gap. If my daughter wants to become a part of the NFL, her best option is to become the wife of a player and risk abuse that comes from a guy who is being exploited and has been hit in the head too many times. Or she can be a cheerleader, cheering on the guys and getting paid minimum wage. But who cheers for the cheerleader? Even management in the NFL is an old boys club. What’s a female football lover to do?

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The abuse of women by players (and fans) is an old sad story. The new wrinkle to that story is the growing understanding of the cumulative effect of countless head blows that players get as part of their job description. And this starts when they are unpaid players in school. Yet people are still making millions off these young men killing themselves for our entertainment. A few will make it to retirement with a nest egg but more are just chewed up by the machine. There is even a Wikipedia page for NFL players who died while still playing and you have to stop wondering when you see all the suicides. But go team!

There is, of course, a racial and class element to this as poor boys from inner cities and rural communities are told their one way to the American Dream is through professional sports, especially the hyper-masculine world of football. They can have everything they see dangled in front of them on ESPN, including super-model wives. All they have to do is sell their soul (or brains, ACLs, and spines) to the game and hope they are one of the few that has a post-career life worth living.

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This issue is finally getting some attention. The NFL reports that this season there were 317 reported concussions of NFL players. (Who knows how many are unreported?) And that number may be down because of better helmets for teams that can afford the latest, most expensive protective gear. I doubt the inner city high school team is in line for the new top-of-the-line Xenith helmets any time soon. And there is a new effort to decouple the violence on the grid iron from the violence in the home front that is encouraging. You just wonder if the neurology of football can counter a few well-meaning PSAs. But I have to say I have a big ol’ man-crush on former LA Ram Terry Crews and his efforts to bring these issues to the audience that needs to hear it the most. There are feminist football players, y’all.

In a society that claims to preach, “Violence is not the answer,” why do we still obsess over the macho violence of football? In football, violence IS the answer, and the harder the better. I’m not immune to this. As a kid in Georgia I would go to stock car races and PRAY to see a big crash. The game itself can be fascinating and artful and (in those slow-motion NFL films) can look more like ballet, than war. But there is a growing body count that is part of the cost. And that includes battered women who are beaten by brain-damaged players and former players.

I’m just not sure it’s worth all the hype. Sure it’s fun to meet friends to watch a big college bowl together. Maybe you even went to that school 100 years ago. And I know some people want to watch the Super Bowl “for the commercials,” but your are going to see every single one of those commercials a thousand times over the next three months (including whatever sexist crap GoDaddy and Carl’s Jr will throw at us). There certainly is a thrill to watching a live sporting event as it happens, and not TIVO’d (or like with the last Olympics, on a 3-day tape delay). To share in a global experience can be unifying and exhilarating. (Just witness my freak out for the World Cup every four years.) It crosses political, racial, class and even gender lines. I bet even Bernie Sanders has a pick for the big game. (I can hear him say, “I’m quite impressed the the Carolina Panthers ability to reduce the inequity between the salaries for its support staff and its management.”)

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I won’t hold it against you if you are all in for the sport and Sunday’s Super Bowl. I’m out. I’ve devoted enough time watching reruns of players getting folded, spindled and mutilated and just thinking, “That’s awesome!” This year, out of respect for the dozen boys who died playing high school football in 2015, like 17-year-olds Luke Schemm and Andre Smith, I’m going to spend Sunday hanging out with my daughter. Maybe we’ll go to the duckpond or go shopping. And I’m trying to teach her to play catch so she can play softball someday.

Edit: I’m supposed to watch this Frontline story: League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.