Two months ago, Drew Brees was a superstar athlete who had managed to pull the rare trick of being famous, successful, and universally beloved. The latter being by far the most difficult feat of the three. But then the New Orleans Saints quarterback stated publicly (and correctly) that protesting during the Anthem is “disrespectful” and that it’s better to stand together and “show unity.” This unleashed a torrent of criticism, which Brees withstood for all of 24 hours before folding like a beach chair and apologizing profusely for his defense of unity and patriotism. These days, Brees can be seen running around the practice field with the name of a credibly accused rapist and serial abuser, who was shot after allegedly assaulting police officers, taped to his helmet. His transformation from a beloved and admired sports star to a sad, capitulating pawn is complete.
Drew Brees was once considered a “face” of the NFL. By displaying this utter lack of moral fortitude, and by rallying behind a man who had a warrant out for his arrest for domestic abuse, he has proven that he still is a face of the NFL. The NFL, like the NBA, has many faces, and together they create a collage that forms the appearance of a gelatinous sea creature, something with very thin skin and no muscle or spine.
In recent months, and especially since the shooting of Jacob Blake, both sports leagues have been engaged in all manner of publicity stunts designed to make them look like they care about “racial justice.” Fans of the WNBA would have seen similar theatrics if those fans existed.
The Baltimore Ravens issued a statement shortly after the Blake shooting, declaring, despite a total lack of evidence and context, that the police officers are murderous racists. It is interesting that the Ravens were far quicker in responding to the shooting of a guy in Wisconsin than they were in responding to their own player beating his wife in a hotel elevator.
Historically, the NFL has done an abysmal job of enacting justice within its own ranks, often allowing abusers to continue collecting game checks until public pressure forces them to take action. But suspending your own star players, or expelling them from the league entirely, is a real and meaningful measure that might cost them money and bring bad publicity. It is much easier to paint “end racism” onto the field — which is what they’ll be doing in every stadium this year — and allow your players to wear the names of alleged police brutality victims on their uniforms. These measures are performative, self-congratulatory, and achieve nothing of value. In other words, they’re exactly what we’ve come to expect from the NFL. We’ve also come to expect them to steadfastly support abusive and violent men. It’s what they’ve been doing, after all, for decades.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carrol did his part in the fight for truth and justice by appearing on Late Night with Seth Meyers wearing a shirt that said “Equality.” Later, he delivered what we’re told was a “raw” and “impassioned” speech about racism. It’s funny how these raw and impassioned speeches about racism always seem to be delivered exactly when raw and impassioned speeches about racism are what everyone expects and demands. But whether or not it was raw and impassioned, there was certainly nothing bold or honest or important in Carroll’s long lecture to his fellow white people. Bold, honest, and important would have been a call for the public to withhold judgment about police shootings until the facts are known. If he really wanted to be brave, he would have come out fully in support of the police and patriotism and peace. But Pete Carroll is not a brave man. There are few of those in the NFL these days.
The NFL may be a paper tiger when it comes to social justice but they look downright ferocious compared to LeBron and friends. Perhaps all that needs to be said about the NBA is that the players boycotted their own games in response to the Blake shooting — a stupid reason to boycott but at least they’re putting their own money on the line — only to end the boycott and continue playing the very next day. The NBA has perfected the art of faux-activism, winning fawning praise from the media while doing precisely nothing of substance. The same theme emerges: when the league and its members had a chance to take a meaningful stand for human rights — one that would have made a difference yet potentially cost them dearly — they decided to ignore the human rights abuses in China in favor of continuing their lucrative business relationship with its Communist regime.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr famously curled into the fetal position and feigned ignorance when confronted about China’s atrocities last year, saying that he’s still “trying to learn” about the issue. Yet the team published a statement on the Blake shooting within days, condemning the police department and passing their own summary verdict. It is strange that there was no time taken to “learn” in this case — to learn, for example, what actually happened, and other minor details.
For his part, LeBron James is now commenting publicly on every high profile shooting, but only the high profile ones — his concern for violence against black men seems to extend only as far as the news cycle. LeBron has repeatedly declared that he is “scared” as a black man in America and that black people are “literally hunted” every time they “leave the comfort of our homes.” This, of course, is nonsense. Dangerous nonsense. The sort of nonsense that burns cities. But LeBron will continue spraying gasoline into the inferno from the comfort of the NBA bubble or his Los Angeles mansion. America has given LeBron the ability to amass wealth, fame, power, and admiration. Like so many of his peers, he has a funny way of saying thank you.
In summary, these men and organizations are hypocrites and moral cowards. They give us the spectacle of big, strong athletes performing feats of strength and skill — sprinkled, now, with a healthy dose of social justice banner waving — but on the inside, at the core of their characters, they are frail and pitiful. These are, most of all, men desperate for approval. If they are “scared” of anything, it’s that the checks might stop coming, and the applause might cease, and this cushy life afforded to them by the country they despise might disappear. So they will never use their platform to defend true justice or speak real truth. Instead they will posture, and earn their millions, and cry into their piles of money about the the oppression they have made up in their heads.
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