A Crisis of Identity

The NFL continues to chime in on Colin Kaepernick and protest of police brutality against Black people via players sitting, kneeling or raising a fist during the national anthem before games. Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made his thoughts known, saying that anyone who protested the national anthem was disrespectful while insinuating that Colin Kaepernick’s protest is empty because there is no substantive action associated with it. The truth is that Colin Kaepernick has donated his own funds to causes of his choosing – causes I am sure Jeffery Lurie has not donated to. Kaepernick is 900K into his one million dollar pledge. In addition to donating money, Kaepernick has hosted Know Your Rights Camps throughout the country. I have other issues with Lurie’s comments; particularly the need to play respectability politics by pitting the activism and methods of Malcolm Jenkins against Colin Kaepernick’s methods. Also, for a reporter to say that a doctoral degree in social policy qualifies any White man to speak on matters of systemic racism is akin to saying that since a White man has Black friends, he can speak on matters of racial injustice. Jeffrey Lurie is a wealthy White male team owner… he may have voted for Hillary Clinton, however White liberals have their issues with not standing against White Supremacy and failing to understand the causes of Black people – so save me the liberal qualifying.

ESPN found themselves embroiled in controversy when they apologized for SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill calling Donald Trump a White supremacist. ESPN made 2 mistakes. First, in their apology, they said that the comments made by Hill regarding Trump “do not represent the position of ESPN.” That begs the question; what is ESPN’s position, because if you do not believe that Trump is a White supremacist – there are valid reasons proving why Trump is a White Supremacist – then you are complicit in allowing White supremacy to thrive. ESPN’s second mistake was attempting to keep Hill off SportsCenter by asking other Black anchors to take her place (and Michael Smith because he said he would not go on without Hill). ESPN denied this story, however, the evidence does not show that ESPN is telling the truth.

The struggle that the NFL and ESPN find themselves is a crisis of identity; these organizations do not know who they are. Who you are as an organization is tied to the customers you seek to serve. The NFL and ESPN are attempting to appease its White customers at the expense of their Black labor force; betting they won’t lose their Black customers. The NFL’s labor force is predominately Black. ESPN’s flagship sport is football above all others; collegiate and professional football is made up of predominately Black people. However, team owners are White, most of the executives, management and coaches are predominately White, and a majority of people who purchase tickets are White. Specifically, in the NFL, 70% of players while 83% of the fan base is White. Both these organizations profits are tied to the labor of Black men, yet they are concerned with the sensibilities of White people who consume the sport of football. ESPN reported a J.D. Power and Associates study that cited national anthem protest as a major reason for a decline in NFL viewership last season. White conservatives use this as evidence to justify their indignation with Colin Kaepernick and the protest of police brutality. The study said that 26% of people watched less football due to the protest. However, that statistic was misleading. Of the 9,200 people surveyed, only 10% of people surveyed (920) said they stopped watching football. Of the 920 people who stopped watching football, 26% or 287 people, said that the anthem protest was the reason. 287 is only 3% of 9,200 people. So the reality is that only 3% of people said that the protesting of the national anthem made them stop watching football, not 26%.

The NFL, ESPN, the NCAA and the NBA base their profits off the performance and popularity of Black bodies. Remove Black labor from these corporations and they will become the NHL; a predominately White labor force, yet an insignificant sports when compared to Black labor led sports in the American lexicon. Not only labor, but Black culture has been appropriated in some cases and partnered with in others to sell sports. Hip-Hop culture, birthed and nurtured by the Black aesthetic has gone corporate. The NBA has a history of using Hip-Hop to sell its product and appeal to White and Black fans. Drake might as well be an honorary league executive. The reason why Hill and Michael Smith have been moved to the primetime 6pm slot is for ESPN to use Black culture for profit. While the NFL and NCAA (football more than basketball) use the “all-American” steez i.e. American flags and country music, to sell its product, Hip-Hop is used to attract top recruits for top collegiate football programs and attract younger fans to the professional game dating back to the Super Bowl shuffle. All these things may be done with the White consumer in mind, yet it the creativity and power found in the Black body that makes White consumption possible. As much as they care not to admit it to the casual White fan, Blackness sells; Black people and Black culture generate profits for White business owners… and so Black lives matter to the bottom line. The NFL and ESPN must remember who they are and who they owe their profit margins to. Yes, Whites may pay more money to consume sports than Black people, but Black people are what they are consuming. Best not piss off the help; they may spit in your food.

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