Every so often, ESPN publishes an article of actual significance. Today, Howard Bryant’s trenchant analysis of the NFL’s tenuous relationship with race, which we can see as a microcosm of America’s larger cultural ignorance, is one such article.
In it, he suggests that we redirect our lazy (and typical) finger-pointing, person-oriented questions of racism (i.e. Is Chip Kelly racist or not?) and position ourselves to examine the nuances of a more foundational, systemic (and historically obvious) racial reality. As he points out, a white coach’s inability to “get” his black players is unremarkable. The power dynamics that pervade the NFL, all other professional sports, and the entire country are equally unremarkable. We still abide by the racial hierarchy established by our beloved forefathers. The difference is that we delude ourselves about it. During America’s inception, how white people related to black – isn’t it more fair to say people instead of property here? – people was transparent. Whites were naturally superior, so it was only right that they established their new country through the self-sanctioned plunder of every Other that dared tread on their sacred American soil. Are we really surprised that sentiments of white supremacy, the seeds from which this country grew, linger into our present institutions?
Black labor is still brutally exploited everywhere you look, though the relativity might obscure these unflattering origins. The NFL is a league of plunder. It is the child of America, so what else would we expect? It inherits a racial legacy that it conveniently ignores, and it orients its consumers toward a particular, favorable way of seeing its business. And whenever the veil starts to get lifted, potentially exposing the inner workings of its fundamentally corrupt systems, like America and its hegemonic media, it finds scapegoats. It pushes the burden onto individuals and makes us all find comfort in casting stones at an easy target. Is Chip Kelly a racist? Maybe. Maybe not. Bryant points this out brilliantly. Is the NFL racist? Is America racist? Of course. And it’s this matter-of-fact truth that we need to reckon with.