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Protests, Patriotism, and Profit–Why the NFL’s Owners Turned on Trump

Trump comments on NFL

Colin Kaepernick set off a firestorm of controversy when he decided to begin his silent protest during last year’s NFL’s season. The decision to kneel cost him his football career, but earned him a place in the cultural zeitgeist as a hero or a villain depending on whom you speak to. At a campaign rally for an Alabama senatorial candidate who is now a footnote at his own campaign event, Donald Trump unloaded a heap of opprobrium upon NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem. Though the invective was directed at all kneeling players in general, it was a thinly veiled reference to Colin Kaepernick. The president of the United States spewed, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off of the field right now! He’s fired!” He went on to say, “When people like yourselves turn on television, and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem, the only thing you can do better, is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave.” Beyond that, Trump also suggested that the efforts to improve player safety have ruined the game: “Today, if you hit too hard, 15 yards, throw him out of the game…They’re ruining the game, right? They’re ruining the game. It’s hurting the game.”

The entire league now thrown into a maelstrom, the NFL response at the commissioner and ownership levels was swift and severe in their condemnation of Trump’s comments. What’s important to note is that most owners as well as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, made Trump’s insults towards players the focus of their responses. However, I would argue that the motivation behind their strong responses wasn’t the “son of a bitch” comment or the veiled swipe at Kaepernick. Rather, it was the “leave the stadium…pick up and leave” comments. Therein lies the source of their discontent. After all, it’s not as if this was the first time that Donald Trump had singled out Colin Kaepernick for criticism over his protest. However, this was the first time that he called for a boycott of  the NFL because of the protests, and if the Wu-Tang Clan is to be beleived, the NFL’s philosphy is C.R.E.A.M.

The League finds itself in a very vulnerable place right now. Though Kaepernick is not currently on anyone’s team, his actions inspired dozens of other players to take a knee during the national anthem this season. Television ratings and stadium attendence were down even before Trump’s comments this weekend. Amidst continuing controversy over the League’s handling of CTE, it was revealed that disgraced former New England Patriot and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez, had one of the most severe cases of the disease ever recorded.  The NFL is a business first and foremost. And as any business facing countervailing winds in rough seas, the first instinct is to stop taking on water and right the ship.

The NFL is an organization in which 70% of the players are black. From an owner’s perspective, it would have been untenable to remain silent after Trump’s comments when so many players were already taking a knee during the national anthem and concerned that the league was apathetic (or even hostile) to racial inequalities and the impact of CTE on the brain. It would have been conceivable that players who were already angry enough to kneel or raise a fist during the playing of the national anthem, would have become angry enough to refuse to play at all. And as we’ve seen with Kaepernick’s protest, these things tend to spread.

If I were an NFL owner in charge of a 53-man roster in which a majority of the players were black, I would be more inclined to placate my workforce with solidarity (or at least the appearance of it), than to risk their general malaise mushrooming into a strike. Is this a cynical view? Perhaps. But the deafening silence of team owners during Kaepernick’s free agency leads me to believe that their recent conversion to free speech advocates may not have the purest motivations now that the man with the bully pulpit of the White House has weighed in on their business. Make no mistake. NFL owners are not just suddenly seeing the value of protest. Nor are they even asserting the lofty idea that protest can be a form of patriotism. They don’t dislike the president either. In fact, several NFL owners are either Donald Trump’s friends or politial benefactors. What the owners responded to en masse was a potential interruption of their profits. And that’s something that even Donald Trump understands.

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Sunken Place Saturday Double Issue: Ray Lewis and Steve Harvey

This edition of Sunken Place Saturday is a double issue for two reasons: Ray Lewis and Steve Harvey. These two have never missed an opportunity to coon for ingratiate themselves with wealthy, powerful white men.

First up, everyone’s second favorite football Hall of Fame accused double murderer, Ray Lewis:

Ray Lewis has really been diving head-first into the Sunken Place these days. The former double murder defendant/Ravens football great has gone out of his way to criticize Colin Kaepernick and his national anthem protest. Ever the faithful manservant to white supremacy, Lewis has articulated and “yassuh-ed” every stupid rationalization coming out of the mouths of Kaepernick’s detractors. Lewis’ latest verbal buck and shuffle is a complaint that Kaep’s girlfriend, Nessa Diab kept him from getting signed to the Ravens. Diab very famously posted the photo of Lewis and Raven’s owner Steve Bisciotti embracing à la Stephen and Mr. Candy. The picture didn’t have a caption, but it definitely spoke volumes, nonetheless.

Ray-Ray complained the photo comparison was a “racist gesture”, and I’m not sure why. The comparison was pretty apt if you ask me. Bisciotti is an owner. Mr. Candy was an owner. Stephen worked for Mr. Candy for decades. Ray-Ray worked for Massa Mr. Bisciotti for 17 years. Stephen frequently and loudly criticized Django. Ray-Ray frequently and loudly criticized Kaepernick. Stephen was Mr. Candy’s emissary and cosigned everything he did. Ray-Ray was Bisciotti’s emissary and cosigned everything he did.  Both white men have used their faithful black manservants as their personal Negro whisperers. Ray Lewis seems committed to the notion that Mr. Bisciotti is “good white folks” whose sensibilities Diab and Kaepernick shouldn’t upset.

I don’t know what to make of guys like Ray Lewis. He doesn’t see the ridiculousness of pretending that Bisciotti didn’t blink twice about having a former double murder defendant signed to his roster, but somehow really struggled with whether or not to sign Kaepernick (who has committed no crime whatsoever).  For that idiocy and more, Ray Lewis has earned his place in the Sunken Place.

 

Next up, we have everyone’s favorite oversized porcelain veneer enthusiast, Steve Harvey.

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When he’s not busy giving women bad information in his books and in beauty pageants, he is a full-time white supremacy apologist and opportunist. Whether it’s allowing disgraced racist Paula Deen to participate in his mentorship program for black boys, or agreeing to sit down with Donald Trump to discuss the needs of the black community, Harvey is a willing flag-bearer for white supremacy if he thinks it can get him some press or earn him a coin or two. This week, he lamented that he should have listened to his wife and not taken the meeting with Trump, and that he was “surprised” at all the backlash he received for meeting Foolius Caesar in January.

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However, Harvey still defended his decision to take the meeting saying:

“I have an obligation to take a seat at the table when invited.” He continued, “Change can only happen if you sit at the table. If you’re not at the table you can’t even… suggest what we should be doing. Therefore, it was very important for me to take the meeting. The only way we can heal the divide in this country is through conversation…If I’m going to keep getting stabbed at, then at least while you’re stabbing me, you should understand my intent for taking the meeting in the first place.”

I call bullshit. Why on earth, with all the talented academics, politicians, and civil rights leaders in the black community, would a newly elected president think that the host of Family Feud is the best person to reach out to in that community? Harvey knew he was being used as window dressing and he was okay with it. He figured that the meeting would ingratiate him with people who only watched Fox News and Family Feud on TV. Now, I’m not saying that those people are Trump voters, but if the Cracker Barrel fits, Steve Harvey’s going to shuck and jive in it. That’s why Steve Harvey has earned his spot in this weekend’s edition of Sunken Place Saturday.

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US Open Full of Black Girl Magic

Arthur Ashe Stadium was full of Black Girl Magic today as Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams each won their respective quarter-final matches to advance to the semi-finals in this year’s US Open. Stephens defeated Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia (6-3, 3-6, 7-6). Though Stephens might be a new name to a more casual tennis fan, she’s been on the professional circuit since 2007. She’s known for being an all-court player and for her well-balanced playing style. This will be her second semi-final singles appearance in a grand slam tournament.  Her first semi-final appearance was at the 2013 Australian Open.

Venus Williams needs no introduction. The seven-time Grand Slam winner put away Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitová (6-3, 3-6, 7-6)  this evening. The 37 year-old Williams will very likely become the #1 ranked tennis player in the world if she wins her semi-final match against Stephens. Venus has dazzled tennis fans for the last two decades with her formidable serve and adroit play at the baseline. No matter who wins in the semifinals, a black woman will definitely appear at the US Open Finals this year. Who can be mad at that?