If owners put profits before Black lives, protest with your pocketbook

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (Brandon Wade/AP)

Eventually we’ll fall back. The fatigue will set in. The news cycle will lily pad from anti-Black racism to a natural catastrophe or celebrity scandal or COVID-19 breakthrough or, God forbid, second wave. In a sports context, most of our beloved leagues expect to be in full swing by Labour Day. When a pennant is up for grabs, will protests and privilege still be such a big part of the general conversation?

No matter what it is, something will eventually come along and take the life out of the story. And at that point, it will be no less urgent and no less true to affirm that Black lives matter.

I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet, to be honest. Memorial Day, when Amy Cooper jeopardized Christian Cooper’s life and George Floyd lost his, was an entire pay period ago.

Of course, there’s been no shortage of the very things people are protesting against and raising awareness about since those events. Numerous acts of police brutality have been caught on tape at protests; Atlanta police shot Rayshard Brooks twice in the back; the RCMP hit an Inuk man with a truck; Robert Fuller was found hanging from a tree in Palmdale, Calif.; two Black trans women, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton, were found murdered in a 24-hour period; Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Chantel Moore both lost their lives during police “wellness checks” in Toronto and Edmundson, N.B., respectively. It goes on and on.

Writing even an incomplete list like this one makes it seem ridiculous that public attention would ever move on from these issues, but again, it will. So how can sports fans keep the movement going long after marching stops and the social media trends have changed?

One way is to protest with your pocketbook, to put your money where your mouth and mind currently are and incentivize the anti-racist behaviour you want to see in the world.

Next NFL season, whenever it takes place, hundreds of players will be kneeling. Don’t be surprised if you see fans kneeling, too — whenever they are allowed to enter stadiums again. It’s now safe for players to speak up, which is why all-of-a-sudden QBs not named Colin Kaepernick have the courage to lead off the field as well as on it. There is strength in numbers.

I love the fact that people are no longer being silent or silencing others. But I do wonder whether all of these generic statements with ambiguous language make a difference. And it hasn’t escaped my notice that despite the pendulum shift in public consciousness, football’s owners are silent. The principal owners of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and Tennesse Titans are the only ones in the NFL to have made gestures of support but, according to NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, not one has said the words “Black lives matter.”

The next step in all this — the one that takes us beyond words and into concrete action — needs to occur at the institutional level. Business owners have a level of influence with lawmakers and politicians that players don’t. Thus far, they don’t seem moved by their players’ calls to action.

They also have more influence than the average fan, and haven’t paid all that much more attention to what we’ve been saying. But there are far more fans than players, and we have another way to send them a message: The collective power of the almighty dollars can make a difference.

We’ve already seen it in other industries.

Starbucks, the world’s biggest coffee chain, put out an internal memo barring staff from wearing Black Lives Matter pins or shirts. The rationale they offered was that doing so would violate their dress code because they don’t allow political or religious statements. The stance was roundly criticized for its hypocrisy because the brand had supported LGBTQ+ rights before and even handed out pins to employees in that case.

Naturally, #boycottstarbucks started trending.

Due to public pressure, Starbucks changed course and not only designed a Black Lives Matter shirt of their own, they also permitted their staff to wear their own until the corporate version arrived.

Similarly, Mota Skates, a Michigan-based roller skates manufacture came under fire for a social media post that some thought strayed a bit too close to All Lives Matter rhetoric.

The brand noticed the outrage and apologized, but did so while actively participating in Blackout Tuesday. The tone deaf pleas from the company that have followed, have been littered with responses from upset fans describing how they are no longer supporting the brand. And now long-time customers are donating money so Black skaters can get out of their Mota contracts and the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association cut ties with Mota and amended the language in their contracts to ensure future partners values align with their own.

In Toronto, the Drake Hotel chain had their Blackout Tuesday post, and subsequent other posts on their feed, filled with comments from former employees and guests that detailed racist treatment as well as employment practices designed to make sure the establishment wasn’t “too urban.” Vendors and clients like the Polaris Music Prize have started to sever ties with Drake properties.

Gauging the success of a boycott like these ones depends on your end goals. As people fight for justice for George Floyd and his family, banning the use of chokeholds by police, the dismissal of qualified immunity and a reimagination of law enforcement’s role in a civil society, the benefits of hitting a corporation on its bottom line may not be immediately obvious. But any pressure helps the push for chance, and these actions can also impact pay equity and representation in upper management, and improve attitudes towards racialized people.

The sports teams we love play a role in any and all of the above. And considering their actions at this crucial moment in history might also mean changing your allegiances.

I am a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan. I can’t see myself paying to attend a game at AT&T Stadium as long as the play for an owner, in Jerry Jones, who hasn’t said a word about the current movement against anti-Black racism and who has previously banned his players from protesting during the national anthem. Jones is far from shy. He is the only NFL owner to hold his own press conferences after games and he has weekly radio spots breaking down his team’s play. But when it comes to speaking about the plight of Black people, he can’t find any words?

His silence isn’t a character trait, it’s a social, political and moral choice.

Jones has the privilege of profiting off the work of Black players but has no interest in using his wealth to enrich the communities his players come from. His looting of urban communities is unacceptable.

The Dallas Cowboys are the most valuable franchise in the NFL; the New York Knicks hold that title in the NBA. Not only has Knicks owner James Dolan failed to say anything publicly, he sent a memo to his employees explaining why he has no obligation to speak.

Larry Tanenbaum, on the other hand, has not only pledged to put the weight of MLSE behind this issue, he’s appeared in the Toronto Raptors video addressing racism. MLSE has also begun looking to hire a director of diversity and inclusion.

Again, continued and sustained action speaks louder than words — or job searches. But the way fans keep up the full-court press is by rewarding the leagues, organizations and people that recognize and participate in the societal shift we are seeing. Do not excuse the racially harmful behavior of those who remain on the wrong side of history.

Businesses have an obligation to support Black Lives Matter, and sports organizations bear a particular responsibility because Black lives matter to their bottom line.

If you’re an ally, you have an obligation as well: to hold them accountable when they fail and reward moral action. Otherwise, all the protesting will have been in vain once the balls start bouncing again.

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