“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou
The NFL and many others are asking you to believe they are changed now, because of the action of a PR statement, after years of inaction.
The press release industrial complex is in full effect. Every white player, coach, executive, team, organization and publicly traded company has put out a statement or video on where they stand on racism and how they seek out inclusion.
Thanks tips. That should be the default. Simply hearing your voice isn’t enough. The whole point is to use your voice to amplify your actions. Winning the official statement Olympics, getting yours out first or with the most sympathetic buzz words, doesn’t immediately put you on the right side of history.
Take, for example, the NFL’s first statement.
It is a lot of words but doesn’t say anything as it didn’t use the words racism, police brutality, black lives matter or player protest.
And the players were not satisfied with that.
The best black players in the league, with the help of a league-employed content creator working on the initiative undercover without permission, created a video demanding truth and reconciliation from the NFL on issues surrounding race, including condemning systemic racism and apologizing for banning peaceful protests.
— Saquon Barkley (@saquon) June 5, 2020
The video was organized by Michael Thomas and released on Twitter. Stars like Patrick Mahomes, Ezekiel Elliott, Odell Beckham Jr.and Saquon Barkley demanded action from the league in the powerful video.
There is nobody in this video who was in their 30s. They were mature beyond their years as the average age of the players in the video was 25. Not only are they the present-day stars of the league, they are the future of the NFL. That future can do quite a bit to ease racial tensions, but they’ll need NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s help.
On Friday, Goodell released a video in response, admitting the league was wrong in not allowing players to peacefully protest and went as far as saying “We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter.”
Goodell’s video was unprecedented as he didn’t consult the owners, which is who he works for, before doing it. The players were now calling his shots as his video is basically verbatim what they demanded the league stated.
After admitting he was oblivious for many years, Goodell didn’t become woke overnight.
Eric Garner was killed in 2014. Walter Scott was killed in 2015. There were so many deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of the police that in 2016, Colin Kaepernick was so moved he took a knee and 11 players joined him and approximately 200 players took a knee after U.S. President Donald Trump called protesting players “sons of bitches” in 2017. So, it was clear there were societal issues and the players were moved about them.
Goodell was left with no choice but to respond to avoid a mutiny. He does have a choice as to what he does next.
You can say you were wrong. What has changed other than public opinion? Why were you wrong? How did you come to that decision? You need to show your work to truly start a dialogue.
Furthermore, he still hasn’t mentioned Kaepernick or police brutality. If we’re talking honestly, we have to talk about the actual issues.
Here are a few suggestions of change he can be a part of below:
If Goodell and the NFL are serious, why is the team in Washington still named after a racial slur? Because they’ll lose revenue on merchandise already created? Because they’ll lose the tradition of a singular name for a storied franchise? Neither are compelling reasons. Change the name. Allow a refund via credit for anyone who hands in the old uniform and wants to buy a new one and move on. That’s an easy decision that you could make with one phone call if you really cared.
You rarely have two opportunities to be on the right side of history on an issue. You’ve already admitted that you were on the wrong side when it comes to protests during the national anthem. How much longer do you want to remain on the wrong side of one of the most obvious racially insensitive team names in the history of professional sports?
Another easy option would be to protest. Goodell could hit the streets with some of those same players. That is one symbolic gesture that would go a long way.
In season, there are opportunities as well.
Every October, the NFL’s has expanded its “Crucial Catch” campaign to no longer just raise funds and garner awareness for breast cancer but all forms of cancer. The NFL celebrates the military with the “Salute to Service” campaign in November. Both worthy causes. The NFL could spend just as much real estate on the league calendar to create awareness for equality and anti-racism initiatives.
You either care or you don’t. You can’t be half pregnant.
Once a season, the NFL relaxes its uniform code and allows players to wear cleats with custom designs on them via the “My Cleats, My Clause” initiative. Why just one week? Whether it is anti-black racism or any other issue, what’s the downside of allowing players to have messages and auction off their cleats as often as they want? In the cost-benefit analysis, I’m struggling to see how the benefit would outweigh the cost. I’m struggling to find out what the cost is at all and who would be paying it?
If the NFL wants to address the subtle-side of racism in our society, they could take the lead on how their players are seen and described. A media symposium about the unconscious bias in broadcasting would be instructive. I watch games on Sundays and count the times a white slot receiver is described as making “a heads-up” play and a black slot receiver makes a similar play and it was “freakish.” This robs the black player of his aptitude and the white player of his athleticism. How you talk about players in media shapes how we see people in society.
That shaping of stereotypes and putting people in a box starts when players are young. The NFL’s “Play Football” initiative does a great job of getting kids involved in the grassroots of the game, but there should be an emphasis on making sure from a young age all kids are playing each position, not just the ones they see players who look like them in on TV. I’ll be honest, when I was a young player, I aspired to be a running back and not a quarterback or a kicker, because I didn’t see anyone like me playing those positions, thus they weren’t deemed desirable.
Why are almost all NFL centres white? Why are almost all NFL cornerbacks black? Can you think of a white corner since Jason Sehorn? I didn’t think so. Why are the positions thought to be about reaction predominantly played by black men and the ones thought to be about reasoning predominantly played by white men? That reinforces harmful stereotypes.
And lastly, lead. The NFL needs to encourage college football commissioners to adopt a Rooney rule of their own. The NFL is trying to put a Band-Aid on a problem well after it’s run roughshod. Yes, the NFL needs to address the fact that they only have three black coaches, two black general managers and zero black owners out of 32 teams. But college football’s lack of diversity is as big an issue because that’s the pipeline to the NFL. That’s clearly not a change Goodell can make unilaterally, but as the steward of the game, it behooves him to try.
The NFL is a $15-billion industry with great reach. Imagine if they made it a priority to register fans to vote for the upcoming election. They have activations in the stadium during games and in the parking lot during tailgates for corporate partners to sell fans credit cards in exchange for merchandise. Isn’t the use of a rally towel or a T-shirt better applied as an incentive to promote democracy and engagement in the political process?
The NFL and the sports world aren’t alone. Toyota, Netflix, Wendy’s, Ben and Jerry’s, Getty and LEGO, etc., all have made where they stand clear. The NFL has only talked the talk, but they have the unique opportunity to walk the walk right now.
To be clear, I’m not criticizing Goodell for finally speaking up. I can’t be mad at all these people with privilege for not speaking up and then also be mad when they do.
Goodell, just like every other white CEO and company, has vowed to listen and learn. That’s not enough. You need to apply what you learn and stop ignoring.
And it’s incumbent among all of us now that we are mobilized to strategize on what issues we are going to hold them accountable for.
Now is the time to put actions behind the words.