I love football. Love it. It is the greatest sport in the world. I am sure the Greeks would disagree but to each their own! NFL football is spectacular and presents an awesome show of power on each play: the passing ability of daring quarterbacks with his offensive linemen, the strength and fortitude of the rushing running back, the determination of your defensive line and the ever speedy receivers bring it all together. Every player has an assigned role and duty: to disrupt the enemy and achieve victory! It’s like war where sweat, instead of blood, is spilled upon the green. Well, sometimes there’s blood. No matter rain, sleet or snow the game is on and neither side quits until the fat lady sings.
Not to be mistaken as the casual spectator, I get a bit emotional while viewing this particular sport. Every aspect of it appeals to me. The inspiring display of teamwork along with the coaches and the passionate support of their team. The peals of overjoyed fans seems to reach through the television screen and takes hold of me as does their sorrow when a team, defeated, begin a pitiful trek back to the locker room. Good old football, where every inch, every yard gained counts for something. Did you miss the incredible play executed by the 49ers last season when a very teary TE Vernon Davis exits the field to the welcoming arms of his teammates? I sobbed with him that day.
That is what it’s all about.
Unsurprisingly, I happen to be a Bears fan, a welcome affliction for many Chicagoans. A big name team with a small-town personality, they are explosive at times, defensively and offensively. They can be quite the opposite other times but that’s my team, win or lose. Every yard gained grants me a bit of solace, a slice of joy amidst all the pain and drudgery of the day-to-day. Perhaps it is why sports fans become so involved during football season. The first game I ever watched was in ’85, when the Bears won the Superbowl with McMahon at the helm. I was young and did not understand fully the magnitude of their victory or why my aunt Vanessa hopped around the living room with infectious glee, tears in her eyes. I was hooked on the sport from then on. I had to be clever and followed games when I could– my mother was anti-TV. If only the world were like the NFL clubs, where black, white and brown come together, play together and accomplish great things.
Beyond field activity, there lies a grim reality that is both endearing yet saddening to consider. Black athletes, many who are renown and beloved by millions, often come from poor and broken homes set within crime-ridden neighborhoods. Reared by God-fearing mothers, these young men didn’t have a father to play catch with. They hone their skills on the very streets that would end them yet they persevere. In fact, I would offer that there is some correlation between a distinct lack of incentive on part of state officials and their elite puppeteers to curb crime, as poverty, fear and a lack of options tend to steer at-risk youth towards sports to escape their circumstances. Upon entering high school these young men meet with motivated teachers and coaches that recognize their ability and potential for further growth. The football programs at these under-performing schools are poorly managed, due to inadequate funding. Also, black men are not properly introduced to training tailored to prepare one for the role of quarterback. In college, they are ferried into the more physical and dangerous positions unless they demonstrate exceptional leadership ability and are able to communicate effectively the coach’s play-calls to the offense. This is the most important position on a football team and it is hard not to notice the overabundance of white quarterbacks in the NFL. It is why it comes with great delight to some– and a bit of derision from people such as Rush Limbaugh– when a black quarterback beats the myth that he cannot comprehend an intricate playbook and lead his team. The rookie Redskins QB Robert Griffin III might have something to say about that.
High school players are recruited and exploited by universities that make millions off poor kids who can barely afford a meal. Yes, they are offered a partial or full athletic scholarship but most of them do not go pro and can lose them for some minor infractions.
More than a century of treating student athletes like indentured servants is finally catching up with the NCAA. How can anyone expect college players to be satisfied with just getting a scholarship and free room and board at a major university that rakes in tens of millions of dollars annually from conference television deals, bowl games, and the NCAA basketball tournament? It’s downright ludicrous.
The situation does not improve upon reaching the NFL, faced with the greedy and bloated giant that is the National Football League. The players are like slabs of meat, put out to pasture and if they become bent or broken, cast aside. Their pay is paltry in comparison to what the league owners receive. The money aside, for many of these men, their team is their family, their coach– the only father they have ever known and football, the friend that kept him out of trouble all his life. Under the yoke of their masters, it becomes a double-edged sword. They certainly realize that money is the driving motivator behind the sport and to stay competitive and relevant, may chuck aside sentiments for their share of the pie, which ironically comes across as arrogant or greedy to those observing the spectacle. Adrian Peterson, not known for keeping his mouth closed, openly shared his frustrations with the NFL during the labor lockout with the statements:
. . . If they have nothing to hide, just give us the information. Why not? Obviously, there’s a lot to hide — these guys are professionals, and they’re maximizing what they do. But they know that if all this information comes out, the information the players want, it’ll be right out there for everyone to see. It’s a rip-off — not just for the players, but for the people who work at the concession stands and at the stadiums. It’s modern-day slavery, you know?”
Well, I know. I’m not sure ‘they’ know, however. Ever see a weigh-in? They’re almost…eerie. It does remind one of the meat block at a slave auction.
No matter their background, players are being exploited by the NFL and black players disproportionately so. No matter what walk of life, we’re all getting our clock cleaned by the powers that be. It suffices as an accurate analogy when you consider conservatives and liberals pitted against one another while rich elitists lie and manipulate laws to their advantage. We are all pawns to be had and sacrificed in the interests of shareholders and CEOs.
I love football. When they play, you can almost forget about the greed and rampant corruption. You can almost forget about the weigh-ins where prospectors observe tall muscular athletes, appraising them as if at the slave block. I know many of those players ignore it. They still want it. They have and continue to fight the good fight, seeking a place in history alongside a Superbowl win. I’ll keep watching and supporting their dreams even if those dreams have been compromised at the whim of greedy old men.