How many fairytale stories have you heard about young black kids growing up in hellish neighborhoods in inner cities being saved by sports? There are so many. Recently, I’ve been watching the documentary about my beloved Chicago Bulls championship team led by Chicago superstar Michael Jordan, The Last Dance. It’s an incredible story and, as a kid who grew up in the shadow of those giants, having the incredible opportunity to watch them play, attend playoff games, and celebrate in the street with Chicago fans, it’s must-see TV. That team brought so much joy to Chicago.
One of the more moving episodes dives into Dennis Rodman’s traumatic childhood in a rough neighborhood. His youth was spent dodging drugs and barely surviving while homeless and transient. By some miracle, a college scout saw him play ball and offered him a way out. We watched Rodman struggle with his inner demons during his time in Chicago, but we loved him and we supported him, as did his coach and his team. He easily could have been one of the throw-away kids that no one cares about when they get shot in a rough neighborhood by black gangs. No one shows up to protest that. All the social justice warriors and Black Lives Matter folks get real quiet when black-on-black crime terrorizes black children every weekend.
But sports is a way out for many of these kids suffering in those places. Not all of them make it to the pros, but many of them make it to college. Education and getting out of those neighborhoods helps change lives. What the NFL is doing right now by not managing the franchise to keep it profitable is an outrageous offense against the kids who need them to be around indefinitely.
The NFL is starting to kill American football fans’ interest in football with their endless politicization of the sport. This is the first year my husband refused to join fantasy football leagues because he’s had enough of the NFL forgetting why they exist. Ratings are way down. Football fans in Kansas City didn’t boo the players because they were showing “unity” (whatever that means), they did it because they don’t want any politics in sports. None. It doesn’t matter what side it’s on, sports fans don’t want to hear about real-world problems when they are escaping the real world full of violence, sadness, war, despair, cities on fire, for a few hours of sports when the only battle that matters is the one on the field.
Michael Jordan was more than the best basketball player in the world. He was also a role model for how sports players ought to behave in public. We all know that he had his gambling and women issues, but he was smart enough to keep them quiet for years and our press was respectful enough to stay out of his business. Jordan never spouted off opinions not related to sports on camera. He refused to alienate half his audience. He was pure class all the time on camera. Chicagoans revered him. He was Superman to us.
There is some kind of theory out there that because audiences don’t want to hear political opinions on the field or at the game that they are “racist” and desire the black players to just perform for them like a minstrel show. This is crazy talk. It isn’t racist to want to watch the best of the best do what they do. Every time I got to watch Jordan take flight, I felt nothing but awe. It was like being in the presence of a supernatural being. There wasn’t one person in Chicago (and there still isn’t) who would do anything but be struck dumb in the presence of Jordan.
Yet Jordan did have causes he worked for. He had a summer camp for kids to teach them to play basketball and every year he would come and hang out with them and inspire them. One of my friends used to go to that camp and would tell stories about how Jordan always remembered their names from year to year. I’m fairly certain Jordan is a Democrat, donating to Democrat candidates in the past, but so what? He famously said, “Republicans buy sneakers too,” when needled for not being outspoken about his politics.
Recently, he condemned the George Floyd killing and pledged to donate money to education for black youths. Good for him. Those are all things that every person is entitled to do-put their money to whatever cause they wish and advocate on their own time for causes they believe in. Start a foundation, start a summer camp, work within their communities connecting with minority kids who desperately need guidance and direction: those are things worth doing. What are NFL players accomplishing by virtue signaling on the field, wearing the name of a rapist on their helmets, while alienating their fan base? What good is being done in their name in their communities through these actions?
Imagine being the woman that Jacob Blake raped and having to watch all these multi-millionaires running around with the name of her rapist on their helmets. What happened to #MeToo?
There is a woman in America who has to live with the fact that the NFL will honor her rapist by wearing his name on their helmets. #JacobBlake
— Brigitte Gabriel (@ACTBrigitte) September 10, 2020
Sports franchises should never allow players to advocate for their personal, political, issues on the court or on the field. That space is for sports. And if they destroy the public’s interest in sports by politicizing every aspect of the game, it will be on them when the industry fails and minority kids who have raw talent never get out of hell.