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Sports Authority

Kramer: Coming to football’s pulpit

| Friday, August 28, 2020

Brimming with vibrance, the local church houses a resounding clamor of teary-eyed visitors hell-bent on raising a brother to heaven. As the sanctuary doors creak open, myriad stories, everlasting memories and life-altering ideas pour into the sacred space for a beautiful moment of remembrance…or so you’d think.

After self-selecting the opening hymn, the minister seats the pensive crowd and moves right into the formal liturgy. No anecdotes from the closest family, friends, or coworkers of the peacefully deceased. No personalized scripture, decor, or eulogy to adorn the celebration of a life well-lived. The stoic — eh, call him completely placid — church leader approaches his diverse congregation, united for one name, and avoids saying the name of the deceased at every turn. Seeing solemnity on the new faces before him, he takes the opportunity to evangelize and says, “I stand here today to share the healing power of God’s Word.”

This completely ridiculous style of remembrance almost feels hysterical to us. As mourners, we look to the well-versed and composed minister to facilitate one of the most intimate events in modern society. In spite of our loss, the way that our most deeply cherished memories spreads to every corner of the venue humanizes us. We become more human than before.

All things considered, this clearly foolish hypothetical loses its comic relief when we see figureheads of American culture blatantly dehumanizing tragic deaths fueled by injustice and hatred. Today, we find ourselves in a time of mourning all too real, lamenting an unacceptably storied history of loss that necessitates systemic, preventative change. This is far from your average time of remembrance.

And much like the painfully unaware celebrant, professional sports executives are stripping black voices of their humanity. This past offseason, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell committed to “continuing the work to address these systemic issues,” namely by approving Black Lives Matter decals on helmets, playing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” alongside “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and donning end zones with “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” banners during home openers. These measures serve to benefit the BIPOC community, but they only temporarily patch an incredibly deep wound with a Band-Aid far too small. Maybe most disastrously, the way that Goodell presents these petty displays of support as a “continuation” of past efforts tries to upend the National Football League’s past as a complicit bystander or, at the very least, a weak ally of racial justice.

None of these enactments tell the stories of injustice in the NFL or in the nation at large. None of these calls for equity take human form, but rather, remain inside the lines of an arena already racially divided in power. The very people being oppressed by systemic racism are still vastly underrepresented in front offices and ownership. Figures like Colin Kaepernick remain sidelined as football’s most influential black voice in decades.

Regardless of your stance on the controversy, the fact is unavoidable: Colin Kaepernick’s career ended abruptly in 2016. And if we accredit the veteran quarterback with enough football knowledge to merit any leadership position on any one of the league’s thirty-two teams (as we very well should), the collective ostracism of Kaepernick as a powerful pariah makes team owners worthy of the blame.

But today, Goodell, along with the league executives below him, ought to understand that the mistakes of 2016 cannot and should not have permanence in 2020. If America’s egregious history of police brutality and widespread discrimination doesn’t merit a position for leaders like Kaepernick in NFL management, the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd certainly do.

Until Goodell develops greater diversity in team and league management, his initiative will amount to nothing. Until he allows the families of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake to use the league as a platform and vehicle for change, his efforts mean nothing. Until the white executives overcome their “political correctness” and frame the issue as one of basic human rights, 2020 will mean nothing. Merely mustering the decency to echo the words of nearly fifty million black Americans should not earn our respect. Giving people the power that they deserve earns mine.

Goodell stands before the American congregation to preach a sermon that all of us have heard before. With his arms outstretched to us, he mobilizes a league with two black general managers and three black head coaches. In all, the altar feels empty, devoid of mourners that have prepared a real eulogy.

Who among the football community will come to the pulpit next?

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