“Treating different things the same can generate as much inequality as treating the same things different. “-Kimberli Crenshaw
In 2017 in the files of former GM of the Denver Broncos was a memo written by Claude Young, a former NFL running back entitled “Some Observations on the NFL and Negro Players.” It laid out the growing number of Black players in the league, the lack of Black employees in these organizations (non-players), the need for more cultural and social support for these athletes, and the potential issues for players who spoke out on civil rights issues. The letter was sent out to teams by the commissioner. (1) It wasn’t enough to just get the chance White players had been given, but to be seen as Black players with needs distinct and different from the privileged.
Fast forward to 2019, the NFL after blacklisting Colin Kaepernick since 2016 for protesting during the anthem for the lives of Black men, women, and children being taken by police officers, goes into partnership with RocNation, owned by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter to be live music strategist and to promote the culture of the corp of athletic talent in the league through change initiatives. The partnership was seen by many as an Uncle Tom and capitalistic move by Jay, especially since it didn’t demand the hiring or compensation of Kaepernick. Yet others saw the power of Jay taking his seat at this table, putting himself in a position to not only inspire change but represent the culture of the league’s players, primarily urban young Black men.
And on this Saturday, after three years since his last time on the field, Kaepernick will have a league set up workout. It’s not perfect and it’s methods were certainly hasty… but if he wants to play, which he clearly does, this is a mechanism for that.
“Every night we in the end zone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too”
So folks got opinions, good. This is not just an NFL issue, it’s a cultural, social, and civil rights issue. It’s the same issue from 1966. It’s not a new issue. Jay-Z didn’t create this, Trump didn’t create it, and neither did Kaepernick or his kneeling. Let’s talk facts.
In 2017, 70% of the leagues players were Black. In 1966, 25% if the leagues players were Black. If a player in 1966 could predict the exact issue that Kaepernick faced and requested better treatment of these men and integration of their culture and values into the fabric of the league … imagine how important that seat is today.
1960 saw the start of sit-ins for refusal of service of Black patrons. 1963 witnessed March on Washington followed by the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church. The third in 11 days since the integration of Alabama schools. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed and three civil rights activists were found dead after a massive FBI investigation. 1965 saw the March in Selma, the assassination of Malcolm X, and passing of the Voting Rights Act. In 1966 the Black Panther Party was formed by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. What a tumultuous time to be Black and alive. The times were definitely a catalyst for that 1966 memo. We demand to be seen.
At a time when we were still treated as less than full humans, someone stood up, but we didn’t have any chairs or any idea where the table was. It’s easy to dismiss someone with no power.
Yet as racism and oppression continued despite our strides, as integration and industrialization changed the American landscape, the radical White supremacists went into hiding. Black people took over sports. We ran for political office. We ran for and eventually won the Presidency. And Colin Kaepernick in 2012-2013 lead the 49ers to two Super Bowl appearances as quarterback in the same league that had teams which never have a Black quarterback until 2007 (New York Giants). But equality doesn’t always lead to equity. In 2016, Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem protesting the police killings of unarmed Black people. He was blacklisted, criticizes, and demonized. But despite the harm to his career, with his fro, tattoos, Castro socks, and unapologetic protest, he demanded to be heard and noticed.
The state of Black America at this point is very different. We are billionaires. We buy chairs, we’ll even bring an extra table. We yield power on our own terms that can’t simply be overlooked. Our needs a different because of our differences and these differences.
“Tell these clowns we ain’t amused.”
The truth is this, inclusion changes attitudes by force. Those that move into spaces that are more diverse tend to take on more understanding views of people that differ from them in demographics. That is the value of proximity and knowledge. Learning about another person’s motivations, history, culture, and traditions usually informs those with preconceived racial and cultural bias how more alike we are across racial, social, ethnic, class lines, than we are different. It’s not something you have to even promote in a diverse setting, it tends to happen naturally over time. A forced change in attitude.
In this highly capitalistic society, similarities in socio-economic status, tend to break down racial barriers the fastest. Since designations if race were primarily used to feed racists capitalist system structures in America, you starve those systems when you put two racially different billionaires in the room. They share more than they differ. So enter Jay-Z. A rapper, a former drug dealer, a 50 year old urban hip hop pioneer who is a certified billionaire. He partners with the NFL. The more he talks, the more he promotes, the more these White execs gain access into the minds of these players that were once only employees and bodies, but become people before their eyes. The fro and tattoo are no longer just signs of thug life but of Black cultural identity. Suddenly your protest isn’t just about bad White people but the lives of Black people. Of course it isn’t as easy to come by as it is to write it… but nonetheless there is power in diversity. Those seats are mighty.
Might this workout be a PR stunt, sure. But can we ignore that Jay’s presence CERTAINLY got 70% of the leagues players that seat that Claude Young was asking for over 30 years ago… we shouldn’t if we want to see these same changes in other areas of Black life. We need seats in government, education, technology, business… we need seat builders and seat fillers.
Put Some Respect and Equity… on my check, my chance, and my chair.
All most of us who have been disrespected and handed inequitable pieces of the pie want is a chance, an opportunity on our merit. An interview, a loan, a spot in a prestigious school, a promotion, a shot at our dream. Kaepernick has that on Saturday. It might not look exactly how we all want it to look… but as a Black person in capitalistic America, it rarely does. We just have to keep demanding to be seen, heard, and noticed.
Shoot your shot Kap!
(1) “Some Observations on the NFL and Negro Players”Paul Lukas The Undefeated. February 1.2018.