Like the topics of religion and politics, staying clear of mixing sports and race in conversations among people who want to remain on speaking terms is well advised. But as college and professional football season dawns, it gets harder and harder for me each year to follow that advice.
A big reason that’s so is that for nearly a decade, as a reporter I covered the NFL Denver Broncos as well as Air Force Academy and University of Colorado football. Back then during the late '70s through a big chunk of the '80s, issues of race and sports always seemed to bubble just below the surface. In today’s Trumped-up, hyper-racialized America, the combustible combination of sports and race are as in-yo-face as a Mack truck on a dirt road.
Take Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’s recent fundraiser on behalf of Donald Trump, who seems to publicly spew divisive and racist rhetoric whenever he feels the urge. Last month, for example, Trump attacked four congresswomen of color saying they “should go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” And don’t forget how Trump labeled African nations as ”s***hole” countries? The list of offenses go on and on.
According to the New York Post, Trump couldn’t resist exacerbating racial tension even at a recent fundraiser on Long Island where his well-heeled supporters paid as much as $250,000 to hob-nob with him. They were reportedly amused by Trump mocking leaders of Japan and South Korea using Asian accents, while he regaled North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
Ross not only has alienated a great many Dolphins fans like myself but he has helped deepen the racial divide. His actions call into serious question Ross’s credibility as founder of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality. He is talking out of both sides of mouth.
Of course, owners like Ross have the right to support politically whomever they choose. But the people who helped them become billionaires don’t have to like it.
It’s bad enough that the current NFL hierarchy looks much like an Antebellum South plantation, with white owners in the big house and the players (who are nearly 70 percent black) in the fields. Now the owners, including nine who gave from $300,000 to more than $1 million each to Trump in recent years, seem to be saying, "So what? Shut up and run, block and catch." Remember Fox News host Laura Ingraham last year actually told the NBA’s LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” when he veered into politics.
With Trump at the helm these days, no holds are barred. NFL owners like the Houston Texans’ Robert McNair are among those who apparently agreed with Trump’s characterization of NFL players who kneeled to support Colin Kaepernick as “sons of b******.” McNair even reneged on his apology after saying “we can’t have the inmates running the prison” (or plantation) as more players began supporting Kaepernick .
In a climate where Trump almost routinely backs down and then doubles-down on his outrageous and racist comment, it’s obvious from whom people like McNair take their cues. They are acting like school-yard bullies: “Yeah, I did it. What are you going to do about it?”
Well, some players like the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are demanding that they be paid what they’re worth to franchises that are raking in billions of dollars. And fans and consumers in general are starting to smartly spend their money where it’s not being funneled to people and policies against their best interests.
James F. Lawrence is director of Gainesville For All.