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If you were disturbed by what happened in Charlottesville, you should boycott the NFL

If you are OK with the silencing of people who call out white supremacy, you make it that much easier for white supremacy to flourish.

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Today marks the 133rd anniversary of the final game in Moses Fleetwood Walker’s brief, but important baseball career with the Toledo Blue Stockings. On September 4, 1884, Walker left the field after a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, not knowing that it would be his final major league game. He was also unaware that he would be the last black player to wear a major league uniform for the next 63 years.

The next day, the following letter was written and addressed to Toledo Manager Charlie Morton:

Manager Toledo Base Ball Club:

Dear Sir: We the undersigned, do hereby warn you not to put up Walker, the Negro catcher, the evenings that you play in Richmond, as we could mention the names of 75 determined men who have sworn to mob Walker if he comes to the ground in a suit. We hope you will listen to our words of warning, so that there will be no trouble: but if you do not, there certainly will be. We only write this to prevent much blood shed, as you alone can prevent.

Richmond, Virginia was only 19 years removed from being the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and obviously that wasn’t enough time to iron out the kinks left from what is still America’s deadliest war. By the time the Toledo manager received the letter three weeks later, Walker had already been released by the team due to an injury. But the sentiment in this letter would soon be shared by every major league team and it would help usher in what is known as the “gentleman’s agreement” between professional baseball teams to refrain from signing any black players.

The exact same white supremacy that once compelled baseball owners to keep black players off of their teams for six decades is the exact same ideology that compelled scores to march–and ultimately kill Heather Heyer–in Charlottesville, Virginia last month. It is also the same white supremacy that has now united NFL owners in keeping Colin Kaepernick out of their league. It’s a modern day “gentleman’s agreement”, but instead of keeping all players out of the league due to their skin color, this time the target is one man who dared stand up to protest the treatment of people due to their skin color.

I won’t even address the opposing idea that Kaepernick’s protest has nothing to do with his unemployment. I certainly won’t mention that his career 88.9 QB rating ranks 11th among the over 64 quarterbacks currently playing in the NFL, and it ranks 17th among every quarterback who has ever played in the 95-year history of the NFL. I also won’t point out that Kaepernick has the second-lowest interception rate in NFL history, behind only Aaron Rodgers, but ahead of every other quarterback who has ever played in the NFL. I won’t mention those things because the internet is filled with those arguments (another example, here), including one from arguably the best quarterback in the league.

What I will do here is address the fact that what happened in Charlottesville is a direct result of centuries of overt and covert expressions of white supremacy, just like the one we are currently seeing with the NFL owners. We cannot be upset over Heather Heyer and then turn a blind eye and support the very thing that made her death possible.

Continuing to watch the NFL sends the message that while we don’t approve of the marchy kind of white supremacy, that we’re perfectly fine with the kind that silences people who challenge white supremacy itself.

Every dollar we give the NFL this season–whether through our viewership, fantasy football, or actual merchandise–is a signal to the owners that what they are doing in locking Kaepernick out of the league is OK. We are saying that while we don’t approve of the marchy kind of white supremacy, we’re perfectly fine with the kind that silences people who challenge white supremacy itself, as long as you can entertain us in the process. It’s like being against sexual assault, but then being OK with someone being punished for reporting sexual assault. The latter enables the former to happen. If you are OK with the silencing of people who call out white supremacy, you make it that much easier for white supremacy to flourish. Kaepernick’s protest was a call to bring attention to the white supremacy in our criminal justice system, and the NFL is attempting to silence him for it.

A widespread boycott of the NFL would send a very clear message to any purveyors of white supremacy that we are united in our effort to rid this country of the cancer that has kept us divided for the past 400 years. That no matter how small an act of white supremacy, there are enough people out there who will stand in opposition to harm them financially or otherwise. However, if we don’t boycott, this sends a clear message to white supremacists that they can silence their opposition and get away with it unharmed. It sends the message to other would-be terrorists like the one who killed Heather Heyer that while the marching might be frowned upon, that they can still espouse their white supremacy in other more acceptable ways. What you’re doing at that point isn’t fighting white supremacy. You’re simply allowing it to morph into another form that you find acceptable. Instead of killing the disease, you’re just allowing it to live in your body and kill you slower.

I love the game of football, and hate the fact that I can’t watch the Eagles, especially now that it looks like they’re finally turning things around. But, do you know what I hate more than boycotting the NFL? Seeing people like Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, Heather Heyer, and countless others lose their lives because of the existence of the system that places one race above another. I’m sure if you asked anyone close to the victims of police brutality or white supremacist violence if they had to choose between watching the NFL or having their loved ones back, the choice would be clear.

A successful boycott of the NFL doesn’t mean the criminal justice system will be fixed overnight or that white supremacy will end immediately. The 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott didn’t immediately lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, either. But it was the Bus Boycott that started the Civil Rights Movement that eventually led to the Voting Rights Act. The Bus Boycott was the show of economic power by blacks needed to draw enough support and solidarity around the issue of civil rights. That support then enabled Martin Luther King Jr. and many others to keep the ball rolling all the way to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House to convince him to give black people in this country basic voting rights and to end legal segregation.

Much like the current NFL boycott, the Bus Boycott started with one person refusing to take it anymore. In the case of Rosa Parks, she was in violation of state law that prohibited her from taking her seat on the bus and was arrested. In the case of Colin Kaepernick, he was in violation of a social custom that prohibits sitting during the National Anthem and was blackballed from the NFL. In both cases, Parks and Kaepernick were punished simply for standing up for social injustice and refusing to bend to white supremacy.

In 1955, a then 26-year-old King seized the opportunity to start a Bus Boycott just as many now are leading the way in realizing this is an ideal opportunity to start a similar movement by boycotting the NFL. Whereas the Bus Boycott led to the Civil Rights Movement, a successful boycott of the NFL could eventually lead to legislation to reform our broken criminal justice system, refine the way law enforcement are trained and interact with the citizens they are sworn to protect, or simply the removal of any and all supporters of white supremacy from any position of authority. Once we are able to stand together in solidarity, the door opens up for any number of changes to our legal and social systems. Just look at what was accomplished last November when every bigot in this country joined in solidarity to vote in one of their own.

Kaepernick sacrificed his career to spread the message that it’s no longer OK to stand by and watch men and women harmed in any way by our system of inequality. The very least I could do to keep that message alive is to just change the channel whenever anything related to the NFL is on my TV. No one’s asking you to sacrifice your career, or even to stop having fun. Think of it as a call to explore what the rest of the non-NFL world has to offer. And even if you have to get your football fix, there’s always college football, which plays on the day right before the NFL–during the exact same season–and is way better and has more games to watch than the NFL. I would provide a full list of things to do other than watch the NFL, but that list is way too long since it includes everything that has ever happened on this planet, except watching the NFL. So, just pick one of those trillions of things and do that.

If you opt to not boycott, just know that the next time another Charlottesville happens, or even worse, that these very horrifying visual symptoms of white supremacy that we see are only helped to the surface by the passive acceptance of the less pronounced forms of white supremacy. We can keep treating the symptoms of this disease and live with the frequent flare ups, or we can surgically remove this cancer and be done with it. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from this boycott, so please join us in a full boycott of the National Football League.

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Social Justice

White men need to decide if they want to share this country with the rest of us

To those who think they do want to share: You’re probably helping those who don’t more than you think.

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America has never been shared. It’s big enough for everyone to play together nicely, but white men have been playing with it for 242 years, rarely–if ever–letting anyone else play with them.

White men are a minority at only 36% of the U.S. population, but account for 68% of police officers, 70% of Congress, 91% of Fortune 500 CEOs, and 98% of all U.S. Presidents.

That’s not sharing.

This country was originally founded by–and for–white men. There’s no denying that. Women and minorities had little or no rights for centuries. Based on the above data, we can see that white men still have not been willing to adequately share positions of power and influence with others. White men need to decide if they want to continue to keep this legacy alive, or if they genuinely want to share this country with the rest of us.

I imagine most white men who either don’t want to share the country–or are indifferent–simply believe that they would be worse off in an equal society. That’s not how things work. Right now, we are experiencing record inequality where the three richest Americans have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the U.S. population. And every election cycle, half of the population comes out to support the top 1% to continue this wealth inequality that they will never benefit from, whether they’re white, black, or purple. Republicans have a long history of enacting policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, and Trump is just the latest and greatest to continue that legacy.

While non-wealthy white men may benefit from the racial hierarchy that conservative politicians uphold, you are being crushed financially just like the rest of us. Instead of thinking your piece of the pie will shrink if women and minorities get their fair share, in reality, everyone’s piece of the pie grows as the wealth stops flowing almost exclusively to the top 1% and we’re able to build a stronger middle class. We are stronger, together, regardless of race or gender.

When it comes to wanting to share this country, white men generally fall into three different categories:

“Go back to your country!” – These are the obvious, outwardly bigoted white men who believe diversity is a weakness and that whites are a superior race. They believe this country should exclusively benefit white men. They march with Tiki torches, troll people online, commit acts of domestic terrorism, and are the face of white supremacy. These men cannot be reasoned with, and are radicalized extremists. These are the children who are asked to share their toys, but they refuse and throw a tantrum. Examples of white men in this category are David Duke, Richard Spencer, Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, and just about any white male in the Trump administration.

“I can’t be racist. I have a black friend!” – These are the men who would like to believe they genuinely care about equality and generally treat people equally in their everyday lives, but support politicians who do the complete opposite. They like the theory of diversity and equality, but in practice, they aren’t willing to change their life in any way to make it happen. They enjoy their lives and the benefits they receive as a result of living in a white male-dominated society, and also fear how living in an equal society would negatively affect them. These men either stayed home during the 2016 election, voted third party, or even voted for Trump. They claim to be “fiscally conservative, but socially liberal”, but don’t understand how the two are not compatible since fiscally conservative policies are exactly what create the problems that socially liberal people are against. These men essentially want to have their cake (benefit from white supremacy) and eat it too (be seen as a good guy who isn’t one of those wack-job racists). These men indirectly contribute to the division and inequality they pretend to be against. These are the children who are asked to share, refuse to, but they find another toy they don’t like to give to the other child and act like they shared something. Examples of white men in this category are pretty much 70% of the white men you know.

“Welcome to the cookout!” – These are the men who understand the history of white supremacy in this country and are actively making changes in their lives to try and correct the problem. They speak up when others say racist/sexist/homophobic things. They support politicians and people who have a direct interest in diversity and equality. They educate themselves about and engage with people who are not like them. They don’t mind having uncomfortable conversations and understand that it is necessary to overcome our inequality and division. These are the children who like to see other kids happy and are ready to share their toys equally so that everyone has a chance to be as happy as they are. Examples of white men in this category are Tim Wise, Gregg Popovich, Chris Long, and Jim Wright (Stonekettle).

You either want to share this country, or you don’t. Like Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” The 70% of white men who are “in the middle” are actually just helping those who don’t want to share the country. They help them by either directly voting for the same politicians, or by staying out of the way and not getting involved. If a kid refuses to share his toy with another kid, and you stay out of the way, you’re helping the selfish kid by allowing him to keep that toy. There is no such thing as an unbiased, neutral third party with regard to equality.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Bishop Desmond Tutu

The sooner white men decide whether or not they want to share the country, the sooner we can come to a resolution about our inequality. If enough decide they don’t want to share, then I guess we can go to war and decide who stays and who goes. Of course, my preferred path is that white men simply realize that we’re all better off when we share this country as equals. But the current path we’re on where one side doesn’t want to share, the other does, and the ton of folks in the middle are just standing around doing nothing while politicians fleece every last one of us isn’t working. Make a decision and commit to it. Stop being lazy. If you don’t want to live in a country with black people, Mexicans, or gays, then stop being a coward and say so. Rip the band-aid off and let’s get it over with. But if you genuinely care about other people who don’t look, think, and pray like you and want to coexist, then commit to that idea and start acting like it. Share, or share not. There is no try.

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Social Justice

I boycotted the NFL while my team won the Super Bowl, and I’d do it again

If owners are willing to sacrifice wins and profit in order to stand by their (backwards) values, why would I do the complete opposite and sacrifice my values…while giving them my money?

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I watched a total of 13 seconds of the 2017 NFL season, and that was only because I didn’t want to miss the beginning of This Is Us. My wife and I were catching up on SNL and Desus and Mero during the game, but changed the channel at 10:15, which was when the show was supposed to start. Of course, the game ran a little late, and as if it were planned all along, my first live images of the 2017 NFL season were of my ex-favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, celebrating their first ever Super Bowl win in the 52-year history of Super Bowls.

And it sucked.

I made it through an entire season without watching one second of football, and in order to watch one of my favorite shows, I’d be forced to watch the culmination of all I had missed these past five months. It was the bitter icing on top of the colostomy bag I had been eating all season. But if given the opportunity, I’d go through it all again.

While waiting for This Is Us to start, I watched the post-game coverage and heard one of the announcers basically commend Eagles quarterback Nick Foles on the fact that he went from contemplating retirement a couple years ago to now winning the MVP of the Super Bowl. My first thought was “it’s amazing what you can do when you have the opportunity,” and it reminded me all over again why I boycotted in the first place.

I can’t count the number of times I heard NFL fans question Colin Kaepernick’s desire to play football as an excuse for why he wasn’t signed, and here we have a quarterback who–unlike Kaepernick–actually did think about leaving the game, and he is being lauded for his courageous act to continue playing and become a Super Bowl champion.

Despite being just a qualified, if not moreso, Kaepernick was not given the same opportunity as Foles because the NFL owners were more interested in silencing his voice than they were in improving their teams. It could have easily been Kaepernick filling in for the fallen Carson Wentz and eventually hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the Eagles, which would have been one of the most compelling stories in recent sports history. But the team, along with the other 31 in the league, have refused to even invite Kaepernick in for a workout for the past 11 months and 5 days since he became a free agent.

Like former MLBPA Executive Director Marvin Miller once said, I don’t think people truly understand what it means when teams band together and refuse to sign free agents.

“Most people don’t understand what that collusive effort meant,” Miller said.

“That it was an agreement not to improve your team. That it was an agreement that no matter how important these free agents are, superstars available to improve your team, to fill in holes on a team that could otherwise be a pennant contender, it was an agreement to NOT, under any circumstances, make an offer to any free agent, no matter how good he is. And that is really a conspiracy to fix the pennant race. And I think, in terms of scandalous proportions, that collusive conspiracy really was far worse than what is generally conceded to be the worst scandal, the Black Sox scandal, involving 8 players. This involved all 26 owners and all their officials and not for one series, but for 3 consecutive and possibly 4 years.”

The same could be said of any time a group of owners decides to collude. Whether it is to keep an entire race of people out of the league, a group of a dozen free agents, or even one player.

In some ways, pro sports owners are more principled than their fans. They have historically been more willing to place their own personal beliefs ahead of profits and winning. For 60 years, MLB owners each had the opportunity to sign the most talented players alive and win championship after championship. They instead elected to band together, stuck by their “values”, and kept black players off of their clubs.

If owners are consistently willing to sacrifice wins and profit in order to stand by their (backwards) values, why would I do the complete opposite and sacrifice my values…while giving them my money? If we don’t boycott when they stand by their poor values, the owners sacrifice nothing, while we sacrifice our own values and our money, all in the name of entertainment.

I fully understand that sports is an outlet for a lot of people, and without it, there isn’t much positive to look to, especially nowadays. It has always been an escape and a distraction from the sometimes harsh realities of life as most entertainment is. Baseball has always been one of the go-to national distractions we’ve had going all the way back to World War I. Sports makes people happy, and most importantly, it gives people hope, no matter how superficial. The hope that it’ll be your team winning it all and that you’ll be able to celebrate and have pride in your city as the champion.

I get it. I really do.

And that’s exactly why this entire ordeal has sucked. Because I’ve been torn between my love of sport, and my desire to see an end to social inequality. I know people want to just be able to escape and celebrate and enjoy their lives, but on the other hand, I know what it means to support an organization engaged in silencing one of the most prominent Civil Rights leaders we have today. I hate that the NFL put me in this situation, and I especially hate that the Eagles are taking part in that silencing, depriving me of the opportunity to celebrate along with 99.99% of the people I know.

I boycott because something has to change. People think that problems will just disappear or even dissipate with time if we just ignore them, but that’s not how problems work. Our racial issues in this country have dissipated only because people acted to make that happen. If there were no MLKs, or Frederick Douglasses, or Nat Turners, we sure as hell wouldn’t be where we are right now with regard to race. I’m sure people thought Nazis would just go away if we left them alone, and yet here they are creeping their way back into our society because we don’t want to change anything about how we live our lives.

I boycott in the hopes that others will join me, and I want to thank the folks I know who have. Through all of this, I’ve basically shifted my allegiance from the NFL and the Eagles to the the sport of social justice, as corny as that may sound. Politics and sports have always had more in common than not, and instead of rooting for a sports team to win, I’ve decided to devote my time to rooting for justice to prevail in this country. And I can’t do that while supporting the NFL, no matter how many championships the Eagles win.

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Social Justice

From hated to hero: Why it takes decades for America to embrace black leaders

America has had a horrible habit of rejecting young black voices and waiting until decades later to realize they all had a point.

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President George W. Bush referred to Muhammad Ali as a “man of peace” when he tied the Medal of Freedom around the late boxer’s neck in 2005. Nine years before that, Ali was honored by lighting the Olympic torch to open the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. 29 years before that, the greatest boxer of all time was the most hated man in America for doing exactly what Donald Trump is celebrated for today: Telling it like like it is.

Ali was very blunt about the inequality that existed here in America and famously refused induction into the military in 1967, citing the following:

“I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home.”

Ali sits on a mile-long list of black leaders who were once spat on by most Americans while they spoke out against racial inequality, yet were lauded as heroes decades later by the next generation who had somehow awakened to the wrongs of their forebearers, as if to say that time and old age–or death–are the only things that make black voices palatable. America has had a horrible habit of rejecting young black voices and waiting until they are dead or reach old age to realize they had a point.

Ali, Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, and a host of others were labeled disruptive, divisive, criminals, anti-American, and every racial slur known to man whenever they dared fix their mouths to plead for the only country they’ve ever known to treat them as equals. Decades later, they were honored with days dedicated to recognizing their legacies, had streets and schools named after them, and were labeled as heroes and shining examples of what America should be.

It seems like we prematurely praise white leaders while prematurely condemning the black ones.

King’s message didn’t suddenly change when he was shot and killed. Ali didn’t soften his stance on white America even as Parkinson’s disease silenced his once immutable voice. Robinson actually grew more jaded with his country as he grew older and wrote about how he would never stand for the National Anthem in his autobiography. If the message didn’t change, why are black leaders suddenly accepted and embraced by society when they die or become senior citizens?

This doesn’t happen with white people who are hated by most Americans early in life. In fact, it’s becoming the opposite where white leaders like Christopher Columbus, Robert E. Lee, and other Confederate leaders who were once celebrated are now being recognized as dishonorable by the majority of Americans. It seems like we prematurely praise white leaders while prematurely condemning the black ones.

Whether intentional or not, there has been an historic knee-jerk reaction to condemn anyone who speaks up against white supremacy. No matter the style or method, saying “please treat us equally” has always elicited a defensive response from America rather than just saying “yeah, let’s do that.”

America always has an excuse for why it can’t just respond in the affirmative. From asking to be released from the shackles of slavery up until today where people are asking to be treated fairly by law enforcement and the criminal justice system, the answer continues to be “well…”, followed by several decades of fighting, then an “OK, let’s try that out.” Why is it so hard to just skip the several decades of fighting and listen to black people when they plead for equality the first time?

Colin Kaepernick is the latest black leader to be ignored and shunned rather than listened to and worked with. The exact same “we agree with your message, just not your method” rhetoric was used against Martin Luther King and every other black leader before and since. It’s time to admit that it’s not how black people are saying things, but that they are saying them at all. What America is telling black people is that the only way to push for progress and equality is to state your case and we’ll mull it over for a few decades and get back to you when you’re either dead or too senile to appreciate the new, better world you helped create.

If the pattern holds, Kaepernick will be the latest in a long line of black leaders whose voices were heard on a delay instead of in real time. At this point, it’s not a matter of if Kaepernick will be honored by his country, but when. If my math is correct, America will be calling him a hero by 2037 and labeling some other young black voice as “divisive” and “anti-American” for saying the exact same thing. Rinse. Repeat.

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