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Alternet - December 13, 2019

"Not surprisingly, then, leading a recent “stick to sports” campaign have been football’s media partners, not its players or fans. Anything that seems remotely political, even if posted on private social media platforms, has been subject to being shut down. Jemele Hill, an ESPN star now writing for theAtlantic***, may be the most*** striking exampleso far of a good journalist ousted in this way, but many have also been lost to devastatinglay-offsat ESPN,Deadspin***, and other sports sites where real coverage has been giving way to cheaper, uncontroversial puff pieces."***

Because everything is so Trumpian these days, there’s less air or space for the only other mass entertainment that promotes tribalism and toxic masculinity while keeping violence in vogue: football.

In the age of The Donald, it’s hard to remember that football was once the nation’s greatest television reality show. Because real people actually got really hurt in real-time, you could be sure it wasn’t fake news. Now, football is just another runner-up to President Trump, whose policies actually get people killed.

And yet football is still here, in plain sight, waiting to resume its cultural dominance once Trump is gone.

To avoid any further erosion of its base, it is cosmetically modifying itself at every level with “reforms” focused on the image of increased safety. From small rural high schools to the Fifth Avenue offices of the National Football League (NFL), plans are being generated to protect America’s most popular and prosperous sport from the two things that could destroy it — the players’ mortal fear of having their brains scrambled and the fans’ moral fear of awakening to their complicity in such a process.

The players, mostly black and conditioned to believe football is their best ticket out of modern Jim Crow, have not yet fully awakened. But fans, despite being conditioned to believe that supporting your local team is little short of a civic responsibility, have more options. They are, after all, mostly white and not as likely to need to sacrifice their health for their short-term livelihood. There’s hope that, in the end, those fans will come to understand, for example, that watching the Super Bowl is casting a vote for the values that have helped bring us the show most dangerous to our survival as a civilization, the Trump administration.

Football’s Playbook

As a voter’s guide, here are the six ways in which football groomed us for Trumpball and is still trying to keep us in its grasp:

1. Inflame Racial Divisions: Helping to spread America’s primary disease, racism, is Trump 101, but the NFL got there first. Seventy per cent of its players are African-American. At the start of this season, only four head coaches and two general managers of the 32 teams were men of color. Only two owners were not white men: the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Pakistani-American Shahid Khan and the Buffalo Bills’ Korean-American Kim Pegula (a woman).

So, who would have thought that the same year — this one! — would mark not only the 100th anniversary of the NFL but the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans on the soil of what became the United States of America? Somehow, neither milestone has been celebrated all that much this year — and never together. In his indispensable book on race and sports, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, former New York Times columnist William Rhoden maintains that, by cutting off black athletes from their history and communities, the sports industry has managed to control them. “The power relationship that had been established on the plantation,” he wrote, “has not changed even if the circumstances around it have.”

To make sure the NFL owners would stand firm against players kneeling during the national anthem, President Trump called Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to say, according to a sworn deposition given by Jones and reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”

No wonder that these days, whole teams or many members of them refuse invitations to the White House.

2. Crush Dissent: The CliffsNotes saga of former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick is pretty straightforward — a star (though not a superstar) refuses to stand for the pre-game national anthem as a protest against racism, particularly of the white-police variety. His act is spun as disrespect to the nation and its flag. Thereafter, no team will hire him because he would be a “distraction.” That was three years ago and, ever since, Kaepernick has kept himself in playing shape, becoming a martyr to some, a loser to others, and one of the genuine heroes of this generation of racial activists. He has collected millions of dollars (and given away more than a million of them) from both a Nike campaign and a settlement with the NFL in return for withdrawing a collusion case he had brought against the league. More recently, a league-sanctioned open workout, hastily organized for him to audition for a new quarterback job, collapsed amid bad intentions and confusion.

Perhaps most interesting is the striking lack of support Kaepernick has received from many of his fellow players. Are they against his demonstration or fearful of antagonizing their owners and endangering their own jobs (which only last, on average, slightly more than three years)? After all, at a 2017 rally, Trump told those same owners (a striking number of them donors of his) that they should respond to protesting players by saying, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired. He’s fired!”

He really didn’t have to tell them. They understood that holding the line against the Kaepernicks of this world means keeping the progressive barbarians at bay, something already baked into the game. The canceling of the Other, of anyone not on the team (so to speak), be they rivals, uncooperative college faculty, or most women who aren’t moms, cheerleaders, or girlfriends who understand that the team comes first, remains the norm.
Read full commentary at Alternet