I am a black man, and I love watching football. As a writer, and a fan, the game captivates my senses to the point that, similar to many fans, it’s more than just a game. I’m man enough to admit there is an emotional aspect that pulls and tugs at my emotional strings and draws me into its grasp. Sheer excitement and electricity fill the air and the crowds roar over a game-changing play. The sport isn’t everything, but then, it IS everything, if only temporarily.
These moments create a special phenomena where grown men achieve a level of euphoria often reserved for a child that can no longer wait to open presents on Christmas morning. It is in these moments that nothing else matters, except that feeling of pride and joy brewing inside, and there’s not a thing or anybody that can take that thrill away—or so we thought.
This last season, a dark cloud cast a shadow over the NFL and complicated the experience for many. I witnessed players take a knee this season in support of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest of social injustice against African Americans and people of color. I witnessed the outcry of misinformed individuals everywhere who believed Kaepernick was protesting our nation’s flag, and then I witnessed the baseless assassination of his character. I’ve witnessed people burn their own football jerseys in protest of the players’ protest. I’ve even heard Houston Texans owner Bob McNair make headlines for his controversial comment that likened NFL players to prison inmates, and even the President of the United States refer to a black man exercising his first amendment right to a peaceful protest as a “son of a *****.’
Taking a Stand
As a man with a fairly significant amount of melanin in my body, I embrace the protests. Not only that, I embrace every thought, motivation, and inspiration behind it and I believe wholeheartedly in what it stands for and represents. The nature of my profession, however, requires me to immerse myself in the sports world—a world in which the black athlete is currently under fire. One can use their deductive reasoning skills to understand how this could become quite the conundrum for the black sportswriter who merely wants to cover sports and all encompassing topics out of pure passion.
There’s a very thin line that exists, which seemingly can never be crossed and is rarely discussed. On one hand, you want to show unity with your fellow brothers and sisters in protest of a corrupt league. You want to make it known that you support social activists, such as Colin Kaepernick, who at the time of this writing, remains unemployed by the NFL and has remained so all season, despite being more qualified than a majority of backup quarterbacks in the league. Ultimately, you want to show that you’re down for the cause—because you are. But then, a moral stipulation arises—you just received the opportunity to write for a fantasy football website.
A Moral Paradox
Imagine the quandary this created. As a black man in today’s modern America, I am well acquainted with the social injustices of this country. I identify and understand because I know from firsthand experience. On the other hand, as a football fan, student of journalism, and writer, I came across an incredible opportunity for my career.The paradox consumed my mind and I found myself torn between two sides, searching tirelessly, to no avail, for a patch of middle ground.
Ultimately, I decided that my work and the NFL protests are mutually exclusive of each other and that both aspects could exist harmoniously. This was my career, after all. If I’m viewed as superficial because I support the cause but still write about NFL Football, then so be it. That’s a burden that I’m choosing to bear. I came to the realization that it’s impossible to appease everyone, and trying to do so is a monumental waste of time. I find comfort and solace in the fact that I refuse to let anybody’s preconceived notions or ill-advised assumptions define me or shape who I am, or what I do. I am cognizant of the fact that I am, first and foremost, a black man, but I am also a writer and I am not restricted or confined by the chains of narrow minds or rudimentary thought.
A New Status Quo
Everybody’s road is different, and mine requires you to live in two separate worlds. In the current era where politics and sports collide, and protests grip the headlines and our attention, a more inclusive and progressive mindset is required to navigate the ever-changing landscape of worlds intertwined. Being able to maintain a love for sports while you see black athletes under attack for expressing their constitutional right to protest social injustice and racial oppression is a frustratingly exhausting challenge that the modern black sports writer/commentator has to face on a daily basis.
ESPN journalist Jemille Hill has experienced this firsthand. Hill, an African American woman, is widely known to be very outspoken and vocal about her beliefs and her views about the state of black athletes, especially in the NFL. She strongly supports the players’ protests, is very adamant about her views, and will not be silenced. But as a journalist, she has another responsibility—to cover sports and provide analysis on sports-related topics. To expect Hill to protest the NFL by cutting herself off from it completely is unrealistic and completely irrational. Hill is a prime example of the dual burden a black sportswriter must carry—a direct representation of our collective state of affairs.
The truth of the matter is this: Hill is only one of many black journalists immersed into the sports world, who is also fighting to maintain the integrity of who we are and what we stand for as African Americans within the sports industry. We’re caught in an endless tug-of-war for the black community’s blessing, taking extra precautions not to alienate those close to us. It’s as if simply discussing NFL football, for example, has become synonymous with eating forbidden fruit that we’re defiantly consuming solely because we can, as if we’re not down for the cause. One thing is for certain: we’re definitely down for the cause, and that’s a sentiment that simply cannot be expressed thoroughly enough.