Robert Azzi: Truth-telling: White people don’t know enough

For the Monitor
Published: 2/7/2021 6:00:31 AM

I remember, as I often reminisce, the career of Jim Plunkett, the first player of Hispanic heritage to be the first overall pick in the National Football League draft, the first minority player to quarterback a Super Bowl team to victory – the first Latinx ever named Super Bowl MVP – the only quarterback to have won two Super Bowls and not be in the NFL Hall of Fame.

How can that be?

I remember quarterback Colin Kaepernick who, in 2016, took a knee for social justice.

Colin Kaepernick – who, after kneeling, never took another NFL snap, who will never be in the NFL Hall of Fame – who will always be known as a quarterback who refused to submit to pro football’s racial caste system, a system that only recently opened itself to quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, who follow in the footsteps of QBs like Jim Plunkett, Colin Kaepernick, and Warren Moon, the only Black quarterback in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Colin Kaepernick, about whom a president once said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

Welcome to Super Bowl weekend.

“Coming back to camp this year, we entered with so many issues, so many things going on,” Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said last August. “The COVID pandemic, George Floyd, social issues, political issues, so many things were at hand. … But never before this year has it been so deep and so rich in the exchanges with our players in how they’ve taken this opportunity to teach us more and deeper about what the life of a Black man is like in America – Black men and women
. . . which we need to hear, because this has been a process of truth-telling and reality checks that just brings me to a point where . . . white people don’t know enough.”

White people still don’t know enough.

Welcome to Super Bowl weekend.

Welcome to the first weekend of Black History Month, where many Americans are prepared with Cheetos, buffalo wings, pizza, and beer to witness the 55th iteration of the National Football League’s annual championship game, a game where warriors of color battle each other for the profit and privilege of mostly white owners.

Welcome to a league where 73% of the players are people of color while only two owners – Kim Pegula, a woman of South Korean descent who co-owns the Buffalo Bills and Shahid Rafiq Khan, a Pakistani-born American, who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars – are non-white.

Welcome, most importantly, to a Super Bowl that follows a year where over 450,000 Americans – disproportionately Americans of color – have been killed by COVID-19; a year where George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Ahmaud Arbery, and others were murdered; a year when Black protesters were gassed and shot across the nation – from Lafayette Square to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Welcome to a time where America still resists – in spite of all evidence – confronting the roots of today’s protests, protests that demonstrate that after 400 years of shared history and over 200 years of nationhood America still hasn’t come to terms with its history of slavery, genocide, lynching, exploitation, and oppression of people of color.

Welcome to the flyovers, flags, and anthems of Super Bowl weekend where, on well-manicured NFL turf, as late as 2017 during an owners meeting discussing Kaepernick’s protest, then-Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was tolerated saying, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison” – to which former Texans receiver Cecil Shorts is said to have replied: “Inmates, slaves and products. That’s all we are to the owners and others.”

Where, in 2018, San Francisco defensive back Richard Sherman accused Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones of possessing “the old plantation mentality” for requiring players to stand at attention during the national anthem.

Super Bowl LV cannot be separated from the trials, tribulations, and tragedies – and treasonous acts – of the years, seasons, and months that preceded it. NFL history – which banned players of color from 1934 to 1946, which believed until recently that Black players weren’t smart enough to be quarterbacks – is American history!

Welcome to Super Bowl weekend.

American history that predicted that when Black Lives Matter protests erupted across America after George Floyd’s murder, protesters would face tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets, with many sustaining serious injuries – and they did.

American history that predicted that when, during the seditious insurrection in January, domestic terrorists attacked the United States Capitol they would face – with the exception of individual acts of heroism like that of murdered U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick – minimal federal resistance, which is exactly what happened.

The disparity in treatment of the insurrectionist terrorists vs. BLM protesters is clear: White power concentrated in American institutions abetted a coup attempt that was incited by an American president, and white power continues to try to keep its knee on the throats of people of color, whether they’re kneeling in respect or taking a snap from center.

Amanda Gorman, America’s national youth poet laureate – who on Sunday will be the first poet to appear at the Super Bowl – wrote in Harper’s Bazaar in December 2020: “One of the victories of this devastating year was an invigorated Black Lives Movement, the energy of which radiated far beyond the United States. Mine is a country where deadly pandemics are not unprecedented to its indigenous population, for whom COVID has been disproportionately more destructive. Yet, on this very same land, in the face of a virus outbreak, somehow a cry for racial justice was able to spring into what may be the largest movement in our country’s history. It is the precedent of this ‘unprecedented’ time that reveals the power of people against prejudice and pandemics alike.”

Listen to the cries for racial justice.

Listen.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)


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