Sean “Diddy” Combs, Collin Kaepernick, and Steph Curry are vying to be the first black majority share owners of an NFL team, the Carolina Panthers. Now, the NFL is an organization where over 70% of its players are black, and it’s never had black majority owners. Of course, this is isn’t entirely surprising, as every major USA sport had an era where 0% of its players were black.
Funnily enough, Donald Trump, a man with a famous love/hate relationship with The League, has criticized two members of this “dream team”: Here Curry, here Kap. I’m waiting on him to come after Diddy. And it’s nearly inevitable, whether or not the deal goes through, but especially if the three gentlemen fail. So, how did we get here? Not just the NFL ownership thing, but, taking a look at the larger, grander scope of things—how have American sports and their policies been shaped by that whole political and racial dynamic?
If you think about the origins of the division in the sports world, we must consider that as long as blacks have been free Americans, it has existed. Whenever a person of color decides he or she wants inclusion in any sport, there’s been a brick wall, a clear delineation between us and them. Politics and race have always been inexorably intertwined in this struggle for equality, because even the notion of a planned, structured exclusion by a reining class for any event or institution just because of skin color and race violates the laws of civility, and, by the way, the Constitution and The Emancipation Proclamation.
A great example of the early days of separation in sports is the Negro Leagues in baseball. Even during the Civil War, whites played baseball, while their buddies were getting blasted to bits in the background. Immediately after the war, when blacks wanted to play, they had to settle for creating their own league, with names like the Albany Bachelors, and the Pythians, and the Indianapolis Clowns, they played, damn what the white man had to say about it.
And when the creator of basketball, James Naismith tried to include blacks in the sport he created, he immediately saw severe pushback. How can you not make decisions in the sport you created? He got the sport declared an Olympic event during Hitler’s 1936 Olympics. Unfortunate for basketball, due to the absence of blacks, but awesome for African American Jesse Owens and his record smashing marks in track and field, in front of God, Hitler, and the German people, the alleged Master Race. And speaking of track.
We’ve all seen that famous photo of John Carlos on the podium during the 1968 Olympics, raising the right, black-gloved fist to the heavens, which became a symbol of the Black Panther Movement, and led to much contrition from so many.
Recalling the immediate aftermath of his silent protest, Carlos says after the 50,000 people said nothing in response to him raising his fist, they said everything. “Niggers need to go back to Africa!” and, “I can’t believe this is how you niggers treat us after we let you run in our games.” Because, it’s always been that way, hasn’t it? Blacks should be grateful just to play the sport. That we, the blacks in the most successful nation on earth, should be glad we’re not running around little huts somewhere in little African villages, using mud, straws, and shit as little shelters for our little babies with bloated bellies of malnutrition and pestilence crusting up their eyes. Racism and poverty shouldn’t be a problem—we don’t live in Africa. What have we got to complain about, right? How dare we make a protest, about anything, anytime, in anyway, for any damn reason?!
And that leads us into the origins of the silent protest in America. On June 28, 1917, well before the sit-ins that would put the hatred of the South on TV for all those people across the country who had no idea, or those who were “intentionally ignorant,” the silent protest began. A group of between 8-10,000 black men, women, and children marched through the streets of Manhattan, silently. It was a protest surrounding the fact that little had changed for most American colored people since 1863, particularly in the Bible Belt. White Christians. Am I right?
W.E.B. Dubois, the first black graduate of Harvard to receive a doctorate, and one of the visionaries behind the creation of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), organized a meeting that led to the march. This is not new, this is not a sports-centric concept; the silent protest is as American as apple pie, nay, as American as gentrification, Manifest Destiny, or an American National Anthem that conveniently omits several verses that explicitly show where its creator got at least a morsel of inspiration:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The author of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key, owned slaves and even opined that our African Brethren are “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts the community.” The irony of demanding that people of color exploited for their talent, respect a flag made before blacks had the freedom to be considered citizens, and to belt out a song penned by a slave master, by a primarily white audience, should not be lost on anyone.
There are the famous, super verbal agitators, those former nuisances to the game, now revered, the now idols of black and white alike. American great Jackie Robinson once said “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world.” And that was back in 1972. Ali being Unforgivably Black, openly, loudly admonished his government for trying to send him off into a war when his own country didn’t accept him. He boldly proclaimed in 1964 that no Vietnamese person ever “called me a nigger.”
Involved in the Black Power Movement, he was one of many blacks seen as a threat, and it didn’t help that the Black Panthers were classified a terrorist organization. Before Ali, Jack Johnson was so bold, so critical of the politics and racism he saw in the society he called his own, he openly dated white women. A decision that ultimately got him jailed twice under Jim Crow, during a time in 1912 when he was on top of the world, the heavy-weight boxing champion.
America by no means has a monopoly on racial politics in sports. We do seem to do it better than most, because of all the sports we haven’t allowed minorities to be involved in. But imagine South Africa during Apartheid…hell, even now there’s a problem in SA sports like cricket and rugby. In that nation, the numbers of blacks in cricket alone would have to increase threefold to represent 50% of players in the sport, despite the fact that the nation is 80% black. Only 40 years ago, in England, they’d play soccer games that were literally black vs. white.
So open with racism was the country at that time, West Bromwich legend Cyrille Regis heard 10,000 screaming chants of “Nigger, nigger lick my boots,” during the game. Unfortunately for that crowd, whites lost to blacks 3-2. And there’s the brilliantly stark culture of racism in Australia’s athletics, where the national sport of AFL (Association Football League), or rugby, has been heavily plagued by the nation’s history of aversion to the Indigenous Peoples, the Aboriginals. Even when I went to the state of New South Wales in 2007, I got called a Golly, a term steeped in ages of darky iconography, takes its name from the Golliwog—a doll that you will see is closely influenced by those black-faced minstrels of yesteryear. Interestingly, the Golliwog, minstrel show, and black face were all produced by Americans…the racism that America has inspired knows no bounds.
I must say, a huge reason I fell in love with baseball was Sammy Sosa. Even before I knew a fraction of the story of Jackie Robinson, I was a Sosa fan. No one told me he was Cuban, because it didn’t matter. He was black! I mean, it’s a completely different story to compare the identity crises many Latinos have, trying to separate out the blackness that has been in their cultures since the slave trade (over 90% of all imported Africans went through the Caribbean and South America between the years of 1502 and 1867), which is why I never even knew Sammy was a Spanish speaker, or even something other than African American, for years.
Like most people I knew, I just saw him as what he was: a strong, black man who was knocking balls out of the park, and I rooted for him with all my might, even though it was sacrilege to be a fan of the Cubs while in a broke, South Side, White Sox-dominated neighborhood. If you ever pondered the best way to get your ass beat in the Hood of South Side Chicago, that would probably be like number 3 on the list. But there was this slugfest, this battle between Chi-Town and St. Louie that made you have to choose which city you loved more. The pride in hoping, rooting for, being dedicated to that dark-skinned (I later learned Cuban) superman versus Mark McGuire was intense and record-breaking.
They packed stadiums like water fills an ocean. We should have known they were juicing better than a Jack Lellane appliance. Unfortunate still is what happened to Sammy. The black man I once knew and respected is now whiter than any white person I’ve ever met. And very far and away from a question (like the controversial question of whether Michael Jackson actually suffered from vitiligo), Sammy has admittedly undergone many procedures to brighten his skin. Did sports do this him? Or was he always ashamed of his skin? I almost feel like it was a bit of both.
I’m rooting for the three black men trying to purchase the Carolina Panthers. There’s much riding against them, and there’s even more riding on them. What happens when they’re rejected? What excuses will arise if they can’t make this deal go through by the League? I’m watching it closely, with open eyes, and an open heart, and an optimistic mind. The team that may not have been named after the Black Panthers, but which will clearly be closely associated with the movement if purchased by these three icons, in the year when a film named after the iconic cartoon super hero Black Panther comes out, and the memory of the 50th anniversary of John Carlos standing atop that podium in that pose that promotes the iconography of strength people like myself have always applauded—the community, and the country awaits a response.
It’s naturally guaranteed to piss off many who have criticized those of us, especially Kap, who kept this Kneeling Movement alive. That’s fine. We, the people of color that for years have gotten used to the push back rampant in the sports industry, welcome the criticism, as long as it means we get a win.