series

Time for NFL owners to step up, call for social justice

series
USATSI

We’ve seen and heard an NBA coach, Doc Rivers, speaking through his tears. We’ve heard several MLB managers, including the Giants’ Gabe Kapler, addressing with conviction the herd of elephants in America’s room.

And Major League Soccer on Sunday put a carefully placed velvet boot to one of its owners, Dell Loy Hansen, after his pattern of blatant racism was outed by a report in The Athletic.

Even the NHL, locked in a tone-deaf state as other leagues took a measure of action, decided to postpone all games for two days in a belated stand against racism.

Powerful statements by people of profile who have participated in their own protests by joining their teams for a calculated work stoppage. Powerful moves by leagues wanting no visible affiliation with bigotry.

In the eight days since Jacob Blake was shot in Kenosha, Wis., both those supporting racial justice and those opposing it have been reinvigorated. It’s an ongoing and scorching-hot topic of discussion among family members and co-workers and teammates. Nearly all public response has been in support of a more just nation.

And not one strong word of public support from an NFL owner, all 32 of which are white.

There are some well-crafted statements, yes, but not one emotional call to action.

Not one authentic tear.

We’ve had white coaches, including San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan and Seattle’s Pete Carroll, urging the American public to face the issue. We’ve had a white quarterback, Tennessee's Ryan Tannehill, flanked by teammates, acknowledging a historical truth too many don’t care to hear, much less take a moment to absorb.

 

We enter this week with players on many NFL teams considering a one-game work stoppage as a way to send a loud message to owners and fans unsympathetic to the cause.

“For us as a team, for the Seahawks, we’re definitely discussing what do we do next,” Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson told AM-710 ESPN Seattle. “How do we make a change? How do we cause movement, and how do we make a difference? We’re in the midst of all that right now. We don’t have weeks, and we don’t have months. We don’t have years to change it.”

We have yet to hear a passionate peep from those at the top, whose voices more likely can persuade a few more Americans to listen and reflect and finally recognize our ugly, brutal, centuries-old underside.

There was a bit of traction Sunday, with Eagles owner Jeff Lurie arranging a news conference to address the subject. He acknowledged the history of oppression implied that many of his colleagues are in the process of joining him.

“I’m very close to some of them,” said Lurie, who realizes he lacks the gravity of some of his colleagues. “They suffer, and they’re embarrassed by our country and embarrassed and hurt. And [they] know we have to listen because we don’t even understand it as well as those that are particularly oppressed.”

Dallas' Jerry Jones, the Alpha One of NFL owners, generally is infatuated with the idea of microphones under his chin and cameras in his face. No NFL owner has a richer history of being available, and no owner in any of our leagues is more willing to be quoted. It’s hard to imagine he’ll suddenly mention Blake when he has yet to publicly utter the name George Floyd.

The planet has had a prolonged and robust response to the killing of George Floyd – which occurred 98 days ago.

“I want our team ... to be a part of change,” Jones told FM-105.3 The Fan on Friday. “And the dramatic change isn’t going to happen overnight. But I want our organization and players to play a part in the movement of making it a better place in this country. I feel confident that our players have a can-do and what-can-I-do part in it. I want the Cowboys to help make things better.”

That’s an endorsement, however tepid, of any action Dallas players might take. It is not a ringing condemnation of the injustice that has some of those players on the brink of despair.

 

New England’s Robert Kraft is another NFL owner whose voice still carries, despite a notable pending legal predicament. He also is a friend of President Donald Trump, whose arrival in the White House has cranked up the racial rhetoric and violence. This is not a coincidence, according to Kraft.

He conceded in 2017, in a private audio clip that found its way into the hyperactive hands of TMZ, that Trump’s aggressive opposition to peaceful protests during the national anthem protests set a tone that is “divisive and horrible.”

Three years later, Kraft is facing an opportunity to utter a few words that might set a tone that is inclusive and compassionate.

RELATED: NBA missed mind-blowing flex; NFL still owes Kap redemption

See, many of those “stick-to-sports” Americans that see the pursuit of justice as illegitimate also love the NFL. These are adults, often in middle age, who get giddy about squeezing into Patriots gear with “Brady” on the back, or Cowboys gear with “Aikman” on the back, and then preparing the tailgate spread. Many don’t think of themselves as racist.

But hearing from the mouths of men like Jones and Kraft, to name two, that America’s sordid history is real and a scourge on our nation would stop at least a few folks in their tracks.

It’s a lot to ask those in ownership suites of the almighty NFL to get over themselves and grow a conscience and act on it. But the timing feels right.