“Mom Camilia fought drug addiction” was listed on a chart outlining the background of Tee Higgins, and projected on to the screens of the record-setting audience that viewed the 2020 NFL draft. Social media took issue with ESPN’s insistence on getting in folks’ business, while the mainstream press kept mainly silent.
This occurred because the sports network while providing entertainment and a distraction for their class partners, was not just broadcasting the draft, they were transmitting propaganda that paints Blacks as the “Other” and the NFL as savior.
But more importantly, they were sending a message about Black people: “They are not like you and me, they come from single-parent households, live in bad neighborhoods, belong to gangs, are drug-addicted, felons or potential criminals, violent, tragic and they are to be pitied.”
The message is that Blacks are different, they can perform amazing feats on the football field, they are “faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” In other words supermen.
Notice, supermen aren’t known for their emotional or mental acuity!
If this is a mere exaggeration, why didn’t the NFL put on the board that soon-to-be Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser has right-wing and possible White supremacist affinities? Rohrwasser has said that he put what is basically a permanent mark on his body (a three-percenter tattoo) having no idea what the symbol meant or represented, telling the press he thought it symbolized the armed services.
That would be believable, but the other tattoos on his arms support similar ideas that the three-percenters embrace and are popular with the right-wing, including, “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Liberty or Death.”
And what also stretches the believability of his claim is, as Jemelle Hill pointed out, he might not be a White supremacist but he “likes White supremacist things.”
Predictably, in his effort to prove he is not racist, he enlisted two of his Black Marshall University teammates to give testimonials about how he is just a regular standup guy!
I subscribe to the “Duck theory” of truth tests. That is, if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, acts like a duck, likes other ducks…
On some level, the fact that 29 of the first 32 players taken in the draft says something about the society in which they come. But that is not the story ESPN wanted to tell.
Instead, they showed Black pain, Black misfortune, Black misery, and Black grief as if it was entertainment. And maybe for some watching, it was, but for most, it was painful and disturbing. Notice they played down the stories of the athletes that came from more fortunate backgrounds.
It led many on social media to question the purpose, after all, what did all this suffering have to do with running pass patterns, catching, throwing, blocking, and tackling? But it is important to the NFL because it’s another step in the commodification of the athlete.
It’s another part of the circus, the show. Black pain is a part of the entertainment. When they offered an explanation for why they did such a seemingly strange and insensitive thing, they all but admitted it.
Incidentally, when confronted with their poor judgment, ESPN did not apologize, nor apparently did they give any real consideration to the fact that what they had done was in poor taste and should have been reconsidered. Instead, they doubled down!
“Our NFL draft coverage analyzes the prospects on the field and introduces the human side of the players by telling their stories, including the obstacles their families have overcome as part of the journey to the NFL.”
The “human side?”
This is one of the most revelatory unconscious tells about Blacks and race ever uncovered. ESPN, by saying they are exposing the players’ “human side,” is openly implying that there is some other side, some other manifestation by which to see the players. They are saying, in essence, that these darker children of fellow workers, fellow citizens are some other.
Proof of just how deeply buried this is in the White American psyche: not one of the dozens of people in charge of the corporation’s public image saw this for what it was: wildly inappropriate, intrusive, and invasive. This very offensive public trespass set off no alarms in ESPN. Not even one liberal or a Black-best-friend-having-White person spoke up, with the exception of a few White sportswriters. Stephen A Smith and Michael Wilbon stayed silent.
Incredibly, along with being portrayed as “OTHER” their personal lives and experiences and heartbreak seemingly belong to the NFL. And after having survived the perils of being Black in America (which in reality they inadvertently exposed) as my son Kellen pointed out, “then comes the NFL to save them!”
The NFL, by projecting the players as poor victims, get to come along and play the role of benevolent savior, with Roger Goodell as their fairy Godfather.
But as my son also pointed out, most of the players drafted won’t make their team and of those that do, most of them will be back in the job market after three years, many of them in average working-class jobs and some who started on America’s mean streets, will wind up right back there.
And you thought you were just watching a draft. The NFL and ESPN prove that it takes a concerted effort by every corporate and capitalist enterprise to keep such a large working-class and oppressed nationality feckless, duped, and divided, even in the midst of a coronavirus crisis that reveals their incompetence and utter contempt for our lives.
Justice, then peace.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.