Now it’s mostly social media carrying the vitriol
Social media has been a prolific purveyor of hateful speech, especially towards Black people, especially since racists and others discovered they can say whatever they want without identifying themselves. Then, when taken to task, it’s always about free speech.
Last week, Minnesota Vikings RB Alexander Mattison became yet another victim of racist vitriol after a poor game performance. He reported over 60 “disgustingly disrespectful messages” on his Instagram account, including the N-word and other such slurs. Some suggested he kill himself.
“Under my helmet I am a human, a father, a son,” wrote Mattison in response. “This is sick.”
Both the NFL and the Vikings issued statements supporting Mattison. There also were positive reactions in support of Mattison; we received permission to use excerpts from some of their tweets.
Henry Lake, WCCO-AM, @lakeshow 73: “While unacceptable and disgusting, I’m not shocked at all. Some fans don’t respect Black athletes, they just like being entertained by them.”
Jack Kinsman, JK@jack_kinsman, Viking fan: “It just sucks to know that these people cheer for the same team that I do. Those “fans” don’t see these guys and gals in pro sports as human beings. I’m reading some of these messages and I’m about to cry.”
Reggie Wilson, KARE-TV sports director, @ReggieWilsonTV: “To have someone attack your character and humanity in that way over a game is gross.”
Sports fans have the right to cheer their favorite teams and boo their opponents. But attacking a player’s humanity, no matter the race, is not only crossing the line but obliterating it. No one deserves it.
Racist comments hurled at Black athletes is nothing new. It existed long before social media became a reality. Hank Aaron received tons of racist letters during his successful quest in the 1970s to surpass Babe Ruth as baseball’s home run king. Reportedly Aaron kept most of these letters, some including death threats.
Last week’s racist vitriol came after Mattison was named the Week 1 NFLPA Community MVP. For the second straight summer, he hosted an urban youth football camp free-of-charge at Hamline University in St. Paul. Last month Mattison held an event for over 250 local students from under-resourced schools who got new backpacks, books, school supplies, shoes, shirts, socks and wristbands. He spent time with them as well.
We first met Mattison and his wife, then pregnant with their first child, last summer at his first “I AM GIFTED” camp. He partnered with former NFL player Greg Bell, who Mattison has known since he was a youngster.
“I AM GIFTED is letting everyone know that we are better with a gift and we just have to find it, use it,” Mattison told us while taking a break at this year’s two-day camp in June. “I’m excited that I can try and share my light and be an inspiration to some of these kids.”
“We want them to understand what’s going on in their world today,” added Bell. “We hope that they really just grab one little thing that they can hone in on, because one thing can make a difference in their life.”
Mattison has shown he is more than a football player, but also somebody who truly cares about his community, whether in his pro-football home or back home in California. It’s something these racists will never understand.
As the late Hank Aaron used those racist letters as motivational fuel to accomplish his historic feat, let’s hope that Mattison too will use the hate that he got last week as motivational fuel to move forward and be successful on and off the field.