By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
Get serious. Jemele Hill of ESPN is a professional sports commentator. Her job is to offer colorful, charismatic, original and hard-hitting perspectives – no different from her male counterparts covering competitive athletics and entertainment.
But when she suggests backlash against the Dallas Cowboys, owner Jerry Jones threatened to fire players who conduct flag-related protests, she was suspended for two weeks. A sports commentator disciplined for criticizing an NFL team owner is like a cop pulling over Dale Earnhardt for a speeding ticket in the middle of the Indianapolis 500.
We live in a time in which the ridiculous has replaced the sublime, during which chaos is the new order; a time when chancing individualism against the status quo is risky business. Daring individuals are dropping like flies.
Who would think that half of the owners in the National Football League would rather watch their teams fail, losing in embarrassing fashion week after week, rather than hire a former Super Bowl quarterback blackballed for protesting Black oppression and police brutality.
Melissa Harris Perry a short while ago was among the most intelligent and articulate news commentators on television. Her outspokenness could not be harnessed so they did what they had to do to silence her – took her off MSNBC. Don’t be confused by the subterfuge of replacing her with another African American woman, they made a statement.
Comedian Larry Wilcox brought a brash, original, cutting-edge brand of political humor to late night television on Comedy Central. When his biting wit, critical of American hypocrisy went too far, he was taken off the air with less than a week’s notice – in the middle of a season during which he boasted respectable ratings. Thus, another “uppity” Black man was silenced.
That brings us to the over-arching point.
The problem is not the First Amendment. Obviously, it has different meanings for different people. The issue is not objection to protest, per se. Case in point, there is no punishment for NFL players who weekly still do the same thing that got Colin Kaepernick booted from the game.
The end game of America right now is painfully simple; it is keeping Black and brown men and women in their place. The sentiment has been seething for decades. Racial acrimony reached a fever pitch when to the chagrin of millions, an African American chose to exercise his First Amendment right.
The outrage vented toward Black professional athletes who kneel during the National Anthem is not about that song. The level of vitriol for brothers who refuse to pay homage to the country’s symbol of democracy is palpable.
Again, that anger is not a response to perceived disrespect for the flag. It’s about perceived disrespect for the system, coming from people of color, who are expected to be orderly subordinates.
This nation is responding to the dog whistle blown on a regular basis by a chief executive who stirs antipathy for any person or group of people who challenges authority, questions the broader morality, stands up for the “have nots,” or demands ‘justice for all.’
The message is clear. If Black, you exercise Freedom of Speech at your own risk.
The irony of this atmosphere of intimidation is that we have someone in the White House whose expressions are more reckless and offensive than anyone. How can a man who refers to players as sons of bitches exert righteous indignation. The truth is, he is but the tip of the iceberg for a nation that embraces his blatant prejudice and bigotry.
America is just fed up with Black folk shooting off at the mouth and acting like they have just as much of a right to voice an opinion as do whites.
There are exceptions. There is no objection to Negroes like Charles the Buffoon Barkley, or Uncle Ben Carson, who spew reprehensible babble on a regular basis, accepted because it is usually anti-Black.
At this point, folks have to take sides. Not along racial lines but on the basis of those who have the courage to speak up for what is right and those who would rather acquiesce to an atmosphere of intolerance, intimidation and rejection of diverse expression. And strangely, in all of this conversation over the protest, lost completely is serious dialogue on the injustices that spurred demonstration. America is in denial when it comes to racial divisiveness.
One example of the daring to step up and use their platform was Chicago native ESPN host Michael Wilbon who summed up Jerry Jones’ position, saying:
“The word that comes to my mind, and I don’t care who doesn’t like me using it, is plantation … The players are here to serve me, they will do what I want no matter how much I pay them. They are not equal to me.” That’s what this says to me and to mine.”
Will we see players stand up and reject this dictatorial relationship with owners? Only time will tell. For some of them, it is difficult to take chances when it’s abundantly clear that the only time their First Amendment right is guaranteed protection is when it is completely in agreement with their bosses. Completely.
Who said getting a paycheck constituted freedom? Slavery is forced subjugation to the will and demands of another. Let’s see how many NFL slaves stand, cowering at attention on the sidelines during NFL games this weekend.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].