I’ve been a fan of and have watched NFL football since 1958, when I was 9 years old. My earliest memory is of my dad, brother and I watching the championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. Johnny Unitas, Alan Ameche, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, Charlie Connerly, Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Rosey Grier, Andy Robustelli, and Sam Huff are just some of the players I remember.
The NFL was integrated in 1946, a year before baseball. But the game has a long way to go to reach a more balanced and equitable level of integration.
In 2021, 58% of NFL players were African-American, with only 34.5% of assistant coaches, 15.6% of general managers, 13.2% of professional staff, 11.4% of the league office, 9.4% of head coaches, and 3.1% being the CEO/president. None of the 32 teams have a Black owner.
Caroline Randall Williams, Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, had a powerful article in the Atlantic Magazine on December 6th, the day before the runoff election in Georgia. I found it to be a captivating article, though uncomfortable at many points. Her words are searing in their power in several places. But spot on in her candid reflection and critique. And she brought a new awareness to me of that which I had chosen to remain blind and ignorant for so long, because I am such a fan of NFL football. Sometimes, it’s just so hard for us to see the faults in those causes for which we are so passionate.
Ms. Williams article is titled, Herschel Walker Is an American Tragedy: Black bodies, white agendas. Here, are a few excepts:
It’s impossible to talk about Black men and white agendas without talking about Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate for Senate in the runoff election in Georgia….
The movie (Friday Night Lights) immersed me in all the hard, strange things about the South, the questions about achievement and race and class and excellence and objectification, and what it can mean to lose or win or talk to God about any of it….
Walker is a big, ball-carrying Black man… They are using him to advance their own Constitution-compromising agenda, the way conservative white people in this country have always used Black bodies when given a chance….
Whether Walker wins or loses, whatever was good or valuable or worthy about his prior professional legacy has been utterly compromised. His many trophies are now and forever eclipsed by the humiliating spectacle of his political foray. He is ruined…
I’ll ask again: What does it mean to be a Black man in the South, working on a white-owned field?”
Black men working on white-owned fields began 400 years ago with slavery. It continues in new forms, today. It’s not only a problem in the South, if we’re talking about academia, banking, Chambers of Commerce, school systems, football, city politics, county politics, state politics, national politics, real estate, and so many other sectors of society.
We have much work to do for an acceptable balance of equity and justice. Join our efforts.
Submitted by Rev. Dr. Donnley Dutcher