by John Walters
Listening to Charles Barkley speaking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN the other night, this quote knocked me down: “It’s exhausting being black…especially if you’re a celebrity. I love Tom Brady, but nobody asks him what it’s like in white America.”
The brief NBA work stoppage earlier this week—Wednesday through Friday—demonstrated that athletes are able to be unified in terms of social justice and have even ruminated, seriously, about putting their money where their mouths are. That is, surrendering massive pay days in order to work toward justice.
The National Football League season is slated to begin in less than two weeks. And while I’d never expect Brady, or Drew Brees (or Jake Fromm) to threaten not to play, it’s important to remember that 70% of the players in the NFL are black. 70%.
Tom Brady can’t do much at quarterback with no one to throw to or no one to protect him.
The GOP is annoyed by the NBA’s protest—during the RNC, no less—but you have to think that Donald Trump believes that in terms of sports the NBA is, to use a term the president once used about the now-defunct USFL from decades ago, “small potatoes.”
However, if the 70% of the NFL that is black refused to play in two weeks, well, now that would be something. No league draws the type of television ratings, commands the nation’s attention, quite like the National Football League. An NFL strike would embolden both the NBA and MLB to go on strike. I hope you like hockey, America. Like, very much.
If NFL players simply chose not to play and announced that they were going to dedicate the next two months to helping people register to vote, to do everything in their power to promote the idea of voting on November 3rd, that would send a most powerful message.
It was less than six months ago that, in this space, I wrote that Colin Kaepernick would go down as the most important NFL player of this era with the possible exception of Brady. I wonder how many readers scoffed at that. In the time since I wrote that, Kaepernick’s legacy has only grown in stature.
Do I expect an NFL players strike to take place? No, not unless a few more black men (or women) are shot or killed under the most questionable of circumstances by the police in the next 10 days (and yes, who are we to say that cannot happen?). But if you are asking me what I’d like to see, this is it. No sports of any kind, or at least no black men playing those sports, between now and election day.
That is the most powerful statement these men (and women) could make.