The message to NFL players: Dance for us, but don’t kneel Demonizing black protest while allowing black celebration has a deep historical context

This NFL season, the usual game-day messaging of beer and sneaker ads and uplifting videos about community or military service has been augmented by a special kind of cultural telegraph.

Sent from white NFL owners and fans to black NFL players, it goes like this:

You can Milly Rock, Juju on that Beat or fake play pingpong in the end zone. (STOP) But we can’t abide you kneeling on the sidelines. (STOP) Dance to your heart’s content, but you best not raise a fist in protest. (STOP)

It’s a historically layered message about what’s allowable, laudable or even tolerable for black men to do with their bodies. It’s an adjudication centered in the white gaze, projected onto black limbs, televised to millions of eyes. Politicians, business leaders and NFL leadership have reached peak freak-out about players tackling racism and police brutality during the national anthem. But even as a divided populace watches football on a hair trigger, the league has newly relaxed its rules about touchdown celebrations.

Every pressurized system needs a release. Cue Mr. Bojangles.

Or can talented players simply be allowed to celebrate athletic achievement and the joy of expression, like any free people, without the echoes of white supremacy? I’m asking for the culture.


White fear of the black male body is part of the subtext of the rage over the NFL protests (and actually any form of black protest). That fear, stemming from perceptions of black lawlessness and criminality, can also be understood as a projection of white rage.

The angst and anger over the protests during the national anthem, which began last year with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, recently ticked up dramatically. President Donald Trump cursed NFL players who protested and called for them to be fired. Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said, “We can’t have inmates running the prison” during a meeting of NFL owners and league executives. TV viewership was down 7.5 percent through the season’s first six weeks compared with the same period last year, and every week brings tension, threats of boycotts and boos directed at players and teams who do anything other than stand and salute.

But end zone dances and celebrations have ticked up dramatically too. Highlights of the most creative are ranked weekly on websites and social media. “We know that you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown. And players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in an open letter to fans earlier this year.

That position is new.

Last year, Newsweek reported that players had been fined 18 times for excessive celebrations through 14 weeks, more than 2.5 times the fines issued for all of 2015 and part of a leaguewide crackdown. This included Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, whose professional-grade twerking in the Washington end zone, along with other pelvis-intensive dances, cost him nearly $60,000. Oakland Raiders punter Marquette King danced with an official’s penalty flag after the opposing team was called for roughing the kicker, costing him more than $12,000. And when then-New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz danced a salsa and teammate Odell Beckham Jr. pretended to take pictures, that choreography cost them more than $12,000 each.

In an explanatory video last year, Dean Blandino, then senior vice president of officiating for the NFL, said there were long-standing rules against excessive demonstrations (which earned it the “No Fun League” nickname) but penalties were up because “it’s been a point of emphasis.” Hugs and salutes were fine, he said, as were limited dancing and going to the ground in prayer (presumably unless it involved praying for police to stop shooting black people).

In the offseason, however, the league changed course to allow group choreography, props and rolling on the ground. This year has witnessed the Peter Piper dance and an homage to Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot on Monday Night Football. There’s been faux bench-pressing and fake home run hitting.

“We’re allowed to celebrate now,” Brown enthused in a preseason tweet. Along with other players, Brown (who last year finished in the top five on Dancing with the Stars) previewed possible dance moves on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon at the beginning of the season. He helped tout the new dance rules in a Pepsi commercial.

Both freedom of expression in black protest, which has been demonized, and freedom of expression in black dance — which, this year at least, is more OK — have complex and often contradictory messaging. But it all relates to questions of power and control of the black-body politic.

“We’re allowed to celebrate now.” — Antonio Brown

Former NFL Pro Bowler Keyshawn Johnson has experienced those attempts at control firsthand. In 1996, Johnson was a New York Jets rookie wide receiver when he scored his first NFL touchdown. He ripped off his helmet, spiked the football and started dancing. Teammates joined in celebration and tackled him to the ground. Former quarterback Joe Theismann, then an ESPN analyst, called him a jerk.

Though Johnson never went in for celebration dances after that — he threw balls in the stands until the fines got prohibitive, then just handed the ball to kids in the front row — it wasn’t because of Theismann’s criticism.

“I looked at it as this is a white dude that don’t like a black man doing something totally different than what the narrative is supposed to be, which is you’re supposed to play football and be quiet and be happy,” he said.

A segment of fans will always think celebrations are wrong, Johnson said. “They just think that showboating is basically like clowning.” It takes their mind to “if you celebrate, you’re disrespectful, because they want to control what you do. Part of controlling what you do is, ‘We prefer him to do this versus that.’ ”

When white players perform celebration rituals, they are understood differently, said Johnson. The quarterback position “is dominated by mainly white dudes with the pumping of the fist and the screaming out loud and guys shouting to the air when they throw a touchdown,” Johnson said. Fans and analysts say, “Oh, look at Tom Brady … he’s exuberant. He’s passionate about that throw to [Rob] Gronkowski. You’re like, ‘Wait a minute, he’s celebrating.

The nature of the guys who often take the ball into the end zone contributes to the creativity of the dances, Johnson points out. Wide receivers have to be fast, and speed is its own form of beauty. Receivers are “isolated. They’re the furthest position on offense, detached from their teammates,” said Johnson. They touch the ball less often than running backs and quarterbacks, so when they do get their hands on it, they want to make it count. Plus, “we happen to be, you know, sports car guys. We ain’t no big old truck dude. We ain’t no lineman. You look in the car lot, they’re going to have Bentleys, Ferraris, they’re going to have all that.”

Johnson likes dances being choreographed and creative but with limits on sexual suggestiveness, or implied violence such as throat-slashing. He believes that dances are allowed while protests are contested because of money. “When it starts to affect the bottom line, they’re like, ‘Oh, no, man. We’ve got to put a stop to this.’ ” He believes in criminal justice reform. “But I also understand Jerry Jones [Dallas Cowboys owner, who threatened to bench players last month who he said “disrespect the flag”] because I, too, am a business owner, so I understand when you start messing with my money. … ”


Dwandalyn Reece, curator of music and performing arts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, sees the players’ dance moves — the boasting, mimicry and pantomime, the circle formation, the use of props — as definitive hallmarks of the African-American dance aesthetic.

Dancing and singing were one of the few areas where the dominant white culture allowed the enslaved freedom of expression. Then, of course, blacks got stereotyped as always dancing and singing, said Reece. This contributes to the multiple gazes operating on the field when it comes to football dances.

In one political moment, it’s showboating, overly stylized, expressing individualism at the expense of sportsmanship. (And, as a popular Key and Peele skit suggests, no touchdown dance is complete without at least three pelvic thrusts.)

In another political moment, dance is safe and entertaining — something white folks have historically enjoyed watching happy blacks do. In turn, that sight line evokes minstrel show dancing and “cooning” for white audiences.

The dances “can be spectacle, depending on the arena that it’s in, but the roots of it are quite meaningful and quite rooted in a cultural tradition,” said Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Battle, who says he doesn’t do the latest dances, “the Dougie, or whatever,” sees football players expressing grace, athleticism and even their inner child as they move their bodies to punctuate their joy. But black dance has always been a contested cultural signifier. NFL dances are about rejecting old strictures and reclaiming personal expression. It’s the idea “that you dance in spite of how you’re being perceived because you know the inherent joy in that.” Or, Just because it’s a stereotype, I’m not going to stop eating fried chicken at the company picnic.

The dances are meant to push buttons, Battle said. It’s meant for “the naysayers or the ones that would be threatened. It’s meant to say, well, you should be threatened because I’m that damned good!”

Black social dancing has always been an extension of dances that came to the Americas with the enslaved, said Kyle Abraham, artistic director of the Abraham.In.Motion dance company and a MacArthur Fellow. “The ways the pelvis is used in the dancing, the way it’s much more grounded, can evoke fear to some but can deliver power to others.”

As for black dance being loaded with shade, Abraham references the cake walk. It was an elaborate, high-stepping prance that began before the Civil War and mocked the high society pretensions of whites and slaveholders, subversively, on the low, to their faces, as they clapped along.

“It’s meant to say, well, you should be threatened, because I’m that damned good!”

“There is always a possibility that there is a game being played within a game and that we are actually in control,” said Abraham. “Look at me, I’m entertaining you. Are you entertained? Am I what you want me to be, while at the same time I’m making you notice.”

The handcuffs are off and players are going to want to step up their moves, especially in an age where they can go viral. “Maybe part of this illusion in this modern-day cake walk is that you actually think you have ownership over who I am and how I will be presented … but in actuality, I have full ownership of who I am and how I choose to speak and move and dance. And when I will make those extra 10 yards!” Abraham said.

Damion Thomas, curator of sports for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, remembers watching the Houston Oilers’ Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, an NFL dancing pioneer who became legendary for his flapping-leg touchdown celebration in the late 1970s and 1980s. Thomas calls Hall of Fame cornerback Deion “Primetime” Sanders, who in the 1990s helped usher in the modern celebrity football player era, his all-time favorite player and dancer and points out that his signature, flashy stiff-arm and high steps mimic movements from Detroit ballroom dancing.

He notes that white players, such as the Jets’ Mark Gastineau and his sack dance, historically have been part of the creative NFL culture. Today, white players have been involved in some fan favorites, including a game of duck, duck goose. Travis Kelce, tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, is a serial end zone dancer and originator of Week 9’s potato sack race, one of the season’s best group celebrations.

Although both dancing and protest have gotten attention this year, Thomas contends they occupy separate spaces. Players let you know when they are protesting, he said, and they reserve political acts for certain moments in a prescribed space while keeping the end zone as a “part of the field they are not engaging with social issues.” The exception: “When Odell Beckham Jr. scored a touchdown, went on all fours and raised his leg like he was a dog — and then later said that was in relationship to Donald Trump.”

Reece, the music and performing arts curator, sees multiple narratives “being enacted as we struggle with trying to get beyond the lens of the way that people look at us, and interpret us and define us.”

These will continue to play out as fans struggle, as football players struggle, as the nation struggles with this political moment and the long, complicated history of the black body politic.

Are we entering the end times for the NFL? Professional basketball offers the NFL a blueprint for success: embrace the black culture of the majority of your players

The National Football League, the American sport that comes closest to resembling a religion, has its end times in sight: the year 2021. “The likelihood,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in August, “of either a strike, or a lockout is in ’21 a virtual certainty.”

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them.

Every religious text has mention of the end times. In just the past 30 years, we’ve survived Halley’s comet, Y2K, the end of the Mayan calendar and the rapture that was supposed to happen in September. But nothing lasts forever. The NFL has survived lockouts and strikes before and has seemed like Teflon for the past decade with sky-high broadcast ratings, massive revenues and an annual American holiday called Super Bowl Sunday. But the league has serious competition for American pastime status from the National Basketball Association.

This may seem far-fetched now, while the NFL’s television ratings lead the NBA’s by a wide margin (although numbers were down last season, and some wonder whether television ratings, in a streaming world, matter as much as they used to). And the NBA doesn’t have anything close to dominating a whole day in America like the Super Bowl. But the NBA, which is as popular as ever in this social media era, continues to embrace an important fact about American culture: Black culture and black people determine cool. Cool resists linear structures. If the NFL wants to maintain its dominance, it needs to embrace black culture or get left behind. Just like baseball.


Let’s be clear: The 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers was the league’s most watched Finals since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls played the Utah Jazz in 1998. But the average 20.4 million viewers who tuned into each game is equal to the average viewership for a single Sunday Night Football game in 2016. And the NFL is still an unmitigated cash cow, with a net worth of more than $13 billion, dwarfing the NBA’s $6 billion figure. The average NFL franchise is worth $2.5 billion. Worth of the average NBA franchise: $1.36 billion, a 3.5-fold increase over the past five years. Over at Major League Baseball, the average team is worth $1.54 billion, but 50 percent of viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent in 2010. And in its defense, the MLB can still captivate the country when it has historic World Series matchups like last year’s battle between Cinderellas in the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. And they almost doubled back with a monster championship series between the Yankees and Dodgers if the former hadn’t lost to the Houston Astros. ESPN data shows the average age of baseball viewers at 53. The average age is 47 for the NFL, and it’s rising. The average age is 37 for the NBA, and it seems to be staying there. Baseball’s television ratings continue to trend downward.

Howard Bryant, ESPN senior writer and author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, summarizes the NFL’s stance in relation to the NBA and MLB: “Post-ABA merger,” he says, “basketball has done by far the best job of adapting to the people who play the sport, baseball the worst. The NFL has been in between, leaning towards a bad job.”

Why might the NFL be on its way to becoming MLB? Because the NFL is looking at a 2021 season that may not even be played. Because the NFL’s ostensibly mainstream stars — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning — who have dominated the past decade, are getting old. And many kids are being steered away from playing the game in its tackle form. “Participation has dropped,” Mark Murphy said in January. He’s president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers and a board member at USA Football. “There’s concern among parents about when is the right age to start playing tackle, if at all.” In a recent (nonrandom) study of NFL players, 110 out of 111 brains examined showed signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

But the NFL could spiral mostly because, perhaps more than at any other time in pro football history, the league is at a crossroads when it comes to race. League news right now leads with racial conflict. Players are protesting. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and owners are somewhere between demanding and begging them not to. And in the middle, fans fight over whose boycott of the NFL is actually having an impact on the ratings, if any at all.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor. Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.” — Andrew Brandt, director, Moorad Center for Sports Law at Villanova

Free agent Colin Kaepernick, to bring attention to systemic racism and police brutality, opted on Aug. 14, 2016, not to stand for the national anthem. This has placed the NFL at the center of a discussion about race and sports. Kaepernick’s protest has spread around the world, from European soccer games to Midwestern high school football games. By most accounts, the NFL has botched the handling of the protests. A year later, Kaepernick isn’t in the league despite evidence of him being good enough to start on some teams, and he could surely be a backup.

The reason the anti-protest backlash has become so impactful for the black community is because there’s an understanding of what the fervor about protests is really about—silence. There are contradictions in just about every sentiment of outrage about the protests. Just look at the viral image of an NFL fan wearing a “I stand for the National Anthem” shirt while sitting on a flag. And at the fact that the NFL didn’t even start requiring players to stand for the Anthem until 2009—after the Department of Defense paid the league $5.4 million for “paid patriotism.” And at the fact the NFL actually violates flag codes in some of their representations of patriotism. Jerry Jones himself sat during the anthem at his first Cowboys game, in 1989. And Donald Trump’s finger-pointing at players (and owners) doesn’t erase the fact he insulted John McCain for being a prisoner of war and has lied about calling Gold Star military families who lost soldiers in battle this year. The anger over protests isn’t about patriotism, it’s about silencing black athletes. Steps the NFL may or may not make to quell protests will be seen as an endorsement of that silence.

On Oct. 15, Kaepernick filed a formal grievance against the NFL alleging collusion by team owners. “I think he should be on a roster right now, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers said in August. “I think because of his protests, he’s not.” Jay-Z rocks a custom Kaepernick jersey on Saturday Night Live, and his actual jersey leads the 49ers’ sales, even though he hasn’t taken a snap for them this season. Kaepernick’s likeness rules the streets. All the while, Kaep rarely speaks, instead continuing his push to donate a million dollars of his own money to various charities across the country, volunteering to donate backpacks to students and suits to parolees. Without so much as a news conference, Kaepernick is part of a daily news cycle, thanks to a massive social media following that watches his every move.

What Kaepernick is learning is something NBA players have known for years: Their social media channels are the best ways to get their points across. So when NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo reinforcing the rule that players had to stand for the anthem, NBA players (J.R. Smith notwithstanding) mostly took it in stride. That’s because they understand their social impact reaches further than the average NFL player’s. (Odell Beckham Jr., with 9 million Instagram followers, has the most by far of any NFL player.)

LeBron James, who has 39 million Twitter followers and 33 million Instagram followers, expressed that much in a news conference after he called Donald Trump a “bum” on Twitter: “My voice … is more important than my knee. What I say should hit home for a lot of people [to] know where I stand. I don’t believe I have to get on my knee to further what I’m talking about.”

The NBA, its individual players, and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors goes to the basket against the Houston Rockets on October 17, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

And that’s where the NBA dominates the NFL: at social media, where everything is happening. On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, NBA teams have an average of more than 7 million followers, while NFL franchises average 4.6 million. Even during the NFL’s last season, there were more hashtags on Twitter dedicated to the NBA. In 2016, Forbes ranked the top athletes on social media: Four of the top 10 players were from the NBA, and the rest were international soccer stars. NFL players didn’t crack the top 10. The NBA social media connection allows players to enter lives and households in new and intimate ways.

Another major reason for the NBA’s ability to lap the NFL in social media is the NFL’s draconian rules about sharing videos online. Last October, the league sent out a memo barring teams from posting clips or GIFs of games. Teams that did so would be fined up to $100,000. While teams such as the Atlanta Falcons use clips from Madden video games to “show” highlights every Sunday, the NFL’s hard line limits many teams’ ability to deeply connect with fans where they are — which is, so much of the time, on their phones.

“The NBA is the more progressive league when it comes to digital,” said Jaryd Wilson, digital content manager for the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have become an online darling thanks to creative Twitter posts and engagement with fans online. “In-game highlights are our highest digital performers and our most engaging types of content.”

The NFL’s limits on social media, and teams’ subsequent mockery of the decision, exposes a blind spot about American culture. African-Americans dominate what’s trendy on social media, and if “Black Twitter” determines that something is viral, it often becomes an American cultural phenomenon. Think of phrases such as “lit” and “on fleek” or crazes like the mannequin challenge — these began in blackness. On any given week, a new black-centered sensation, such as the NSFW #ForTheD challenge that dominated social media last month, takes over the country.

The NFL had that viral moment with Cam Newton doing his signature dabbing celebration in 2015, but he was as chastised for it as he was celebrated. Letters were written to newspapers about his “pelvic thrusts,” and Newton’s “arrogance” became the center of the story. And after a humbling Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos, Newton seemed put in his place. Instead of embracing him, the NFL demonstrated that it didn’t understand what moves the needle in American culture. It cut down one of its viral superstars — something the NBA just doesn’t do.

“The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

“Diversity is very important to us,” said the Hawks’ Wilson. “We know our demographic, and our audience, and it is about keeping up with those trends. We always think about how can we tap into diverse communities while trying to push ourselves forward.” It affects the Hawks’ bottom line significantly. The organization has taken things a step further by offering a full-on embrace of Atlanta music: acts such as T.I., Gucci Mane and Big Boi perform at halftimes throughout the season, which has resulted in increased ticket sales and price inflation every time a concert is announced. The Hawks’ Philips Arena is even now home to rapper Killer Mike’s Swag barbershop.

The NBA understands that rock is no longer the dominant genre of music. Last year’s Finals marketing soundtrack featured songs from Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. while the NFL featured the return of Hank Williams Jr. — who was dropped from ESPN’s Monday Night Football six years ago for likening President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. And while the NBA features a list of rap stars and rhythm and blues singers during All-Star Weekend festivities, this year the Super Bowl will feature Justin Timberlake, whose last, 2004 Super Bowl performance featured him pulling off a piece of Janet Jackson’s clothing, exposing her breast. Whether or not the move was planned, it went awry, and Jackson caught the backlash as Timberlake’s career flourished. These kinds of things resonate, and the NFL’s de facto pardoning of Timberlake is another reminder to the black consumer that the league doesn’t cherish their concerns the way the NBA so often does.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor,” said Andrew Brandt, director of the Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at the Villanova University and host of The Business Of Sports podcast. “Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.”

Yet, even as black America is ravaged by socioeconomic disparities, a 2015 Nielsen study explains that we’ve reached a tipping point with regard to black economic influence. “Today’s American mainstream is rapidly changing, and that change can be attributed in part to the growth and activities of African-Americans in the marketplace. Social media and the internet have become go-to communications platforms for African-American stories and content.” The study goes on to state that black consumer power is growing at unprecedented levels, reaching $1.2 trillion in 2015, a 275 percent increase from 1990. So the appeal to the black consumer is about more than just what’s “cool.” It’s about a consumer base that is increasingly vital.


The NBA season kicked off last Tuesday with a display of the chokehold professional basketball has on compelling storylines. LeBron James faced off against his former teammate and passive-aggressive foe Kyrie Irving. The Warriors lost a buzzer-beater to the newly constructed Houston Rockets that now boast Chris Paul — all while a Klay Thompson doppelgänger was the social media joke of the night. But the NBA’s offseason was almost as entertaining, full of memed stories and social media buzz, from the petty feud between Irving and James to Thompson’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-like adventures in China, Hoodie ’Melo and Kevin Durant’s bizarre Twitter dramas. The NBA, its individual players and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Meanwhile, the NFL is years-deep into a seemingly never-ending barrage of Spygate, Bountygate and Deflategate. There was the Ray Rice domestic abuse case. Accusations about covering up CTE analysis. All of this, though, seemed only to slightly dent the NFL’s impenetrable shield: People seemed to have accepted the judge and jury status of Goodell, the misogyny and abusive history of too many players who continue to play despite domestic abuse cases, and folks kind of knew that playing football was damaging to athletes in the long term. But Kaepernick’s protest and its fallout illuminated a sharp and deep conflict within the NFL—and among its fans—that many weren’t expecting.

“Go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds.” — Howard Bryant

An Oct. 11 study by The New York Times makes clear that the NFL is now one of the “most divisive” brands in America. The league doesn’t have to choose between its black players and white audience, but it does have to find a middle ground between black players and fans, and its white fans, a dilemma unique to the National Football League. The NFL is the only major male American sport that has mostly black players and a mostly white audience. The NFL is 67 percent black, but its audience is measured at 77 percent white. And although the league is two-thirds black, its top stars are white. In 2015, seven of the NFL’s nine top endorsement earners were white. Since then, black athletes such as Cam Newton and Odell Beckham Jr. have stormed the top ranks, but endorsements largely focus on quarterbacks. The New York Giants are the only team in the NFL that has never started a black quarterback. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, there were six black starting quarterbacks as of Week 7.

But by the time of the 2021 labor negotiations, the aforementioned Brady/Brees/Rodgers/Manning quadrumvirate will be out of the league. Andrew Luck, Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota are the quarterbacks most poised to be the league’s next torchbearers, and with them are Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston and Dak Prescott. So what happens when the faces of the league are as black as the rest of the players? How the NFL reacts will determine the future of the sport. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have both been at the same racial crossroads. One league offers the NFL a blueprint for success, and the other a cautionary tale.


The NBA has had multiple eras in which it has had to realign based on demographics and its top stars. In 1979, three years after the NBA merged with the ABA, the league had a nearly identical demographic makeup as the NFL. Seventy-five percent of the NBA’s players were black, up from 60 percent a decade before, and only two of the league’s top 20 scorers were white. At the same time, 75 percent of the audience was white. Attendance was down, as were ratings, to the tune of a 26 percent decrease against the previous season. A 1979 Sports Illustrated article titled There’s An Ill Wind Blowing For The NBA laid out the question plainly: Is the NBA too black?

The article examined the feeling among fans and some owners that black athletes were “undisciplined,” “overpaid” and played “playground basketball” — all dog whistles. An unnamed executive was quoted: “The question is, are they [the black players] promotable? People see them dissipating their money, playing without discipline. How can you sell a black sport to a white public?”

There was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport.

The NBA answered that question two ways. One, David Stern became commissioner in 1984. “Stern said, ‘I’m just going to put the best people on the floor,’ and he said the same thing for the front office,” said Richard Lapchick, founder/director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sports (TIDES). “The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

The league also lucked up by being able to lean into its racial divide with a ready-made rivalry between the bombastic and very black Los Angeles Lakers, led by Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics. Stern, to his credit, embraced the clash, marketing the rivalry and letting the racial subtext become one of the main storylines. The league rode that popularity through the ’80s and ’90s with respectable black stars like Michael Jordan who didn’t upset the American status quo. Jordan was, in many ways, the perfect black athlete for corporate America. He stayed out of politics, seemed nonthreatening, and was a money machine.

Then came the NBA’s next racial crossroads: Allen Iverson. AI, the anti-Jordan, had cornrows, tattoos, jewelry — and he just did it his way. Iverson tested the limits of Stern’s acceptance of black culture. Iverson was from the ’hood, had been embroiled in a nasty fight before going to college, and didn’t bother cleaning up his language. While the NBA struggled with Iverson’s imaging, Reebok embraced his persona, tying their AI shoe to urban culture. They called it The Answer, and it was a monumental success.

A generation of athletes looked up to Iverson. And as those players mimicked his style, the NBA cracked down. In 2005, Stern instituted a dress code for the NBA, making players drop the baggy clothes and dress business casual. LeBron James, just entering his third year, was amenable to the change: “No it’s not a big deal, not to me.” The usually reserved Tim Duncan had stronger thoughts: “I think it’s a load of crap.” Of course now NBA players are the most style-forward athletes in the world. Every night is a runway show.

In 2014, when a tape of the Clippers’ then-owner Donald Sterling uttering racial slurs leaked online, new commissioner Silver was quick and decisive, issuing a lifetime ban. It was the only viable option. The fans were ready for Sterling (who had a long history of animus toward African-Americans) to go, and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry had planned on walking out during a game if Sterling kept his status. There could be no wiggle room. In fairness, the NBA had to work out many of its racial battles before the era of social media. So while the league’s virtual expulsion of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the mid-’90s was just as despicable as what’s happening to Kaepernick, the league didn’t have to fight those issues in real time on social media, like the NFL does now.

“There’s a cottage industry in predicting and hoping for some sort of downfall in the NFL due to concussions, or domestic violence or whatever the latest crisis people seem to make of it,” said Brandt. “I kind of smile when I hear that, because we’ve been talking about that for a long time and NFL continues to grow financially.”

But it’s important to remember that there was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport. There are numerous reasons for baseball’s dwindling cultural impact: steroid scandals, strikes and shrinking attention spans. However, it’s undeniable that baseball’s lack of connection with America as a whole is directly tied to its refusal to embrace black culture.

“You go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds,” said ESPN’s Bryant. “It was the greatest threat to the integrity of the game because the best player in the game, who all the young people loved and wanted to emulate, was doing something cool, and they shot it down. That was baseball’s last opportunity to catch people and be hip to Madison Avenue, because drugs ruined the game for the next 25 years.”

Baseball’s tacit insistence upon “tradition” and unspoken rules are all too often coded language for a refusal to accept cultural norms that aren’t firmly white American. Bat flips and celebrations are seen as being anti-baseball when they’re really bits of culture inserted by nonwhite athletes. In 2015, Chris Rock landed a scalding indictment of baseball’s popularity during a video for HBO’s Real Sports.

Calling himself an “endangered species, a black baseball fan,” Rock insists that baseball’s focus on its history, a history that excluded African-Americans for the first half of the 20th century, is a turnoff for black fans who aren’t into a time when only white players were allowed to play. And Rock suggests that baseball will fall further away from mainstream popularity as long as it continues to ignore the black fan and players. “Maybe if baseball can get a little hipper, a little cooler and just a little more black, the future can change,” he said in the monologue. “But until then, blacks and baseball just ain’t a good match anymore. Blacks don’t seem to care, but baseball should be terrified.”

The NFL may be gaining an understanding of its need to let black players express themselves to their fans. The league has loosened up the penalties for touchdown celebrations, which has so often been a vibrant space for black player expression and trash talk on the field. Now, players can celebrate while using the football as a prop, celebrate as a team and celebrate on the ground, which were previously 15-yard penalties. And the ESPN Twitter account promoted a Week 5 Packers vs. Cowboys game with a video of battle rappers DNA and K-Shine rhyming about their favorite teams at a barbershop. It’s a start, and a sign that the NFL is inching toward some of the cool points that the NBA snatched. But with Kaepernick still unemployed, the league, stuck in its ways, continues to scramble without a sophisticated strategy or uniform approach in place.

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them. But the NFL is at a crossroads at a time when black culture is simultaneously as powerful, relevant and under attack as at any point in American history. What side of that history is the NFL going to stand — or kneel — on? The almighty National Football League has decisions to make, and so do its players and fans.

America is comfortable with protesting athletes on their screens, but not in their stadiums In the movies and on TV, white players join in and no one demands athletes kneel on their own time

From Curt Flood to John Carlos and Tommie Smith to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf to Colin Kaepernick, there’s a long tradition of black athletes standing up for themselves and the rights of others.

Such protests are highly controversial, both with authority figures in sports and with fans: Carlos and Smith were immediately banned from the Olympic Village, Abdul-Rauf’s NBA career came to an early end and President Donald Trump called players who kneel during the national anthem “sons of b—-es” and demanded they be fired. Some of those still-employed kneeling players met with NFL owners earlier this week to discuss a path forward.

Yet when America sees protesting athletes in movies and on TV, the dynamic is different from what happens in real life. Really, really different.

In the idealized settings of television and film, just as in real life, the protests come with great cost and risk. Still, when screen athletes stand up for their principles, not only do they win, they’re clearly identified as the “good guys.”

Audiences are comfortable with fictional athletes who stand up to corporate bullies, in part because movies and TV demand character development. Even when fictional players begin as compliant automatons, being told what to do and how to do it, their personal journeys are characterized by growth and self-awareness. There’s an expectation that once athletes discover their power and witness injustice, they will be compelled to act. After all, a bunch of guys looking at a problem and shrugging their shoulders doesn’t make for good drama.

But those expectations don’t translate well to real life, as polling data on NFL player protests has shown.

When fans and political critics demand that players “stick to sports,” they’re saying they want the excitement of games and terrific athletic ability, but they want it divorced from players’ full humanity. They want the action sequences, but no plot or character development. Which is how we get people saying athletes should protest “on their own time” — essentially, after the credits have run and no one’s watching.

In TV and film, once we’ve gotten to know characters as people who have the same emotional needs as we do, it becomes easier to digest the necessity of their protests. Their motivations drive our sympathy. We want them to win.

The racial dynamic is different on-screen as white characters are cast as protest leaders. And these works also communicate why the element of public spectacle is so important: It raises the stakes. Public or near-public showdowns are a key trope in these stories because they’re seen as necessary to achieving the desired results.

Here’s a look at some of the movies and television shows in which athletes stood up to the man(agement):

Survivor’s Remorse (2014-17)

Courtesy of Starz

The recently canceled Starz comedy starred Jessie T. Usher as Cam Calloway and Chris Bauer as Jimmy Flaherty, the owner of Cam’s professional basketball team in Atlanta. The two have a few standoffs, but the disagreement between Cam and Jimmy that carries special resonance these days comes after Flaherty signs a $5 million contract with a firm to put advertising patches on players’ jerseys. The problem is that the company is the second-largest funder of private prisons in the country. Cam, flanked by his lawyer and manager, tells Flaherty he won’t play as long as the patches are on the jerseys. Every great fortune may have a great crime behind it, but this is where he draws the line.

This standoff takes place in the arena, hours before tipoff, and Flaherty, who knows he can’t win without Cam, backs down. This confrontation takes place not in the first season but at the end of the fourth, after we’ve had plenty of episodes to witness how Cam’s activism has been inspired by the suffering he sees around him, and after we know that Cam’s commitment to criminal justice reform is motivated in part by his own father’s imprisonment. Not only that, we know that Cam is generous to a fault. His manager is constantly trying to talk him out of giving away more of his money. If Cam hadn’t taken a stand on the patches, it would seem unnatural given what we’ve learned about the content of his character.

Varsity Blues (1999)

The cast of Varsity Blues.

Getty Images

I forgive you if the only thing you can remember about this movie is Ali Larter in a whipped-cream bra, but it really did have a bigger message.

James Van Der Beek starred as Jonathan Moxon, a backup quarterback for a Texas high school football team that has won two state titles under coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight). But Kilmer is merciless, racist and megalomaniacal — traits the school and community at large are happy to overlook so long as he keeps adding wins to West Canaan High’s record books.

Kilmer uses his star black running back, Wendell (Eliel Swinton), as little more than a mule, repeatedly deploying him for physically taxing runs but never allowing him to score a touchdown. The audience is treated to a bruising up-close-and-personal experience of those hits and the toll they exact on Wendell’s body. They’re gruesome.

Moxon is talented but not nearly as invested in football as his father or his coach are. And he hates Kilmer’s racism and mercenary disregard for the health of his players. Moxon gets tapped to lead the team because first-stringer and all-state quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) suffers a career-ending injury. It’s Kilmer’s fault — he insisted on pumping Harbor full of cortisone and forcing him to play until he was no longer physically able, costing him a college football scholarship.

When Moxon starts calling his own plays, gets Wendell into the end zone and generally pisses off his coach while still winning, Kilmer goes ballistic. He threatens to alter Moxon’s transcripts and derail his plan to attend college on an academic scholarship. But Moxon’s teammates have had enough of Kilmer’s antics, and they mutiny during halftime of the final game of the season. Kilmer’s team will only take the field of the second half without him, and the coach must relent or risk further public humiliation. The team wins the game, and Kilmer is forced to leave West Canaan and football for good.

The Longest Yard (2005)

In this remake of the original 1974 film that starred Burt Reynolds, prison inmates play a football game against a group of racist, sadistic prison guards who are constantly abusing their power.

In the 2005 version, Adam Sandler plays Reynolds’ role of washed-up quarterback Paul Crewe. Crewe isn’t an easy person to root for. Besides point-shaving, Crewe endangers himself and others when he gets drunk and leads police on a high-speed car chase in his girlfriend’s Bentley.

When he gets to prison, the warden, Rudolph Hazen (James Cromwell), forces Crewe to assemble a ragtag team of prisoners to give the guards an easy, confidence-boosting win before their season playing against guards from other prisons begins. The other prisoners sign on because they see an opportunity to give the guards a taste of their own depraved behavior. They’re comically bad at first, but under Crewe’s stewardship, they pull together. They start to develop hope and confidence of their own. Maybe they can really win this thing!

The black prisoners, led by Cheeseburger Eddy (Terry Crews), are loath to join the team until another prisoner, Megget (Nelly), is forced to swallow his dignity and pride. The guards confront Megget in the prison library and repeatedly call him “n—–,” in an attempt to cajole him into a fight. Megget resists the bait but relishes the opportunity to get his revenge on the field.

Once game day arrives, the prisoners are unaware that Hazen has made a deal with Crewe to throw the game. Crewe must comply or face life in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, one that resulted in the death of his closest jail friend, Caretaker (Chris Rock).

When the big day arrives, Crewe starts out leading the prisoners in what looks like a rout of the guards. Hazen reminds Crewe what he has to lose, and Crewe begins to throw the game. But he has a crisis of conscience and tells his teammates what’s happening. He decides to try to beat the guards anyway, leading the prisoners to a game-tying touchdown and a two-point conversion to win as the clock runs out.

In both Varsity Blues and The Longest Yard, the protests are led by charismatic white quarterbacks who have their own grievances but are happy to loop in those of black players as well. Would kneeling be more acceptable if Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady had started doing it first, citing the same reasons as Kaepernick? Would Brady and Rodgers be criticized as un-American and unpatriotic, or praised for their compassion and for using their privilege to help minorities? And if the reactions to them would be different from those to Kaepernick or other black players, what does that say?

Both The Longest Yard and Varsity Blues feature unambiguously terrible antagonists in the warden, prison guards and Kilmer. They paint pictures of racists as unsubtle, selfish and uncultivated. They portray bigotry as a problem of individual extremists rather than something that’s endemic to the country. Again, we’re faced with the luxuries afforded by (admittedly uncomplicated) character development. If we don’t know NFL players and owners as well as we know the characters in these movies, how do we judge their actions?

The White Shadow (1978-81)

Ken Howard (right) portrayed high school basketball coach Ken Reeves and Byron Stewart (left) portrayed student and athlete Warren “Cool” Coolidge in the CBS series The White Shadow.

CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Ken Howard stars as Ken Reeves, a former player for the Chicago Bulls who injured his knee, ending his professional career. One of his college teammates, Jim Willis (Ed Bernard), offers him a job coaching basketball at the dilapidated, majority-black Carver High School in Los Angeles. The team is a band of undisciplined misfits — Reeves has a bad habit of referring to them as “animals.”

Carver’s star player, James Hayward (Thomas Carter), needs a job to care for his mother, who has ulcers, and his siblings because their father is dead. Another player, Curtis Jackson, doesn’t want to face the fact that he has a drinking problem.

Unlike the other examples here, the relationship between Reeves and the team is more symbiotic than purely adversarial. The chief conflict doesn’t hinge on Reeves being a bad person. Rather, Reeves is blindly navigating his new job and everything it entails. He’s in charge of a group of players who talk back and who are skeptical of authority because they’ve learned that no one expects much of them. The state of Carver’s campus — strewn with detritus, missing letters on its signage — communicates to its students that they don’t matter much. And if the students know they don’t matter, how is anyone going to be able to get them to care about school?

Vice principal Sybil Buchanan (Joan Pringle) acts as interpreter and student advocate in her interactions with Reeves, giving a credible voice to the players’ concerns. She tells Reeves he’s not a “white knight” and won’t be able to swoop in to the school and fix everything in 20 minutes. She’s indignant when Reeves enlists the team to move him into his new apartment on a Saturday for free, telling him the days of slave labor are over. Reeves and Buchanan are working toward the same goal, which is helping the students. But she and the basketball team are teaching a man who probably doesn’t think he’s racist not to behave like one. Created by Bruce Paltrow, The White Shadow offers a more nuanced view of race and racism than The Longest Yard or Varsity Blues. And it also says something about what it takes to be a useful ally.

Eddie (1996)

Whoopi Goldberg (center) starred in Eddie.

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Eddie (Whoopi Goldberg) is a limo dispatcher and devoted New York Knicks fan who wins a public relations contest to coach the floundering team. There’s a twist though: Eddie’s a pretty decent coach. Fans like her.

Eddie becomes more than a novelty act. She quickly discovers there’s more to coaching than calling plays. She’s the team’s chief haranguer, marriage counselor, therapist and mother. Her pestering and rule-setting pays off, and the team starts not only winning but also enjoying basketball again. They lose their arrogance and sense of entitlement once they realize they have a person who cares about them as more than ball-dribbling widgets to be yelled at, traded and cut. She’s a real coach.

Meanwhile, the team’s owner, “Wild Bill” Burgess (Frank Langella), a Texas billionaire oil baron, has decided to convert the Knicks’ unbelievable good fortune into profits — by secretly negotiating a move that would send the team to St. Louis.

Eddie, once she gets wind of the plan, stands up to the man whose ego is about as inflated as the 10-gallon Stetson on his head. Burgess sees the Knicks as chess pieces he can move about the country at his pleasure. When he won’t listen to Eddie privately, she takes their disagreement public, revealing Burgess’ plans to a packed house at Madison Square Garden and daring him to censure her for it. After Eddie risks the job she loves and the cushiest salary she’s ever had in her life, it’s not just her team who backs her up. It’s the city of New York.

In Varsity Blues and The Longest Yard, the athletes in question are not millionaires. The audience doesn’t have to overcome feelings of class resentment to sympathize with them. But what happens when that’s not the case? What happens when the players in revolt are professionals who make piles and piles of money?

You use an intermediary.

Eddie received terrible reviews when it was released in 1996, but it’s really smart about one thing: It uses Eddie first as a vehicle for criticizing spoiled players. And then, once it’s clear that Eddie is a sports fan, just like the audience, the perspective of who is “good” and “bad” begins to shift. Once we see Eddie and the Knicks players as part of the same team, working toward the same goal of making the NBA playoffs, we’re willing to accept their revolt — which, again, is public — against Wild Bill.

There’s a delicate balance that’s achieved, and there’s a thoughtfulness in positioning Eddie this way. When she stands up to Wild Bill, she’s a fan advocating for other fans. Eddie comes the closest of these shows to placing fans (particularly the ones who have been vocal about wanting athletes to sit down and shut up) on the same side as the pro athletes who make so much more than they do. Even though the movie isn’t directly about race, it illustrates how being rich doesn’t automatically zero out the balance on life’s problems. It doesn’t matter how much money you make if your boss simply sees you as a moneymaking property, and that’s a sentiment any populist can get behind.

The NFL without Odell There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market

It was written all over Odell Beckham Jr.’s face. He didn’t have to say a word. His fractured ankle — suffered in Sunday’s 27-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, which dropped a decrepit New York Giants squad to 0-5 on the season — will require surgery. Beckham tallied 97 yards on five catches and one touchdown before going down. In what could be his final 2017 image, the league’s most dynamic talent sat demoralized on the back of a cart in tears.

The NFL has many faces. Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling. The owners’ resistance to Kaepernick’s impact. Von Miller’s eccentricity. Ezekiel Elliott’s future. Cam Newton’s drama. The New England Patriots’ dominance. Marshawn Lynch’s silence. But Beckham is the face of fun (“fun” being subjective in this case) in a billion-dollar league with very serious — mental health, domestic violence, First Amendment, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — issues.

The loss of Beckham is a hit stick to the league’s cultural capital. He’s set to cash in more than $10 million in endorsements. Nike can’t be too happy: In May, the company and Beckham came to terms on the richest shoe deal in NFL history — nearly $5 million a year for five years. Beckham’s wardrobe, the football equivalent of Russell Westbrook’s, makes nearly as many headlines as the wind sprints, acrobatic one-hand catches and intricate end zone routines that could moonlight as music videos.

Beckham is the most followed NFL player on Instagram, with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively.

In a quarterback-driven league where fan loyalty largely resides with the entire team, Beckham is an individual, non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him) whose brand is just as much about name on the back of his jersey (fourth overall in 2016 sales) as the team logo on his helmet. Beckham’s social media influence is huge — he’s the most followed NFL player on Instagram with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively. With 55 percent of all 18- to 29-year-olds in America on Instagram, Beckham’s appeal to the younger crowd separates himself from his peers.

Join the conversation

On his off days, Beckham is a regular fixture at NBA games. He has the respect of LeBron James. Kaepernick, too. He’s won the adoration of Drake (and likely a spare set of keys to his mansion). He even, allegedly, friend-zoned Rihanna. He texts Michael Jordan. He takes selfies with Beyoncé and rubs shoulders with an even more famous Beckham — David. And Beckham’s cleats are always in. He shifts the culture by driving it, which is why his injury affects NFL culture far beyond the Giants’ red zone offense.

The Giants’ season had effectively been in rice for weeks. But the loss of Beckham means the loss of one of football’s most popular ambassadors at a time when America’s most popular sport is in the crosshairs of societal debates that the president weighs in on almost daily. While Beckham’s attitude has long been perceived by some as a character’s most notorious flaw, his impact on the sport is felt leaguewide. “I would be remiss not to acknowledge how engaging and professional Odell [Beckham Jr.] was during the entire week of the Pro Bowl,” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said in February. “By far and away, he represented the New York Football Giants and the NFL with great poise, congeniality and professionalism.”


Max blasts Giants for OBJ injury

Beckham’s fractured ankle, the same one he injured in a preseason game versus the Cleveland Browns, is likely the bookend to his turbulent 2017. The year, of course, began with Beckham, Victor Cruz and several other Giants partying on a yacht in Miami with Trey Songz.

The January boat party followed a playoff-clinching win over the Washington Redskins, and Beckham was largely blamed for the team’s lackluster postseason exit a week later against the Green Bay Packers — for what it’s worth, and as far as the mood on Twitter, the Giants haven’t won a game since. Then, in July, Beckham, who reached 3,500 yards faster than any receiver in league history, declared he wanted to be not only the league’s highest-paid receiver but the highest paid player, “period.” And just last month during a game versus the Philadelphia Eagles, Beckham critics feverishly salivated at the opportunity to throw him under the bus after a touchdown celebration in which he mimicked a dog urinating in the end zone. Beckham revealed later that the celebration was a response to President Donald Trump’s “son of a b—-” statement. After his second touchdown in that game, to far less fanfare and debate, Beckham raised his fist. Except for Kaepernick and maybe Lynch, there is no more polarizing NFL personality than Beckham. The conversation around him never stops. The goalposts just shift in a league that served up the following just on Sunday:

In a long-planned move, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game as several members of the Niners kneeled during the national anthem. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lashed out after his team’s 35-31 loss to the Packers by saying that any member of the team to “disrespect” the flag would not play. Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster was seen snorting a white substance in a video posted on Facebook by a woman Foerster was confessing his love to. The Tennessee Titans denied Kaepernick a tryout after a hamstring injury to its starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, opting instead for unsigned journeyman Brandon Weeden. Houston Texans superstar defensive lineman Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. Meanwhile, after a week of self-inflicted controversy, Carolina Panthers star quarterback Newton pieced together a second consecutive MVP-like performance with 355 yards and three touchdowns versus the Detroit Lions.

In quarterback-driven league and where fan loyalty is to teams, Beckham is the rare individual non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him).

And then: “I knew it was bad,” Giants tight end Evan Engram said about Beckham’s injury after the game. “Bad” is an understatement. Beckham’s ankle headlines a decimated Giants receiving corps that had the makings of quite possibly the best in football. Both Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard were ruled out of the second half of Sunday’s game with ankle injuries. Per Adam Schefter, Dwayne Harris’ fractured foot will end his season. Sunday’s setback also destroys Beckham’s quest for a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and 1,000-yard season and the pipe dream of exorcising the demons of playoffs past. It complicates an already foggy contract situation too. Down their best offensive player, the Giants lose their most marketable face, with two prime-time games still left on the schedule, in a season on pace to go down as one of the worst comedy of errors in team history.

For the NFL, it’s a season in which the biggest headlines come from the sidelines, and the Oval Office. The season isn’t even halfway over and its traffic jam of moral dilemmas, including the saga of Kaepernick’s quest to return, dominate discussion. Which is why the NFL without Beckham is a blow it could ill afford. There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market. There’s no way to re-create that cocktail of production, swag and divisiveness that comes from the former LSU standout. The NFL is in a position it’s become all too familiar with in recent years — although Beckham’s injury is, of course, beyond its control — behind the eight ball.

As Beckham was carted off the field Sunday, towel over his head to mask the pain, he again didn’t have to say a word. One of his famous friends already had, fittingly on a song called “Do Not Disturb”: They tell me I need recovery/ Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me/ I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary.

‘Playing While White’ examines privilege on and off the field New book says that sports, like America itself, is a place where race matters

Playing While White: Privilege and Power on and off the Field by Washington State University professor David J. Leonard shines a light on whiteness in sports culture and the ways in which white athletes are characterized compared with black athletes. Leonard wrote an adaptation from his book, released in July, for The Undefeated.


Playing While White: Privilege and Power on and off the Field explores the ways that white athletes are profiled as intelligent leaders, hard workers, underdogs and role models.

Exploring a spectrum of athletes from Tom Brady to Johnny Manziel, several teams, including Wisconsin basketball and the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as extreme sports, NASCAR and lacrosse, I look at the ways whiteness is imagined within America’s sporting cultures.

America’s sporting fields are not postracial promised lands; they are not places where race doesn’t matter because the only thing that counts is whether you can score touchdowns or make buckets. Sports is not the “colorblind mecca” that we are routinely promised each and every weekend.

Sports, like America itself, is a place where race matters. While writing about the NBA, USC professor Todd Boyd makes this clear, writing that sports “remains one of the few places in American society where there is a consistent racial discourse.”

It is a place where anti-black racism is ubiquitous, from the press box to the coach’s office, from the stands to the White House. It is also a place where the privileges of whiteness are commonplace.

After my book was published, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich highlighted the nature of white privilege, or what it means to be #PlayingWhileWhite inside and outside the sporting arena.

“It’s like you’re at the 50-meter mark in a 100-meter dash,” Popovich said during a recent news conference. “You’ve got that kind of a lead, yes, because you were born white. You have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychologically rare. And they’ve been built up and cemented for hundreds of years.”

The power of whiteness can be seen in the celebration of Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Tim Tebow and countless white athletes as leaders and role models on and off the field. Praised as disciplined, hardworking and humble, while their black peers are consistently depicted as either “ungrateful millionaires” or “natural athletes,” the power of race can be seen in the descriptors afforded different athletes.

To be a white athlete is to be a scrappy and gritty player, whose motor never stops, whose “drive never relents” and whose determination is unmatched. To be a white athlete is to “play the right way,” to be unselfish, to be without ego and to always put winning and team first and foremost. These sorts of racially stratified descriptors are common in the sports media, from coaches and general managers, and from fans alike. As are the consistent attribution of hard work and intelligence to white athletes whose IQs, work ethic and intangibles are the source of constant celebration. To be a white athlete is to be cerebral, a student of the game, a throwback to a different era.

The power of whiteness is equally evident in the trash talk of John Stockton, Larry Bird, Brady and Manziel. Amid widespread nostalgia for greater sportsmanship and respect for the game, whereupon hip-hop and black athletes are blamed for the intrusion of toxic values, the trash-talking of white athletes is either ignored or celebrated as evidence of their passion for the game and competitiveness.

Brady is what #PlayingWhileWhite looks like inside and outside of sports. Despite coming from immense privilege and opportunity, earning a scholarship to the University of Michigan and being drafted into the NFL, Brady has been recast as an underdog, who through hard work, intelligence, dedication and unselfishness has become the league’s greatest quarterback. He’s a winner and a leader. Yet he also is a victim of being underestimated, and of those who “falsely” accused him of cheating. The story of Brady is the story of whiteness, of advantages and systematically produced opportunities.

White privilege is also the celebration of Bill Belichick’s hoodie as African-American youths are seen as criminals and “thugs” for their similar clothing choices. It is “Gronk being Gronk,” while any number of black athletes are denounced as selfish and out of control.

White privilege is the NASCAR CEO endorsing Donald Trump, while its fans historically waved the Confederate flag, all while it threatens consequences to anyone who protests during the national anthem.

White privilege is fights in hockey, among NASCAR pit crews and in baseball being recast as tradition, as fun and as part of the game, while the shoving matches in the NBA prompt national panics.

White privilege is silence about drug use in extreme sports and in those white-dominated collegiate sports amid headlines about NFL and NBA marijuana arrests and a war on drugs waged in black and Latino communities.

To #PlayWhileWhite is to be seen as smart, scrappy, determined and a leader. #PlayingWhileWhite is to win, to be celebrated in victory, redeemed in defeat, lifted up when down and sympathized with by others as a real or imagined victim. It is to be innocent and a repository of excuses for failure. It is being empowered to be silent; it is being seen as a person and not just as an athlete, as a commodity, as someone who dunks or makes spectacular catches. And that privilege is bigger than any contract, any commercial and any award, one that extends beyond the playing field.

Daily Dose: 9/25/17 Prayers for Puerto Rico

Happy Monday, kiddos. If you missed #TheRightTime on Friday, I explained why I feel that extending the nets at MLB ballparks will drastically affect the experience of any baseball game. Take a listen here.

President Donald Trump officially launched his beef with the NFL on Sunday. He did the usual throwing out of Twitter broadsides, and the league’s players responded much in kind. Even New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said that Trump was doing too much. But one guy who works at the Buffalo Bills stadium was so mad about national anthem protests that he quit his ACTUAL job at the facility. That aside, let’s be careful how we use the word “unity” surrounding what the NFL is doing now, because, well, it’s not even really about that.

It’s a sad day in Nashville, Tennessee. And not because Vanderbilt got absolutely destroyed by Alabama, or because the Tennessee Titans couldn’t pull one out against the New England Patriots. A masked gunman entered a church parking lot and shot and killed someone and injured a handful of others inside the church. Obviously, this could have been a much bigger tragedy, but thankfully a church usher stepped in to confront the gunman. It’s not yet clear what the motivation for the shooting might have been; there will be a civil rights investigation.

Puerto Rico is part of the United States. In case you weren’t aware of that. Because some people aren’t. The island territory that’s brought so much to the culture, from music to sports to fashion, etc., is so completely devastated from Hurricane Maria that it’s starting over from scratch. Their crops have been completely banged out, the place is nearly unrecognizable, and now they’re worried about the status of a dam, whose failure is apparently imminent.

Everybody loves Darren Sproles. The little man who managed to make it in the NFL for so long after being a star at Kansas State was such a genuinely great story in terms of his success in hanging around the league. But on Sunday he was dealt a blow that will basically end his career, which is awful. The Philadelphia Eagles running back broke his arm and tore his ACL on the same play, ending his season. He was within earshot of 20,000 career all-purpose yards. Sad.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Baseball has a long season, so you’ve got to run a lot of short-range bits to keep yourself entertained when you’re on the road. You can mark down “Blue Jays players wearing Blue Jays players Snuggies” as an instant classic.

Snack Time: Offset has been doing a whole lot in the past year, and that doesn’t even include Cardi B. But, since you need it, here’s a list of his best guest verses of the year.

Dessert: Never forget the Little Rock Nine.

Trump vs. the wide world of sports: a timeline The president’s comments about Stephen Curry as well as the NFL are just the latest in a long and combative, but sometimes cozy, relationship between Trump and sports

As it stands right now, President Donald Trump is at odds with three of the most influential names in pop culture: Colin Kaepernick, Stephen Curry and LeBron James. This, though, is not Trump’s first go-round with the world of sports. The 45th president of the United States’ connection to teams, leagues, players, owners and sporting events has roots. Very deep roots.

Trump’s involvement in the short-lived United States Football League is the president’s introductory claim to sporting fame/infamy. The league lasted from just 1983 to 1985, and its demise is largely placed on Trump’s shoulders. During a 1984 interview, Trump noted that he “could have” purchased the Dallas Cowboys. He believed, however, that the New Jersey Generals were a better investment. As for the “poor guy” who would eventually buy the Cowboys: “It’s a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well, so what, they’ve won through the years, and if he loses, which seems likely because they’re having troubles, he’ll be known to the world as a loser.” Jerry Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989 for $140 million. Nearly three decades later, the Cowboys are the world’s most profitable franchise, valued at nearly $5 billion, and Jones, a Trump supporter to the tune of at least $1 million, is now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There’s also Trump’s longtime association with boxing. In 1990, Trump took the stand in a trial over contractual disputes with regard to a Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas rematch. (Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza, prior to its shuttering, had been a premiere destination for prizefights.) Golf, too, is a much-chronicled obsession of the president — he owns 17 clubs worldwide. His decades-long involvement in the sports world, which included a failed 2014 bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills, has won him legions of friends and supporters, including golfer John Daly, Dennis Rodman, Bobby Knight, Mike Ditka, retired mixed martial artist Tito Ortiz and UFC president Dana White, and that number has only grown since he announced his intention to run for president of the United States in June of 2015.

The following is a timeline of Trump’s increasingly antagonistic clashes with the world of sports since his candidacy and election.

July 14, 2015 — Candidate Trump takes on the LPGA

A week earlier, candidate Trump stood by controversial comments he’d made surrounding Mexican immigrants. The LPGA Tour was immediately forced to distance itself from the remarks since its British Open would be held at Trump’s Turnberry Alisa course in Scotland. Trump, in response, addressed a letter directly to tour commissioner Michael Wahn. “You have an absolutely binding contract to play the great Turnberry Ailsa course but, based on your rude comment to the press, please let this letter serve to represent that, subject to a conversation with me on the details, I would be willing to let you play the Women’s British Open in two weeks, at another course rather than magnificent Turnberry [which I own].”

Sept. 3, 2015 — Abdul-Jabbar calls Trump a bully; Trump shoots back

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a six-time league MVP, author and civil rights activist — wrote a Washington Post column criticizing what he felt was Trump’s lack of respect for the media’s rights. Why is this so ironic? Well, for one, Abdul-Jabbar’s distant relationship with the media has long been documented. And two, Trump’s response was exactly what Abdul-Jabbar was talking about in the first place: attempting to bully a writer. “Now I know why the press has treated you so badly — they couldn’t stand you,” Trump wrote, also in the Post. “The fact is that you don’t have a clue about life and what has to be done to make America great again!”

Sept. 8, 2015 — That’s a “Make America Great Again” hat in Tom Brady’s locker

It’s the hat that’s dogged New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ever since. In 2015, only three months into Trump’s candidacy, the #MAGA hat introduced itself to pop culture and hasn’t looked back. Brady probably had no clue how a Trump campaign and ultimately Trump’s presidency would play itself out on the fabric of American history. Back then, it was a gift from a friend who’d occasionally call and, per Brady’s own admission then, offer motivational speeches.

Sept. 18, 2015 — AHL executive: Prove to me you can run a hockey team before the country

One of the most known-unknown vocal Trump critics is Vance Lederman, chief financial officer of the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch (an affiliate of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning). Running a country isn’t exactly the same as running high-end hotels. That’s how Lederman saw it when he challenged Trump to come run his team. “You running for president is like a Brooklyn boy being a professional hockey coach,” he said in a YouTube video. “So, Donald, here is what I’m going to do: I got an invite for you. You’re a big man, you want to be all for the people. I invite you to come to Syracuse to learn how to be a professional hockey coach.” Trump never responded, prompting Lederman to amend his offer. Coaching was off the table. He now wanted Trump to prove he could run a sports team.

Nov. 2, 2015 — Following in George Steinbrenner’s footsteps

On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Trump stopped by Colin Cowherd’s show. Trump said he’s just fine with gambling in sports because “it’s happening anyway.” Fair enough. And, given the chance, he noted that if the circumstances were different, he’d like to buy the New York Yankees — and follow in the footsteps of his “great friend” George Steinbrenner. The Yankees are not for sale, and as the most valuable team in Major League Baseball, one would need in excess of $3.5 billion just to make an offer.

Dec. 7, 2015 — Trump forgets Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ever existed

Dec. 14, 2015 — Trump comes to the defense of Pete Rose

President goes to bat for baseball’s all-time hits king.

July 7, 2016 — MLB’s Latin community wary of a Trump presidency

Major League Baseball has made a commitment to expand its game further into Mexico. One of Trump’s biggest campaign promises was to build a wall along the Mexican border. In a statement that becomes more prophetic by the day, then-San Francisco Giants infielder Ramiro Pena expressed concerns. “It does worry me a lot that he could be elected president,” he said. “For the Latin community … it would make things more difficult when it comes to immigration, based on what he has said. The comments he has made about Mexicans worry you.”

Aug. 29, 2016 — Trump says Kaepernick should find another country to live in

The biggest story in sports over the past year has been Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand for the national anthem (for the record, a controversial piece of music when taken literally) last season. “I think it’s a terrible thing, and, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it’s not gonna happen,” Trump said. This won’t be the last time the newbie politician addresses the quarterback.

Oct. 30, 2016 — Trump blames NFL ratings decline on the 2016 election … and Kaepernick

That’s because he would do it again two months later, just days before the 2016 election. When reports confirmed the NFL’s ratings had taken a double-digit hit, for Trump, only two things explained the trend. Politics was one, and in a sense he was right. The election was the story in America at the time. This was during the final weeks of the 2016 election, the most volatile and explosive perhaps in U.S. history. The second, Trump asserted, was, “Kaepernick. Kaepernick.”

Nov. 9, 2016 — LeBron searches for answers

LeBron James had officially endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. The day after the election, the four-time MVP joined millions across the country struggling to come to grips with the fact that candidate Trump was now officially President-elect Trump. With Kendrick Lamar’s classic rallying cry, “Alright,” as the soundtrack, ’Bron took to Instagram with an inspiring message. “Minorities and Women in all please know this isn’t the end, it’s just a very challenging obstacle that we will overcome!!” he said. “Even if who’s in office now doesn’t, Know that I LOVE [Y’ALL]!!” This wouldn’t be the last The King would address the 45th president.

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Nov. 16, 2016 — Mayweather visits Trump at Trump Tower

The photo of Floyd Mayweather, then sporting a 49-0 record, visiting Trump Tower did exactly what seems to be intended: ignite controversy stemming from both men’s past transgressions, in particular with women. Mayweather doubled down on the picture by attending the Trump inauguration two months later. As he’d said a week before to TMZ Sports, “Y’all gonna see me in D.C. looking good. I got a tux and everything ready.” More on Floyd/Trump shortly …

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Dec. 2, 2016 — Trump stiff-arms NFL’s ratings

President-elect Trump again relishes the NFL’s ratings debacle. “Down 20, 21 percent,” he gloated at a rally in Cincinnati, “and it was because of us.” Keyword there being us.

Dec. 5, 2016 — LeBron says no to a stay at a Trump hotel

Don’t expect to see LeBron James at Trump SoHo’s Bar d’Eau — or anyplace else on the property. James and several teammates refused the Trump accommodations during a New York road trip. When asked about his decision? “It’s just my personal preference,” he said.

Dec. 13, 2016 — Jim Brown, Ray Lewis have ‘fantastic’ meeting with Trump

Jim Brown and Ray Lewis are two of the greatest football players to ever live. The Hall of Fame running back and longtime activist and future first-ballot Hall of Fame linebacker have been two of Trump’s most prominent black supporters — and also two of the most prominent black athletes to denounce Kaepernick. Both apparently believe the Trump administration will stimulate economic development in urban areas and “change the whole scheme of what our kids see.” Brown and Lewis’ “fantastic” meeting with Trump two weeks before Christmas came just hours after Kanye West met with the president-elect.

Dec. 19, 2016 — Trump picks Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola as nominee for Secretary of the Army

Billionaire Wall Street trader Vincent Viola, a 1977 West Point alum, served in the 101st Airborne Division and stayed in the U.S. Army Reserve after his active duty. Also? Viola is the owner of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. Two months later, Viola withdrew his name from consideration, citing the difficulty of “untangling himself from business ties.”

Feb. 8, 2017 — Stephen Curry wasn’t feeling Under Armour’s Trump love

First, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank called President Trump an “asset” to the country. Second, and almost immediately, the company’s No. 1 ambassador, Steph Curry, denounced the company’s praise. Third, Under Armour released a statement saying the praise was meant from a business perspective only. Curry understood and appreciated the statement, but: “If there is a situation where I can look at myself in the mirror and say they don’t have my best intentions, they don’t have the right attitude about taking care of people,” Curry said. “If I can say the leadership is not in line with my core values, then there is no amount of money, there’s no platform I wouldn’t jump off if it wasn’t in line with who I am … that’s a decision I will make every single day when I wake up. If something is not in line with what I’m about, then, yeah, I definitely need to take a stance in that respect.” Bonus: Former WWE CEO and president Linda McMahon joined the administration in February 2017 as the head of the Small Business Administration.

March 21, 2017 — President Trump takes pride in Kaepernick’s exile

Four days before, Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reveals, per an unnamed AFC general manager, that some teams fear Trump’s response should Kaepernick be signed. This was all the 45th commander-in-chief needed to get him riled up. “Our inner cities will find a rebirth of hope, safety and opportunity,” he said during a speech in Kentucky. “Your San Francisco quarterback, I’m sure nobody ever heard of him.” He wasn’t done. “It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that? I just saw that.”

April 19, 2017 — Half of the New England Patriots don’t make the trip to the White House

A total of 68 players were invited to pull up on President Trump at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Only 34 made the trip. More than a few of them — most notably Martellus Bennett, who said so before even taking his shoulder pads off after the Patriots’ historic comeback victory in Super Bowl LI — were adamant their motivations for not going were strictly political. Tom Brady, a longtime Trump friend and proponent of Kaepernick’s return to the league, was a no-show as well.

May 14, 2017 — Popovich unloads on Trump

Legendary San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has a well-documented history of going directly at Trump. Pop’s pre-Spurs life — graduation from the Air Force Academy with a degree in Soviet Studies, time spent as an intelligence officer in Eastern Europe — gave added context to his criticisms of the president. Prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference finals vs. the Warriors, Pop gave his own impromptu State of the Union: “… To this day I feel like there’s a cloud, a pall, over the whole country, in a paranoid, surreal sort of way that’s got nothing to do with the Democrats losing the election,” he told reporters. “It’s got to do with the way one individual conducts himself. It’s embarrassing. It’s dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be. But for this individual, he’s at a game show and everything that happens begins and ends with him, not our people or our country. When he talks about those things, that’s just a ruse. That’s disingenuous, cynical and fake.” Tell ’em how you really feel, Pop.

June 14, 2017 — That’s gonna be a ‘no’ from Steph, dog

While the two-time MVP made news recently about not visiting the White House, let’s not act like he hasn’t been saying the same thing since the Warriors captured their second title in three years. “Somebody asked me about it a couple months ago, a hypothetical, if a championship were to happen: ‘What would I do?’ ” Curry said at his exit interview. “I answered that I wouldn’t go. That hasn’t changed.”

June 30, 2017 — Cubs reportedly wanted Trump to tell recently released catcher Miguel Montero he was “fired”

Backup Chicago Cubs catcher Miguel Montero was already going to be released. Three days prior, he threw starting pitcher Jake Arrieta under the bus after a stolen base fiasco. He was released from the team. On the surface, that was not necessarily a huge deal, but according to baseball savant Peter Gammons, some players and front-office personnel wanted to really rub it in on Montero by having Trump tell him, “You’re fired” (his Apprentice catchphrase) during an unofficial team White House visit. They ultimately decided against doing so.

Aug. 15, 2017 — LeBron, Steve Nash and the sports world react to Trump’s Charlottesville response

The entire country was fixated on the protests in Charlottesville that turned deadly. President Trump’s infamous comment about blame being on “both sides” doused gasoline on an already uncontrollable blaze, leading many athletes to voice their opinion.

Aug. 17, 2017 — Kevin Durant keeps it a buck

If there’s anyone who benefits from Trump going full Trump, it’s Kevin Durant — who recently has been the butt of jokes after his recent Twitter debacle. However, back in his hometown of Seat Pleasant, Maryland, last month, the 2017 Finals MVP let his feelings on visiting the White House be known. “Nah, I won’t do that,” he said. “I don’t respect who’s in office now.”

Sept. 13, 2017 — The White House calls for Jemele Hill’s job

The Six’s Jemele Hill sent the tweets heard ’round the world when she called Trump a white supremacist. The situation, however, spilled overboard when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dubbed the tweets “outrageous” and called for Hill’s job.

Sept. 15, 2017 — Mayweather co-signs Trump’s “locker room talk”

The biggest controversy Trump encountered on the campaign trail was, by far, the leaked audio from his 2005 Access Hollywood appearance, which included the phrase “grab them by the p—y.” Through a chain of events that no one saw coming, the gaffe didn’t cost Trump the election. And one person who didn’t have an issue with the comments was Floyd Mayweather. In the 50-0 champion’s eyes, Trump spoke how “real men” do. “Real men speak like, ‘Man, she had a fat a–. You see her a–? I had to squeeze her a–. I had to grab that fat a–.’ ” This is what Mayweather told Hollywood Unlocked. “So he’s talking locker room talk. Locker room talk. ‘I’m the man, you know what I’m saying? You know who I am. Yeah, I grabbed her by the p—y. And?’ ”

Sept. 22, 2017 — The ‘son of a bitch’ speech

For an administration that operates under anything but the veil of normal presidential decorum, last Friday’s speech was a special breed of aberrant. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners,” he said, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!’ ”

Sept. 23, 2017 — Trump takes to Twitter to call out the sports world

On his platform of choice, Trump called out both Stephen Curry and the NFL for, essentially, not “sticking to sports.”

Sept. 23, 2017 — The NBA/NFL claps back at President Trump

While he would later post a video further expressing his thoughts, LeBron James caused all hell to break loose shortly before when he came to the defense of a man he’s squared off against during the past three NBA Finals. ’Bron, who is careful with his words, spared no feelings delivering a certified haymaker (which may or may not affect the fashion world):

Steph then saluted ’Bron for having his back and running the 2-on-1 political fast break with him. All while rhetorically wondering why the president chooses to demean certain individuals and not others.

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The responses came in droves. Dell Curry expressed unwavering support for his son. Kobe Bryant essentially said Trump lacks the #MambaMentality. Chris Paul responded with a two piece and a biscuit.

Draymond Green joined the party. As did his coach Steve Kerr. Kerr doubled back just in case his stance wasn’t clear the first time. Bradley Beal is still searching for answers. J.R. Smith is praying for Barack Obama’s return while seriously contemplating living in the gutter. Damian Lillard used a well-placed sleepover analogy. Commissioner Adam Silver was disappointed the Warriors opted out of a White House visit but said he was proud of the league’s players speaking out on issues resonating with them.

That’s just the NBA. Coincidentally, the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team announced it would no longer be visiting the White House. Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel for the anthem. As for the NFL, the league released a lukewarm statement, whereas the NFLPA’s was far more direct. The league stands on the cusp of a truly monumental line in the sand. How the players respond Sunday and Monday night is a historic, generational defining moment that will assume immediate residency in the annals of the game’s legacy. Many wasted no time in expressing grievances, including Richard Sherman. Despite his comments regarding Kaepernick as a “distraction” last month, Bills running back LeSean McCoy tweeted, “It’s really sad man…our president is a asshole.” Others, like New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, called to mind Colin Kaepernick’s original protest. Yet, it’s Teresa Kaepernick whose response may have reverberated the most. She is, for the record, the mother of the athlete who helped light a fire to this entire movement.

Kevin Durant runs fake Twitter accounts and other news of the week The Week That Was Sept. 18-22

Monday 09.18.17

Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall was called “garbage” by a Twitter user who confused him with New York Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall during Monday Night Football; Denver’s Marshall told the fan, “Meet me in the parking lot after the game chump!” Convicted murderer Dylann Roof, who’s really set in this whole white supremacy thing, wants to fire his appellate attorneys because they are his “political and biological enemies”; the lawyers are Jewish and Indian. Texas football coach Tom Herman, after his team’s 27-24 double-overtime loss to USC over the weekend, said he didn’t cry after the game but that there were “some primal screams” in the shower. Former Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, adding more fuel to the fire that will be Oct. 17, answered, “Why would I?” when asked whether he spoke with then-teammate LeBron James when he demanded a trade over the summer. Former NBA MVP and reigning Finals MVP Kevin Durant, still mad online for some reason, apparently has spoof accounts solely for the purpose of defending himself against detractors on Twitter and accidentally tweeted one of said defenses from his actual personal account.

Tuesday 09.19.17

Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter, who has been with the team for three seasons and thus missed the team’s controversial move from Seattle, shot back at Durant by tweeting that the Thunder are “the best and most professional organization in the NBA.” In the worst mashup since Pizza Hut and KFC joined in unholy matrimony, Detroit will soon be the home of the first IHOP-Applebee’s joint restaurant. Elton John fan President Donald Trump said the U.S. will have no other choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea and its leader, “Rocket Man.” Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard used to call friends during halftime of games to ask about how he was playing. After former Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss accused teammate Robert Griffin III of celebrating the firing of coach Mike Shanahan in 2013, Griffin shot back by accusing Moss of “subtweeting” him; Moss’ comments were made on the radio, and the retired receiver hasn’t tweeted since 2011. Former Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn — responsible for drafting point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, neither of whom are still on the team, ahead of Stephen Curry — said New York Knicks forward Michael Beasley has the ability to replace fellow forward Carmelo Anthony if the latter decides to leave the Knicks. Former Chicago Bears defensive back Charles Tillman wants to become a fed. Hip-hop artist Boosie Badazz, when asked why he dissed late rapper Nussie on his recently released track, responded that “even though he’s gone, rest in peace, I still felt like he was a p—y for what he was doing as far as hating on me and what I had going.”

Wednesday 09.20.17

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), not great with metaphors, compared Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act to being “in the back seat of a convertible being driven by Thelma and Louise, and we’re headed toward the canyon.” Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, when asked about his taxpayer-funded $200,000-a-year security costs, told a Milwaukee journalist: “F— you & the horse you rode in on.” It was New York’s Brandon Marshall’s turn to be mixed up with the other Brandon Marshall. Proving definitively that we all look alike, 6-foot-9, 230-pound former NBA player Kenyon Martin said he used to be confused with 6-foot, 200-pound rapper Joe Budden all the time in the early 2000s. NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley called current players “poor babies” for wanting more rest between games; Barkley played a full 82-game season just three times in his 16-year career and logged 44,179 total minutes, nearly 6,000 fewer minutes than LeBron James has in 14 seasons. After Hurricane Maria, which has left at least nine people dead throughout the Caribbean, Sabrina the Teenage Witch expressed her sympathy by complaining about the storm ruining her family vacation to a Nickelodeon resort. Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, or his twin brother, Marcus — you can never be too sure — is expected to have sports hernia surgery this week. Former NFL player Albert Haynesworth, who in 2011 said, “I couldn’t tell you the last time I dated a black girl. … I don’t even like black girls,” said the mother of his child, who is white, physically assaulted him and called him the N-word during their two-year relationship.

Thursday 09.21.17

Haynesworth, somehow upsetting another subset of the country in the process, responded to the controversy by stating emphatically that “as long as you are a beautiful REAL WOMAN trust me I’m trying to smash!!!” Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that he never “knowingly” lied while serving in the Trump administration despite saying three days before that he “absolutely” regrets arguing with reporters about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. While claiming that they want the best for their kids, American parents have effectively forced General Mills Inc. to reintegrate “artificial colors and flavors” back into Trix cereal. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a prominent cancer researcher, believes that water consumption, not sunscreen, prevents sunburn. Former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson tweeted out a story with the headline “America’s Jews are driving America’s wars” before later apologizing because “There is so much there that’s problematic AF [as f—] and I should have recognized it sooner.” The makers of Gatorade sports drink, which also produces electrolyte-infused Propel water, must pay $300,000 to the California Attorney General’s Office for telling video game players to avoid water. A Virginia woman said she shot a state trooper in the arm because “I was high as hell.”

Friday 09.22.17

After North Korea leader Kim Jong Un clapped back at Trump by calling the U.S. president a mentally deranged “dotard,” Trump kept the roast session going by calling Kim a “madman.” As further proof that machine is beating man in the fight for the planet, Walmart wants to deliver groceries to customers even when they’re not home. J.R. “Pipe” Smith, a known wordsmith, said future free agent LeBron James is “going to be wherever the f— he wants to be at.” Denver Broncos starting quarterback Trevor Siemian’s parents are still stuck in the cheap seats during home games despite their son leading the team to a 2-0 start this season. Republican lawmakers may fail to repeal the Affordable Care Act (again) because of Arizona Sen. John McCain (again).

‘Ballers’ recap: Spencer’s still on Vegas time — and Ricky is unraveling Does The Rock always have to save everybody?

SEASON THREE, EPISODE FOUR | “RIDE OR DIE” | AUG. 13

In the world of hip-hop, no vehicle is more coveted nowadays than a Bentley truck. It seems every rapper imaginable has rhymed about copping one (or has actually copped one) — from Future, to Migos, to Rae Sremmurd to Young Thug and Travi$ Scott. 2 Chainz even has an entire song dedicated to the SUV.

Yet in the world of Ballers, which HBO just renewed for a fourth season, a Bentley truck means almost nothing to a G like Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). While stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way to a crucial meeting with Las Vegas hotel tycoon Wayne Hastings Jr. (Steve Guttenberg) about moving an NFL team to the gambling capital of the world, Spencer shifts a gear to park and straight-up abandons the truck on the highway. He’s convinced that the fastest way for him and Joe Krutel (Rob Corddry) to get to Wayne before he jets out of town is on foot.

The reason that the two financial advisers are running so late for the “biggest meeting of our lives,” as Spencer says, is that one of their clients, Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Vernon Littlefield (Donovan W. Carter), is on the verge of one of the worst fates an NFL player can endure. After Vernon fails to divest of the marijuana industry at the request of his team, the Cowboys owner (Christopher McDonald), aka the “Boss Man,” tells Joe he intends to cut Vernon.

The brash plan leaves Spencer with no choice but to pick up the pieces, like he always has to do, and sneak up on the Cowboys’ owner while he’s vacationing in Miami. Spencer not only gets the threat of Vernon’s release rescinded but also persuades the Boss Man to support Anderson Sport Management’s efforts to collaborate with Wayne in relocating the Oakland Raiders to Vegas.

Spencer shifts a gear and straight-up abandons the Bentley truck on the highway.

Spencer and Joe make it to Wayne just in time to relay the good news and save the partnership. But if there’s one thing true on Ballers, it’s that Spencer’s problems are always only temporarily fixed.

The life of one of Spencer’s premier clients, New England Patriots wide receiver Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), is unraveling faster than the real-life Miami Dolphins passed on Colin Kaepernick. Ricky has a child on the way, although his future child’s mom, Amber, is packing up to leave Miami (and her irresponsible boyfriend) behind. Meanwhile, Ricky’s new Patriots teammates Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski have all been practicing without him, leaving the job of scheduling training sessions to his fun-loving pothead best friend, TTD (Carl McDowell).

After an awful workout with a high school kid, the only quarterback TTD can find to throw on such short notice, Ricky storms off the field and returns home — or, to what he thinks is home. The absentminded Ricky rolls up in a house that belongs not to him but to a white family. So, after receiving a tap on the shoulder from the son of the house’s owners, Ricky out of shock delivers a right hook to the kid’s face.

“I know who you are, a–h—. You’re not going to get away with this,” the bloody-nosed kid tells Ricky.

His response? “TTD, call Spencer,” Ricky says into his cellphone.

That’s always the go-to reaction when something goes wrong: to call Spencer. The question is, whom can Spencer turn to for help?

Not including Tiger Woods on a list of the 50 Greatest Black Athletes is beyond an oversight — it’s an injustice Tiger, even more than being one of the most accomplished and decorated athletes who ever lived, is the greatest lightning rod sports has seen since a young Ali

Let’s get something straight: Any ranking of the greatest black athletes ever that doesn’t include Tiger Woods is not something I can get behind. This list, the result of public responses to surveys conducted by SurveyMonkey for The Undefeated, could be called “50 Great Athletes People Admire Most” or “Americans’ 50 Favorite Black Athletes.” But it ain’t a credible list of the greatest if it doesn’t include Tiger.

You can dislike Tiger and you can dislike golf, but if you fail to acknowledge his competitive brilliance, his dominance of the oldest sport on the planet, his impact culturally, athletically and economically, then you should recuse yourself from weighing in on an effort to rank the greatest black athletes. There’s no responsible definition of “great” in the context of sports that Tiger Woods doesn’t fit. Any conversation that isn’t driven by personal agenda couldn’t put him any lower than 10th.

Dumping on Tiger became a sport sometime around Thanksgiving 2009, and it hasn’t let up. Surely, some of the folks surveyed hold it against him because of his salacious infidelities, others because he called himself “Cablinasian” or whatever that was 20 years ago, others because he married a white woman, others because his body broke down and he couldn’t catch Jack Nicklaus, others because he didn’t play football or baseball but made more money than anybody who ever played either. Tiger, even more than being one of the most accomplished and decorated athletes who has ever lived, is the greatest lightning rod sports has seen since a young Ali.

But none of that speaks to the criteria. Eldrick Woods is (or was) otherworldly great, and he’s black (or as black as some other people on that list). If it’s easier for people to list, when asked, Gabby Douglas or Simone Biles, go right ahead. They’re great and black AND admirable, and there’s not one reason to object to either. But if you think either — or the great Herschel Walker, for that matter — has had 1/100th the impact of Tiger Woods the golfer, then you’re delusional.

I have five personal heroes who made the list, four of them childhood idols (Gale Sayers, Ernie Banks, Arthur Ashe and Walter Payton) and one who is to this very day one of my adult heroes, a man whose career I covered and whose life is exemplary (David Robinson). But I wouldn’t try to make the case that any one of those five was the best ever in the sport he played (well, maybe Payton) or created the drama week after week after week for more than a decade that Tiger did … or dramatically altered his sport the way Tiger did, or redefined what a participant in that sport can look like the way Tiger did.

I’d like to say that his résumé needs no review, but clearly (and sadly) from the results of this flawed exercise, it does. At age 20 he became the first man to win three consecutive U.S. amateur titles. Without having played a single tournament as a professional, he signed the most lucrative endorsement contracts in golf history (and if you think Nike pays hundreds of millions to nonathletes, go ahead and keep deluding yourself). He was the youngest to win the Masters, the fastest ever to ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings and, at 24, the youngest to win the career Grand Slam. You know how many people have twice been named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year? One. Tiger Woods. Not Jordan, not Ali — Tiger freakin’ Woods.

He held down the No. 1 ranking for 281 consecutive weeks, which is to say five-plus years. The Associated Press named him Male Athlete of the Year a record four times. Not Tom Brady, Tiger Woods. Golf, whether we’re talking prize money, TV ratings or weekend hacker participation, shot to the heavens when Tiger came aboard, and they’re sinking like a stone now that he’s gone. Nike, in the context of golf, was a startup company, and Tiger made it the worldwide leader in golf apparel. When he limped out of contention, Nike waved bye-bye to the business of making clubs and balls. Buick was so convinced that Tiger’s association with its cars spiked their sales, the company signed him to a $40 million endorsement deal.

You want to define Tiger Woods by competitive impact: Only Sarazen, Hogan, Player and Nicklaus have all won the four major championships that constitute the Grand Slam. And only Tiger has won all four consecutively.

You want to define Tiger by economic impact: Forbes says only Oprah Winfrey, among people of color, is richer. Golf Digest reported he made nearly $770 million and will soon pass $1 billion. You want cultural impact? Every time he tees it up, even the people who were too dumb to appreciate him from 1996 to 2007 are now begging for a comeback because they realize, as every business in the golf industry does, that Rory and Jordan and DJ and all the young guys put together can’t add up to half of Tiger Woods. He’s still the world’s most recognizable golfer, the world’s richest and most celebrated golfer. Bo Jackson, who made the list, spends most every day of every week of his second life trying to be like Tiger.

And while it’s difficult at best for most folks to muster up any admiration for Tiger these days, what the folks who participated in the survey collectively also fail to acknowledge is that Tiger conquered a sport that directed a whole lot of hostility his way. He wasn’t Jackie Robinson, but it wasn’t like he was walking into an NBA arena every night, especially his first two or three years on tour.

In the context of how we measure athletes, there’s no category in which Tiger Woods comes up short. He’s either the second greatest person to ever compete in his sport (to Nicklaus) or No. 1. The other people who qualify for that discussion in their respective sports (Jim Brown, Jordan, Magic, Bill Russell, Ali, Joe Louis, Serena Williams, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, LeBron) are all included.

Woods being left off is a glaring omission, one that undermines the intelligence and wisdom of thousands and thousands of survey respondents. Kobe Bryant being left off is a head-shaker — so is Mike Tyson — and Jack Johnson is nearly as egregious an error as Woods. The international search to find somebody to beat Johnson is the origin of the phrase “great white hope.” His July 4, 1910, victory over Jim Jeffries in the “Fight of the Century” ignited race riots in more than a dozen cities. No black (or white) athlete since has had that kind of cultural impact nationally. You can’t make the argument that Joe Frazier is greater than Jack Johnson. But I’m willing to believe you have to be nearly 60 years old to have any idea of how important Johnson was not just to blacks and athletes but to the United States early in the 20th century.

You can’t even tell the story of the black athlete in America without serious examination of Johnson. And you can’t carry the discussion into the 21st century, no matter how young you are, without including the incomparable achievements of a black man who, like Johnson, was a first: Tiger Woods.