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Race

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Is the NFL Setting the Standard for Reparations?


Some view the league’s offer of $89 million to go to Black charities as a way to silence protestors. This writer wonders whether that money might be a way to bring some justice.



Last week, the NFL set a precedent that has implications for all American institutions: It admitted Black people are owed restitution for the discrimination and oppression the demographic has collectively endured. In an effort to quell the controversy sparked by its player’s national anthem protest, the league offered to cough up $89 million towards Black organizations, the bulk of that money be donated over seven years to projects dealing with criminal justice reform and education.

Immediately, a debate was ignited over whether or not the players’ acceptance of the terms would make them “sellouts” or heroes.” A rift between those in favor and those against the agreement tore apart the Players Coalition, formed to represent the protesting players. Though the coalition, started by Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles and former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin, accepted the offer via a conference call last Wednesday evening, there are circulating reports that close to 40 players want to reject the offer, including Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas and 49ers safety Eric Reid, who tweeted this out in response:

For many, this undoubtedly feels like “hush money,” an attempt by the league to get ratings that have dramatically fallen in response to white anger over what they perceive as player “disrespect of the flag” back on track.

But whether or not the NFL supports the players’ protest or understand the impetus for it  (which, for the record, is a peaceful protest against racial injustice, not, as frequently conflated by Donald Trump et. al., an act of disrespect against the flag, or American troop, there are implications to their attempted “buyout.” By offering economic incentive, the NFL acknowledged the righteousness of the player’s protest. It inadvertently admitted that the country is indeed plagued by racism that must be stomped out. And it also conceded to the hard honest truth that the only way to do so is with economic investment.

America’s racism is systemic and insidious; its impact wide-spanning, affecting every aspect of Black life. It is the foundation upon which this country was built, laid for economic gain when whites decided to import African slave labor and generate economic success off their backs. It is codified in the country’s history of racist laws and policies, enacted by the United States Government to keep Blacks in their subjugated place like Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, redlining, “The War on Drugs,” among many more, which resulted in the segregation, oppression and unjust incarceration of millions of people of color. Racism is part of the fabric of the NFL, which banned Black players in 1933 and remained segregated for decades later.

Unsurprisingly, as a result, the Black community is in crisis.

The wealth gap between Black and white families (conservatively estimated at $100,000) continues to widen, fueled by redlining which not only restricted Blacks access to white neighborhoods, but also access to quality houses that could accumulate equity that could be passed down to the next generation. Black women are facing a health crisis that makes them three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in five states. Most Black children attend segregated schools that are failing. Videos of Black men, women and children being gunned down by police have become commonplace on the evening news. Black ownership of TV stations and media outlets is in decline. Most Black people, regardless of economic status, remain trapped in segregated neighborhoods. Unemployment rates continue to soar. Black cultural property continues to be appropriated and exploited for monetary gain.

Despite Black people’s best efforts to eradicate inequality, by now we should know that the realities of racism cannot be simply remedied by law or initiatives or through Black bootstrap pulling. After all, the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was meant to put an end to segregation and employment discrimination. Blacks rallied together to build “Black Wall Street”— one of the most successful African-American neighborhoods in the country’s history— in the early 1900s, only for it to be burned down and destroyed by white terrorists. In the 1970s, the FCC tried to tackle the long history of only white men being allowed to have a stake in broadcast and cable by implementing a “Minority Ownership Policy,” which worked for a while, increasing Black ownership numbers, only to be reversed by a Republican Congress in 1993. Higher education was meant to bring Black people to the promised land, yet even college educated African-Americans face dramatically higher unemployment rates compared to their white counterparts with the same level of educational attainment and Black women have been found to be the demographic saddled with the most college loan debt that many are struggling to pay.

America wants to be color-blind, a diversity utopia, an amalgamation of culture where we are all judged based on the content of our character, not the color of our skin. Yet, it cares to offer no true reconciliation for its legacy of racism. “Forty Acres and Mule” is what was promised to formerly enslaved Africans after the Civil War, a promise which the United States government never made good on. Since then, any calls for reparations have been met with ire and disdain. Meanwhile, racism rages on.

The NFL’s promise to set aside $89 million toward black causes is historical for this reason. While the dollar amount pales in comparison to the estimated $5.9 to $14.2 trillion scholars estimate reparations could cost if Black descendants of slaves were actually paid for the injustice their ancestors endured, it underscores the fact that this country’s institutions are more than capable of doing their part in dismantling systemic racism by realizing economic justice for Black people. If all of the country’s institutions, which benefitted from or perpetuate the enslavement and oppression of Black people, followed suit, that dollar figure would seem far more attainable.

Whether or not the players settle on an agreement with the NFL for the $89 million or not, they are already heroes. They have forced one of America’s most influential institutions to consider its role in reconciling this country’s hideous legacy of racism.

A consideration that every institution in this country should now be forced to make.

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