When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returned home from Green Bay on Sunday Night, Bucs fans took the streets outside Raymond James Stadium not only to celebrate, but with an emphasis on dragging former quarterback Jameis Winston. His jersey was laid in the street, stomped on, driven over, and set on fire.
We’ve seen jerseys burned before, but normally it’s when an athlete has been traded or leaves a team in free agency. Angry sports fans are weird, irrational people sometimes. This, however, feels starkly different.
When was the last time you saw a jersey burned and run over a full year after the player was last a part of the team, simply because the player wasn’t a part of that team’s newfound success? Thirty quarterbacks every year don’t make the Super Bowl. A majority of quarterbacks never will. Hell, Matthew Stafford has played quarterback for the Detroit Lions since 2009, has only made the playoffs thrice, and hasn’t won a single postseason game. When his time in Detroit comes to a close this offseason, after the two sides have agreed to part ways, I highly doubt his jersey will be stomped, run over, or burned in the streets.
Winston is not blameless. He was accused of rape stemming from a 2012 incident at Florida State, which led to a civil suit that was settled in 2016. He was also suspended three games in 2018 after allegedly groping an Uber driver. That case was also settled, and he got a slap on the wrist from the league, so apparently that was good enough for everyone to move on and forget. Even with Winston’s past, I don’t hear anyone bringing that up now. I don’t see any Bucs fans lighting Winston’s jersey on fire because of his character issues. The motivation instead seems driven by the fact that Winston, a Black quarterback, didn’t take them to a Super Bowl, but Tom Brady did.
As I wrote last week, the NFL has a problem with Black quarterbacks. Beyond that, the league has a race problem that is systemic, woven into the foundational fabric of the league. Fans take cultural cues from football on what is allowed from leadership, much as insurrectionists took their Capitol-storming cues from the former Commander in Least. Leadership matters. Integrity matters.
The fans outraged about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee were given cover to feel that way by Roger Goodell and team owners like Jerry Jones. Somehow, Kaepernick’s desire for equality was disrespectful to America, or something. Black coaches are getting passed over — again — while we take away the “Washington Redskins” moniker, yet allow the Tomahawk Chop to live on at Arrowhead Stadium.
When Drew Brees says he would “never agree with anyone disrespecting the flag” while the entire nation was at a boiling point over race issues then issued a weak apology shortly after, and when Roger Goodell extends an apology years later to Colin Kaepernick for shunning him instead of listening to him and providing him with a platform, it’s enough to placate the fans. It sets the standard that ignorance is fine, as long as you apologize for it later. It’s not.
The Floridians desecrating the jersey of Jameis Winston offer us just the latest in an unbroken string of race-driven moments that the NFL and it’s leadership don’t care to address. But, hey, it’s fine as long as we all wear a “BLM” patch and put “End Racism” in the endzones. Right?