The NFL will never be the same.
It can no longer ignore racial and social injustice no matter how racist many of its fans continue to be.
The reason for the league’s change was on full display last night. In an opening night game that was otherwise humdrum, the NFL’s young new Black headliners refused to let the moment pass without addressing the fight for equality in this country.
The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Texans’ Deshaun Watson were the catalysts behind creating a moment of unity before kickoff on Thursday night. Players from both teams locked arms and there was supposed to be a moment of silence taken to show respect for the continuing fight against systemic oppression.
“We wanted to show that we’re unified as a league,” Mahomes told NBC Sports after he led the Chiefs to a 34-20 win, “and we’re not going to let playing football distract us from what we’re doing and making change in this world.”
The gesture resulted in boos from many of the approximately 17,000 Kansas City fans in attendance.
“The moment of unity I personally thought was good,” Texans defensive end J.J. Watt told NFL Media. “I mean the booing during that moment was unfortunate. I don’t fully understand that. There was no flag involved. There was nothing involved other than two teams coming together to show unity.”
These are the same fans that rejoiced as Mahomes, a Black man, led them to a Super Bowl victory last season. It’s easy for them to boo their own $500 million dollar quarterback when he tries to advocate for a better human existence for himself and people who look like him because they never viewed Mahomes as a human being in the first place. They view players like Mahomes and Watson as pawns to their entertainment and as people who get paid so much money that they shouldn’t care about the injustices of every day Black people because “it doesn’t affect them.”
These fans have been able to ignore issues of racial inequality for decades. Now, that time is over. Mainly because Black quarterbacks have never had this much of a stranglehold on the league.
Back-to-back league MVPs have been Black quarterbacks, the three highest-paid players in the league are Black quarterbacks, the reigning Super Bowl MVP is a Black quarterback and last season’s offensive rookie of the year was another Black quarterback. And the leader of America’s Team is also a Black quarterback.
These stars can essentially force the NFL’s hand in whatever way they seem fit. The most recent example was the players’ social media video that featured both Watson and Mahomes that called for the NFL to say Black Lives Matter and admit that they were wrong for not listening to its players sooner on these issues.
Commissioner Roger Goodell responded with a video adhering to nearly all of the players’ demands. Later, the owners around the league approved a $250 million pledge to combat systemic racism and support the fight against injustices over 10 years.
It’s clear that the actions of these stars have prompted the NFL to act in ways that it never has before. Remember, this is the same league that blackballed Colin Kaepernick for protesting against police brutality and racial injustice in 2016 and has still not found a football home for safety Eric Reid in 2020.
Four years ago, the NFL was adhering to its mostly older white fanbase who did not support players protesting. They had the freedom to do this because neither Watson, Mahomes, or the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson had entered the league yet and there wasn’t a prominent Black QB that held enough power or willingness to address these issues head-on. This allowed the real message to be ignored and the NFL to go on with business as usual after creating its social justice initiative with the Players Coalition in 2017.
Now, this is a different story. Mahomes and Watson put the movement right in front of the NFL’s audience and allowed the nation to see that they won’t be pawns any longer and the league has no choice but to fall in line behind their superstars.
This won’t be the last time the league will have to address racial inequality in this country and make a huge segment of its fanbase uncomfortable. Frankly, this game will only be the start.
It’s a sad reality for the fans booing in Kansas City on Thursday night and for many fans across the country who shared these same senseless sentiments.
Now that players like Watson and Mahomes are at the controls, the game will only get more and more racially conscious.
The league can no longer keep its fans in racial ignorance cause its stars won’t let them. And they can’t be discarded as Kaepernick once was.
The NFL as you knew it, no longer exists. There is no going back now.