The NFL Will Play 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' Before All Week 1 Games. This Is A Very Bad Idea

Illustration for article titled The NFL Will Play Lift Every Voice and Sing Before All Week 1 Games. This Is A Very Bad Idea
Photo: Julio Aguilar (Getty Images)

Since the NFL recently discovered that most of its players are Black and that maybe racism is a thing, they’ve been doing shit. And there’s nothing worse than a formerly wrong motherfucker with a newfound desire to do right.

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For example, we all know former knuckleheads who find Jesus and then beat you over the head with their newfound zealotry. One of my uncles passed away in early March and at the funeral (which I attended, as this was before funerals were limited to 10 people because of ‘Dat Rona’), some not-related-t0-me gentleman was on the program to speak and managed to ream folks out over adultery, our perceived lack of a moral compass and the need to respect ourselves, especially women. What this had to do with my uncle I do not know, as I don’t even know why he was on the program. What I do know is that during his confusing soapboxery, he managed to tell us that he was basically a terrible human being beforehand—pimpin’ and hoein’ and such, essentially everything that he’s not doing now—because he found Jesus. And he was mad at everybody else who was still doing the shenanigans since he stopped. I do not know this dude but I do not like this dude. Long story short here: There’s nothing worse than a formerly wrong motherfucker with a newfound desire to do right.

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What does this have to do with the NFL? Well, since George Floyd was killed on May 25 at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, protests and mass demonstrations have apparently opened the eyes of many people, with“Amazing Grace” being the new order of the day. One such organization that was blind but can see clearly now is the NFL. The league’s commissioner effectively admitted, without saying his name or apologizing to him, that the NFL was wrong to stifle the attempts of NFL players to use their sizable platforms to peacefully protest against police brutality and racial injustice. The NFL, clearly feeling good about moseying on over to the right side of history has now been in discussions with players and the NFL Players Association to determine what further measures the league can make to allow players to use their visibility to make a difference by supporting social justice movements.

A few of those measures involves following in the footsteps of other leagues and organizations. The NBA has decided to allow players to replace their names with social justice messages, though they are leaning away from allowing players to replace their names with the names of victims of police brutality. The NFL is thinking of doing something in the same vein via helmets and jerseys. At a recent NASCAR event in Pennsylvania—the Pocono 350—saxophonist Mike Phillips opened and closed the “Star-Spangled Banner” with a few bars from the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Apparently somebody at the NFL saw this (maybe even Jay-Z) and was like, “that’s it right there.” (It is not it.)

Quick sidebar: What Black folks have asked for—with many having fought and died for it—is full citizenry in this country. Colin Kaepernick peacefully protested and was blackballed by the NFL, which now admits it fucked the dog on that one. We want to be able to protest injustice without having the full weight of the military thrust upon people with backpacks and signs. We want a police force that doesn’t view its Black citizens as disposable. We just want whiteness to stop being so fucking fragile and intent on viewing racism as an individual issue and not the systemic sport whiteness has made it into.

In the case of the NFL, they actively stopped players, most of whom are Black, from being able to use their voice and platform to address things that negatively impacted them. White people who aren’t smart conflated a peaceful protest into some shit about hating the military and other stupid shit stupid people do when nobody is bothering them but they feel like their rights and “white peace” are being trampled upon. Now the NFL seems open to disturbing that peace by allowing their players to disrupt it. Some white people who are already mad will now continue to be mad and feel like their sports are being politicized, as if that hasn’t always been the case. But now you’re about to give a sizable number of racists something to actively protest. Which is stupid because nobody asked for this. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” being played before Week 1 games isn’t even a small victory. At best it’s….nice(?) but at worst it opens up a whole new can of worms. The NFL fanbase has a racism problem, if anybody is allowed in those stands, they might have a fucking PR nightmare on their hands.

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Look, white people were pissed and ready to boycott the league over Colin Kaepernick. So were Black people. My guess is both sides of that protest got over it at some point. But now the NFL will allow peaceful protest, going so far as to allow players to actively engage in some fashion. Great. But playing the Black National Anthem before a game, before the “Star-Spangled Banner,” gives the collective whiteness an opportunity to literally turn their backs during the whole shit, on television. And then you have a real racism problem. If I’m an NFL player and I hear the song played and look in the stands and see a sizable number of fans—and let’s be real, it’s entirely possible—turn their back or mock the anthem, I might be inclined to stage a fucking walkout. Those people who already hate Kaepernick and Black protests buy tickets, and now they are finding out there’s a Black National Anthem. I’ll bet sports talk radio is a fucking mess.

Let’s be real, the NFL crowd isn’t that different from the same NASCAR crowd who lost their shit at the association’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from their venues. But there’s a difference between removing a symbol of whiteness and injecting pure Blackness. If playing this song was actually on a list of things that could make the world a better place, sure. But it’s not. Making a deal out of it for the sake of saying you’re honoring Blackness is literally not an honor. I don’t believe it’s necessary and I don’t think the NFL is ready for a noticeable enough segment of their white fanbase to publicly go full racism in protest. Maybe I’m being unnecessarily pessimistic, but if the recent protests have taught us anything, white people gon’ white people. We are still a nation divided. You can’t even lift every voice if 75 percent of people in the stands are going to be annoyed that they even have to sit through it. I hope it doesn’t happen, but when turned backs or boos ring out, the NFL is going to have a whole new Black people problem. And is that really worth it? Especially when nobody put this on the demand list in the first place? Is it worth it to potentially watch angry white folks visibly protest something that means so much to Black people?

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I really don’t think so. It’s a bridge nobody asked to be built. Maybe the games won’t even have an audience and so this won’t be an issue. That’s the best-case scenario, but the NFL will allow teams to determine their attendance which means some games will absolutely have fans in the stands. I guess the NFL thinks that since they now “get it” their fanbase does as well. And they’re using a sacred Black paean to liberation to hedge that bet.

Nobody asked for this.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

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DISCUSSION

This is what tone deaf people hear:
“We want songs at football games and non-black pancakes.”

This is what they should hear:
“Stop being racist.”