Colin Kaepernick set off what has turned out to be a polarizing discussion on protest in America when he refused to stand for the national anthem prior to a (gasp!) exhibition football game. Protest has long been utilized in this country as a mechanism for change yet we still seem uncomfortable with it. We often don’t want to see things that conflict with what we were taught or grew up believing.
Protest by definition is supposed to be discomforting otherwise it would not be effective. This country was founded on protest and our national documents recognize this as an inalienable right.
Contrasting sports league is often futile and one should rarely do it. Particularly, the NBA and the NFL are different and comparing the two is usually inapplicable. Yet we are going to do it here.
As a general rule, the NBA is just much smarter and socially savvy than the NFL. That is not even debatable. It doesn’t often “dress down” its players rather choosing to treat them like grown men. It also isn’t reactive in the way the NFL often is. You don’t have to attend every fight you are invited to and you don’t have to make a big deal about everything.
It’s a different power dynamic though. The players have more power and there is far more diversity in ownership, management and coaching.
The NBA is comprised of 18.3 % white players 74.3% black players and International players made up 22.3% of its membership. That last is rather significant. The NBA doesn’t attempt to cloak itself in nationalism while vying to be the nation’s official sports league of choice as the NFL does. It also doesn’t have a “pay for patriotism” program either.
The NFL currently has two minority owners with non white ethnicity: Shahid Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Kim Pegula (Buffalo Bills) while Adams Adams Strunk (white female) has just assumed majority control over the Tennessee Titans. They are all relatively new to the party.
In the NFL, despite the Rooney Rule, it is far harder for minority coaches to get hired and they are often given a far shorter leash. Mike Tomlin and Marvin Lewis might be the only exceptions to this rule due to the uniqueness of their ownership.
Contrast that to the NBA. As compiled for 2016, the NBA set records this season with assistant coaches of color at 46.7 percent and 48.4 percent of its referees. In the NBA league office, 35.1 percent of all professional employees are people of color and 40.9 percent are women. There were 42 women serving as vice presidents.
The NBA welcomed its first openly gay player before the NFL did and in much better fashion too.
The NFL is still a white man’s league despite one indisputable fact. The players in the national football league are overwhelming black, constituting a whopping 70% of its rosters. Yet, football is still an inherently white sport despite being played overwhelmingly by black players. Fans of the NFL are 83% white.
Diversity in the NFL has long been an issue and the league recently pledged to improve it but the results so far are mixed. The NFL lags behind the NBA in virtually every category. You can find the statistics on diversity here.
NFL diversity in management, ownership and support staff must improve before the league will ever see real progress in its handling of social issues. It is perhaps rather telling that “anonymous” NFL executives are comparing Colin Kaepernick to Rae Lamar Wiggins, more commonly known as Rae Carruth.
If you aren’t horrified by that comparison you should be.
You can listen to today’s podcast here.