Solving Racism with ESPN Fantasy Football
Sports are often a direct lead-in to politics. They share many parallels – overpaid people sticking around for too long, selfishness and pride destroying the fabric of the greater good, and the allure of an ultimate prize. They also share a natural segue – the most popular professional sports have a preponderance of athletes who are black, who have money and fame that allow them to take political stands.
And this is a good thing. We can see outspoken support when Colin Kaepernick kneels for the national anthem. We can appreciate when three of the NBA's biggest stars talk about police violence against black men at an awards show. And because of their stature and track record, we look to these athletes to provide input and guidance when something happens to affect their community. But that's not to say that they always get it right.
This week, as part of their 24-hour fantasy football marathon, the entertainment and sports programming network (ESPN) had an auction-style draft, in which they held up pictures of players as a group of people offered money for them. A couple of definitions: fantasy football is a game primarily for gambling degenerates who can't play actual football, and an auction draft is when each team in the league gets to bid using their 'budget' to see who gets a player. Without this context, the visual of a white guy holding up pictures of black men to a crowd of predominantly white men trying to pay for their services doesn't look too great.
This drew criticism from many black athletes, including Odell Beckham Jr. and Kevin Durant. Cameron Jordan tweeted, "bad taste… In whatever context was intended." But that's why context exists – so we can examine just how the taste was. ESPN later fake apologized, saying "Auction drafts are a common part of fantasy football… the optics could be portrayed as offensive, and we apologize." The noteworthy words in that statement were "could be," implying that offense in this case was a choice. A response which, in this case, was the perfect level of dismissive and dickish.
Among the millions of fantasy leagues out there, there's probably quite a few with only white players. I'd wager that a solid portion of those have auction style drafts. Should any moral outrage be directed against them? After all, they're doing the exact same thing, it's just not televised. So where's the consistency? Especially when there are real-life white owners of mult-billion dollar football teams that trade players around for cash. You know, white guy introducing black men to a crowd of predominantly white men paying for the services.
Something like this falls into the category of a racial 'microaggression'. Then most important part of that word is the prefix 'micro', which implies that it's not quite tall enough to go on the ride that regular aggressions get to go on. It's six orders of magnitude lower than an ordinary aggression. It's the exact ratio of aggressiveness that "you're cute for an Indian guy" is to yelling "terrorist" on an airplane. It's mild discomfort compared to distrust or fear.
Not-so-quick tangent: In case you're unaware, Colin Kaepernick still remains unemployed – that is, no NFL team has signed him to play for the 2017-18 season. More importantly, I don't care. This is despite the fact that he's neither a bad football player nor a terrible human. There are worse players in the league than him (Jay Cutler, a retired quarterback who last year had more interceptions than touchdowns and was accused of 'not caring', was lured out of retirement to play even though he plays the same position as Kaepernick) and there are definitely worse guys in the league than him (see: Adrian Peterson, Ezekiel Elliot, Tyreek Hill, Joe Mixon). His 'activism' coupled with the NFL's old-generation owners seems to have effectively blackballed him out of the league, but again, I don't care. That's what happens when you start out with a noble cause ('police shouldn't shoot black men') and introduce some contaminants (wearing socks that depict cops as pigs, proudly saying you didn't vote, putting Fidel Castro on a pedestal). Contrast that with someone like Brandon Marshall, who knelt during the anthem, then went out and made a difference with his money AND his time, and wasn't a lightning rod for further controversy. So forget about Colin Kaepernick.
Slightly-quicker-tangent: Also to the people *still* somehow upset about Kaepernick's sitting/kneeling thing, don't pretend it's the kneeling that you take issue with. The flag represents the military as much as it represents the Boy Scouts – it fundamentally depicts thirteen colonies and fifty states, and any additional meaning you draw from it is meaning that you've chosen to assign. Besides, kneeling is a sign of respect as I'm sure any deity stationed in a place of worship would agree. If he had knelt for something like domestic abuse awareness, then people wouldn't have lost their shit. If someone like LeBron had been the one to kneel, then it would have been covered very differently. To you, this 'disrespect' of the flag could be called a microagression, couldn't it?
Reactions like these are what make it defensible to lose patience with racial controversies. Read that carefully – racial *controversies*, not racial inequality. If it's controversial whether it's racist, then let's move on and focus on something important. Charlottesville wasn't a racial controversy, it was a demonstration of racial subjugation. Bill Maher saying the n-word was a racial controversy. Because the core element of racism that most 'racists' don't understand is that it's systemic and structural. Giving some ESPN executive ex-post-facto grief about a five-minute skit catalyzes as much change as writing 'women' as 'womxn'. A dumb auction isn't systemic. Neither is a Katy Perry tweet about black hair, an Apes movie's depiction of Deray McKessen, the portrayal of white people in Get Out, the inclusion of 'only' one black girl in a GAP ad, or the headline of Dear White People.
The outcry here is the racial version of slactivism – doing something inconsequential when you see something you care about (such as posting a Facebook status about the Barcelona attacks) and letting that (in)action satisfy your quota for driving a difference. It's unlikely that anyone thinks that ESPN is racist, regardless of how much they dislike ESPN. Most people acknowledge that it was just an optics issue, not a deeply entrenched, embedded-in-the-culture type of issue. This is exceptionally important, because there are thousands of race-related problems in this country that trump this one in terms of gravity, relevance, and impact. Now, it isn't a competition to see which event was more racist – anything that's racist should be addressed. But by magnifying the 'problems' that don't really solve anything, we steal the spotlight from issues that need devoted attention.
Because the race card is a thing, at least in the court of public opinion. And if we start playing our hand in these earlier rounds, there's no chance we'll ever get it straight.