This week, Trayvon Martin would have been 23 years old.
His unjust and untimely death sparked a movement that has challenged America’s social inequity when it comes to valuing Black lives. #BlackLivesMatter was more than just a hashtag, but a revolution that sought for intersectional racial justice and public accountability.
Years later, former NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee to show his support for a movement that made us think about our role in sports, free speech and the fight for Black lives.
Today, their messages have been whitewashed, capitalized and exploited by an industry that continues to marginalize Black bodies on the field for mass consumption.
The Super Bowl, America’s most watched program, sold the country a euphoria of a “win” unlike anything else. Sudden amnesia hit the airwaves as people of all races forgot the NFL boycott, the indecency of our president condemning free speech, racial disparities in league ownership and Kaepernick. We ignored our social consciousness to watch a game as we left our wokeness behind.
White supremacy and privilege won big on Sunday night and many of us can blame our complicity for it.
I currently live in Philadelphia, a city that has been hungry for a victory for the Philadelphia Eagles for decades. Philly, whose population is majority non-white, is one of the poorest major cities in the country. The racial disparities in wealth, education and health care are staggering. We have a reputation for being a scrappy town that needed something to be proud of. An NFL championship would be both a gift and a curse we would be willing to accept.
For the past season, I have remained loyal in my determination to boycott the NFL. Not just because of the blackballing of Kaepernick, but because of the disgusting nature of sports culture that pervades American life. Hypermasculinity, CTE, domestic violence and racist patriotism are some of the byproducts that permeate a league that is currently occupied by over 70 percent Black players with zero of its owners looking like the majority of their athletes.
When the Eagles were headed to the Super Bowl a few weeks ago, I wrote a controversial op-ed for Philadelphia magazine that spoke on the racial double standards of reactions from fans after the win. A majority of white fans damaged public property, set bonfires, punched horses, and ran rampant in the streets. Not a single arrest was made even though there were tons of video evidence and photos. Their behavior displayed white privilege at its finest.
That week, I had countless white Eagles fans call the publication demanding me to be fired, sent racist hate mail, right-wing publications bashed me and many trolled my social media accounts. It got so extreme that they reported my Facebook page repeatedly, which led to my page being shut down for an entire day. In other words, they were enraged that a Black man was speaking his truth on their privilege and they wanted me silenced for it. Sound familiar?
Now that the Eagles have won their first championship, the mayhem continued into the streets on Sunday night. This time around, shopping store windows were smashed, public monuments defaced, street lights yanked, private businesses looted and hotels trashed. And according to our city officials, only three arrests were made.
I couldn’t help but notice the glaring double standards yet again:
When I went to #BlackLivesMatter protests practicing my right to free speech, I was called a “thug” that was “disturbing the peace.” But currently, the media is calling destructive white men “fans” partaking in a “celebration.” But what exactly are they celebrating? Surely, a sports win can’t be the only thing that will prompt them to destroy their own communities and damage their own property. Sound familiar?
Answer: They are basking in the privilege that the rest of us don’t have.
While many will argue that there were some Black people out there cutting up with them, think about how our joy is being controlled by those around us. Imagine if white people weren’t taking the lead in such public indecency, do you really think we would only be seeing a small number of arrests? We cannot ignore the clear distinction in what we’re allowed to “celebrate” versus what we aren’t. Black athletes securing Super Bowl victories for predominately white owned teams is a “celebration” that “all” are allowed to partake in. Black people using their free speech rights to talk about injustice is being treated as a cardinal sin against society. Our humanity is constantly being stripped before our very eyes and we are being awarded for our complicity.
I cannot recall how many times I’ve been told to “smile” and “let it go,” but these are the same words I wish would be said to the officers, white supremacists and politicians that continue to suppress people like myself for just trying to survive in a country that my ancestors have built. No, I will not smile for a “win” that isn’t celebrating my free speech, but that of my oppressors. Until equality is achieved for all within the league and outside of it, I will not drink the Kool-Aid of passive tolerance.
There are more important things in life than a Super Bowl victory. Kaepernick knew that, those who continue to fight in the honor of Trayvon knows as well. Perhaps it’s time for us to let the complicity go for our greater good.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Ernest Owens is the editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly. He has written for USA Today, NBC News, The Grio, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and ernestowens.com.
(Photo from left: Michael Nelson/Epa/REX/Shutterstock, Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)