The NFL seems at a loss on how to deal with the current controversy over players (most of whom are black) knelling (“taking a knee”) during the national anthem. Every option is unappetizing.
The League could, for example, order owners to bench protesters but this risks escalating the protests if non-protesters decide to show solidarity with punished teammates. Or, like many universities, owners could try to placate protesters with public forums (“honest conversations about race in America”) to vent their anger about American racism, politic brutality, rotten ghetto schools, white privilege and all the rest and hope that this gesture ends the brouhaha. But, I’d guess that this peacekeeping effort would only further anger fans already sick and tired of spoiled millionaire athletes.
Not surprisingly, the league’s current strategy is to procrastinate in the hope that the players will grow bored with theatrical gestures while disgruntled fans will again crave their weekly fix of professional football.
Running out the clock is riskier than it might first appear. Professional sports are not eternal and recall that prior to WW II the two biggest spectator sports were horse racing and boxing. Professional football barely existed until the early 1960s and even a 15 or 20% decline in the public’s interest would be disastrous financially since league income is closely tied to TV ratings. Nor could most teams afford half-empty stadiums.
Now for the solution: hold at least one pre-season game in Africa, preferable in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja. The logic is impeccable: first, games have already been played abroad (London) and, the NFL, like the NBA, is anxious to internationalize its “brand.” Boosting the popularity of American-style football in Africa would also add millions to league revenue while future African teams could provide NFL talent (five Nigerian players are already in the NFL but all these come to the US via colleges). Most persuasive, given that the NFL is about 75% African American, and the ancestors of most African Americans hail from West Africa, this pre-season contest would be a “homecoming” for many black athletes. Moreover, along with the players from two teams would come coaches, assistant coaches, owners and their entourages, trainers, equipment managers, wives, girlfriends, game officials and media folk to pump millions into the West African economy. Hard to image a better multicultural, race-healing gesture by the NFL owners and to sweeten the deal, the visit would include a five-day tour of the Nigerian hinterland.
Alas, not everything might go as expected. Clearly, the black players would be shocked by a poverty that would make East St. Louis look like Beverly Hills. Their response would, of course, be a typical reaction of any American tourist who encounters Third-World slums, dogs and pigs openly rooting around garbage and the like but it would be especially painful for American blacks who fantasize about their old “homeland.” Let them see what happens when whites are expelled and blacks run everything.
The second lesson, also learned by American tourists, is that almost nothing works in Africa—buses regularly breakdown, elevators are erratic, electrical power disappears periodically, roads are frequently impassible, nobody believes in schedules and on and on and on. Yes, everybody might be checked into the five-star Transcorp Hilton Abuja, but there can never be a complete escape from what makes the Third World distinctly Third World. And visiting the countryside would only exacerbate the discomfort, especially if they are stuck on a tour bus with non-functioning air conditioning in 110 degree temperatures and are delayed by scrawny animals wandering on roads.
Moreover, nearly all these players are multi-millionaires and will be correctly perceived as super-rich Americans and thus tempting targets for swarms of beggars, street hustlers, and con artists. Particularly disconcerting, their claim to be “fellow Africans” whose ancestors were unlucky enough to be captured by slave traders will be meaningless to the Nigerians since if everyone is black, blackness counts for zero. I’d also guess that locals would routinely plead with the rich NFL visitors to take them to America, perhaps as stowaways in the equipment bags. Just picture these wealthy athletes explaining how America is a pretty bad place for people of color where “just doing nothing at all” risks being murdered by white racist cops.
Matters will get worse. It is highly unlikely that they can escape levels of crime unthinkable to ordinary Americans, even residents of Detroit. It will commence at the Abuja airport with luggage items (especially electronic items) vanishing and continue with hotel maids pilfering small change, being cheated by vendors, equipment (even shoes and socks) disappearing during practices, and perhaps a few more serious offenses such as being mugged by armed gangs. Even fervent ideologically blinded social justice warriors will be forced to recognize what experienced travelers know when travelling in Africa—don’t trust anyone, never display objects of value no matter how small and don’t leave anything important lying around. And just wait until these naive Americans try to report a robbery to the police! Or are repeatedly arrested by cops who can spot a rich American a mile away, particularly one standing 6’5’’ who only speaks English while being bedecked in Kente Cloth. More than a few visitors will miss the “racist” albeit courteous pigs who eschewed upfront bribes to investigate a missing cell phone.
But perhaps the most painful experience will come from the sicknesses that plague innocents abroad. After all, these young, strong men never worried about brushing their teeth with tap water or the consequences of eating local street food. Absent strictly following the advice of the team doctor, everybody on the team will likely suffer from a multitude of unpleasant though non-lethal illnesses than involve diarrhea, vomiting plus various painful insect bites. A whole new vocabulary awaits: chikungunya, leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, onechoceriasis among countless other tropical illnesses that will mystify the team doctor. Far worse might be the “souvenirs” (including HIV) collected by those who partook of the “local talent.”
No doubt, home-coming will be a most welcome although a few may have to be left behind in Nigerian hospitals, jails or have been kidnapped and whose release must wait months if not years of negotiations. Now, of the utmost importance, like all American returning from the Third World, they will quickly appreciate well-behaved, polite police and customs officials, functioning traffic lights, and spotless restaurants selling safe food. The race to the nearest airport McDonalds’ will be a stampede.
Hopefully, these NFL players will share their “educational” experiences with those on other teams. Yes, returning players may still believer that America suffers from toxic white racism etc. but there will be some good news. None of these who have personally experienced a week in Nigeria will have to worry that taking a knee during the national anthem will precipitate an unexpected race to the bathroom only to find no toilet paper, an overflowing, stopped up non-functioning commode, broken facets with just a trickle of brown water and vandalized towel and soap dispensers. In other words, the white-run United States of America does have its virtues. God Bless America!