One of my favorite books about sports in America is William C. Rhoden’s “40 Million Dollar Slave”. The book talks about how the use of the black body from slavery to modern sports has not changed all that much with some sad and disturbing results. While it is incumbent upon highly paid athletes to show some agency the fact remains that the system they play in (in this case the NFL) is predicated upon using up their bodies to profit the team regardless of the condition the player is left in, just like slavery. All of this really came to mind yesterday when it was revealed that Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan lied about the health of rookie quarterback sensation Robert Griffin III (RG3) and placed him in a playoff game that could have ended his young career before it even started.The NFL is pretty hypocritical about injuries in general, despite the speeches and memos from commissioner Roger Goodell. It has been established that repeated hits on players cause long term mental illness, healthcare for retired players is often hard to come by or inadequate and that the league’s policies on performance enhancing drugs are essentially toothless. And while there are solutions to these problems like guaranteed contracts (which would give players less incentive to rush back from serious injury) or more bye weeks or expanded rosters none of these were made a part of last year’s new collective bargaining agreement. So I guess it should not come as a surprise that the life and health of a young African American quarterback, no matter how profitable he is, can always be put on the line if profit is to be made.
Just before the Redskins home playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, team Dr. James Andrews revealed in an interview with USA today that Redskins coach Mike Shanahan had lied about RG3’s health in a previous season game in Baltimore. Shanahan claimed that Dr. Andrews had cleared the QB to play when in fact, nothing of the kind had happened and Dr. Andrews hadn’t even touched the quarterback’s knee let alone spoke to the head coach. While RG3 did sit out the next game against the Cleveland Browns, is it really hard to imagine that given Shanahan’s tendency to lie about player’s health that he might have placed the quarterback in harm’s way during Sunday’s game? It was apparent from the first quarter that Robert Griffin III was laboring to run, move in the pocket an escape defensive linemen, yet Shanahan kept him in the game, risking the players long term health on a season when the team had already overachieved. The problem with these actions, according to Andrews in USA Today is:
The risky behavior and apparent cover-up regarding Griffin’s knee injury is even more curious when Andrews described the team’s responsibility toward the rookie quarterback — “to make sure he’s OK for the next 15 years,” Andrews said. “That’s what you have to watch out for for players, because they don’t know.”
And therein lies the problem. No one cares about having a slave for 15 years, only what they can get out of them in the short term. African American quarterbacks, (code word – mobile backs) have always received less offensive line help, less cover from referees and less protection from the league than their white counterparts both within teams and in the league in general. Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, Dante Culpepper and yes Ben Rothlesberger get smashed on the field all the time and no one says anything. However one bad move by Bernard Pollard on Tom Brady’s knee and the League changes tackling rules forever more. It was disgraceful watching RG3 hobble around the field for 3 ½ quarters before he experienced a knee bend so horrendous that the coach had to pull him. And given what the team doctor says you can’t trust the head coach to be honest about whether or not it was safe for the QB to play at all.
I know it is counter-intuitive to think that a money driven business like the NFL would not be more concerned about their stars black or white but that is exactly what we say on the air yesterday. The League (unlike say the NBA) is bigger than any individual stars and sacrificing young black male bodies for entertainment has been working for so long why change it now? When a black superstar quarterback who has resurrected a moribund but loved franchise after decades can still be trotted out to slaughter like a common field negro it makes you wonder if the 40 million dollar slaves realize just how bad things have gotten. Eventually someone has to, because the league and the fans certainly do not.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.