While it’s still unclear what caused Hamlin’s heart to stop that evening, the severity and frequency of injuries in the sport and the NFL’s unwillingness to protect their players further affirms my feelings about keeping my son as far away from football as possible. Though he is still a baby, I already spend time thinking about which schools my son will attend, which hobbies he’ll choose, and how he’ll navigate this world as a Black man. My no-football rule will probably upset some of my uncles and cousins who believe adrenaline and aggression are “what makes a man.” But to keep it short and sweet, to hell with patriarchy, racism and the NFL.
Ultimately, it was NFL execs’ reported failure to make an immediate decision to cancel the game as athletic trainers, medics and other officials on the ground scrambled to save Hamlin’s life that cemented my disdain for the game. In a league where 70% of athletes are Black like Hamlin, decisions like this one clearly prioritize money and fandom over Black lives.
In comparison, players make an average salary of around two million dollars and often come from much humbler circumstances. And while two million sounds like a lot, please consider the physical abuse their bodies endure during their careers. It all takes a toll. A study from 2015 showed that “retired football players end up bankrupt within 12 years of stepping off the field for the last time,” according to NBC Sports.
I get that people who play do so voluntarily and often happily. But it’s not lost on me that wealth is being built on the physical labor of Black athletes who are not properly compensated or protected, as professor Tracie Canada astutely points out in her story for Scientific American. The NFL is just another traditional American business model that exploits and then disregards Black bodies. Players such as Colin Kaepernick have historically and aggressively discouraged from speaking out against the perils of Black life in the United States, let alone their experiences in the NFL.
While we still haven’t heard from Hamlin’s parents, Garrett Bush, an NFL insider, hit the nail on its head when he said, “All these heartwarming prayers and condolences do nothing for that mom.” Parents of Black children work overtime to protect them from the cruelty of race in the United States. It’s devastating to see your child work hard to live out their dream and still be haunted by what you’ve tried to protect them from all along.
This content was originally published here.