To Football, a Broken Love Story

New-England-PatriotsThere is a point when you have to reevaluate your relationship with another being. You to start asking yourself if it’s healthy to keep pursuing this idea of what love is. Every tragic love story doesn’t end because the love is no longer there, but rather because the love would never end. Because you would go to great lengths to protect that sacred connection. You would, and have, compromised so much of who you are in order to keep that love alive. But at some point, hopefully, you make the decision that no love is worth your soul. This is the inner battle I have been wrestling with for some time regarding the NFL, and my love for football, and how far–or how low–it would, and did, take me.

I’ve spent the greater part of the last few years contemplating breaking off a life-long relationship with not just the NFL, but football in general. I think the launching pad was in 2013, when three high school players videotaped raping a girl and thought it was funny. You saw how a community, as well as media, both local and national, could stand behind three rapists because they could carry a ball. We see on the collegiate level, time and time again, how rapists go on to win Heismans, to be seen as heroes, and go on to make millions. In the NFL, they can ignore it until there are no other options but to act–not because of a higher calling, because all other avenues have been exhausted.

I grew up the son of a Division-1, award winning coach. Sports wasn’t just seen in my house as a game, but a place where humanity wrestled with the big questions. I saw every Sunday as day when miracles could happen, when the forces of good could prevail. I remember being 16-year-old budding black nationalist and how proud I was when two black coaches brought their teams to the Super Bowl. I remember the Patriots’s almost-perfect season. I grew up seeing sports as a way out. Every sunday was a new chance, where limitless possibilities could be fulfilled. Every Sunday was a day when worries could be forgotten, at least for four quarters. I can imagine other fans of the game may feel the same, but I saw my life through those players. I was a 15-year-old boy, product of unhealthy environments, and I turned to the triumphs of those I admired as my own triumphs. Football, and all sports, was ecstasy for me. I found myself escaping to those realities. Like one would do with a love they knew to be doomed, I would get lost in a game, knowing those four quarters would soon be over, but it was the moment I needed.

But that euphoria has its expiration date when you can no longer ignore how a love may doom you, no matter how good it may feel. There are many reasons that have driven me from supporting the NFL, but I think the conversation ends when the NFL has shown again and again that it does not value women’s bodies as much as profits. I am of the belief that you cannot stand against rape culture, misogyny, and sexism and still tune in to the NFL as if none of those things connect to your love of the game and break down your spirituality.

Love is blind, that much is true. I’m realizing now that my love of the game kept me from seeing the many layers of a problematic power structure within the NFL, and how it doesn’t just impact the NFL, but trickles down to the collegiate level, to high school, and to every single man who plays the game or loves it, and thus every woman in their lives. It’s not just a few bad apples.  While perhaps only a few players commit sexual assault, a whole system exists which ignores it, validates and empowers these young men through reinforcing the attitudes which let them get away with rape. It’s an institution we have to stop supporting. What message are we giving young men when we ignore these unhealthy signs?

There comes a point, as a man, that you have to set aside your priviledge and acknowledge the ugly beast for what is. I’m realizing now that I’ve been running away from something I’ve known for some time now. Avoiding a reality I never wanted to admit I was reinforcing. I thought that my manhood rested in the love of the game. I’m realizing now that the cost has been my humanity.

I’m saying all of this because the Super Bowl is tomorrow. Because the Patriots are wrapped around one of the biggest scandals in sports history. We will likely be sitting down ten years from now at barbershops still talking about “deflategate” , and loom it over the Pat’s legacy. I wish I could say the same anger would linger over Ray Rice for beating his wife, Jamies Winston for raping a girl, and Ben Roethlisberger for the same crime–but it won’t. People’s love for the game is too strong to be tainted with having to value women’s bodies at the expense of questioning a game we love, of institutions we envy, the game we have grown to embrace, and which has become so interwoven with our identities as Americans.

So I won’t be watching the Super Bowl, and until I can see the NFL, and the rest of football as an institution that values women the same way it values profit, and instills men with the right values, I will continue to not watch the game all together. Everyone has their own moral compass that guides and directs them, this is mine, and I think it’d be really hard to tell me I’m doing the wrong thing. This isn’t about convincing others to stop watching a game they love. This is asking others to question the game, and demand it arise to the standard we want it to be–because we want our love to be pure. This is about my own journey as a man. This is about sleeping at night, and being one with the beliefts I hold true to me. No love is worth upholding inequality, or prolonging my own salvation.

When you love someone with all your heart, you wish them the best, as well as yourself. I still love the game, but maybe that is the point. Maybe my passion for football and respect for women are not mutually exclusive, but whose fates in my life are intertwined together. Maybe  me and football, like a failed love affair with someone you long for, are just at different places in our lives right now. Just different paths–different journeys–only to hopefully end up at the same destination, where we can be together again.

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The Nuances Behind Charlie Hebdo, and How We Act

461143542-people-gather-at-union-square-in-reaction-to-the.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlargeOn Wednesday, we witnessed 12 people people pay the ultimate price for free speech. I of all people know how valuable free speech is, this blog is a testament to that sacredness. But we need to be honest about how we honor these lives, and to what extent we criticize what Charlie Hebdo stood up to. There is a fine line between defending free speech, and perpetuating racism through ignorance.

As in any event of violence, the appropriate–and no doubt expected–response to such events should be remorse and sympathy. All of us who were affected by the Boston Bombings, the shootings of Sandy Hook Elementary, and more recently, the deaths of black men to the state stand in solidarity with the people of France.

The most important thing for these events is to remember that sometimes random acts of violence are just that: random. To place them in a larger context of systemic problems can be accurate, but sometimes we end up only fueling the problem. As so many people did last week with the shooting of two NYPD officers by someone who is clearly mentally ill, it seems the same goes for those hoping to ignite an argument against Muslim Extremism. To use these events as a means to lump an entire region together seems not just wrong, but a double standard to the success of western capitalism and its own history of religious extremism.

To defend free speech is one thing, but to use it as a means to generalize a world full of people who practice a peaceful religion is a dangerous path to take, and it seems like that is the one so many people are leaning towards. The work of Charlie Hebdo reflects trends of a worldwide view already established. Their deaths will only fuel a movement to discredit peaceful muslims all over the world that is already gaining momentum. Attacks against Islam are not just racist, islamophobic, or xenophobic, but show our willingness to be ignorant of what we don’t fully understand. To say Charlie Hebdo stood for free speech and call them heroes without giving a critique of how their drawings were not just offensive, but mocked the legacy of real heroes of free speech is lazy. It will only fuel more persecution of the peaceful, law-abiding muslims around the world.

Muslim extremism must be criticized and ridiculed.  I’m a strong believer in religion–all religions–and holding those religious adherents to the standard of the words they preach, but we can’t claim that interpretations are the origins of a religion. If that were the case, we should be passing the same criticism towards Christianity and the inequality it not just perpetuated, but created. It was in the name of Jesus Christ that Europeans justified colonizing Africa. It was Christianity that helped so many white Americans justify the enslavement of Africans, and the manifest destiny behind exterminating millions of Native Americans and the western colonialism of Central and South America. It was the Christian cross that burned–with the intent to instill fear in African Americans–for much of the 20th century. Yes, Christians don’t do that today, many will argue that point, but the damage has been done and  western privilege established.

So many of us in the West today  use our global privilege to ignore the history we are products of, and only examine events that seem like we took no part in. What the Muslim extremists are doing is no different from what the Church did in Europe for much of the last Millenium. We may not do so today, but we built a civilization on religious extremism, and when other regions of the world attempt do the same, we call them barbarians when all they are doing is taking note on what has been done so many times before. Muslim extremism does not exist in a vacuum. Those countries we look at with suspicion are the same countries with histories of being placed at war to the Christian extremism of the crusades. When Israel bombs Palestinian children, we never say Judaism is inherently flawed, so what makes Islam any different?

We are the proponents of free speech and democracy–this much is true–but we need to also understand that we hail from people who weren’t much different from these Muslim extremists. The history of western freedom was fueled by the economics of religious extremism. Missing from so many conversations and debates is an understanding of the commonality of those people the media perpetually casts as the other. It is either intentional, or by the blindness we’ve been conditioned to think with.

At its worst, Charlie Hebdo was simply racist, and the double standard of our history guarded this as free speech. When we don’t realize this, we fail ourselves.