NFL Players make up 0.0006% of society, so why do we need to have a discussion about players legal problems?
So I’m watching a sports segment on television recently and of course the NFL Draft was a main topic. The host introduced the next segment centered around a statement from sports TV analyst Anthony (Booger) McFarland, who on a radio program made the following statement:
“The NFL is 70 percent African American and it really pains me to see a lot of young black players [getting in trouble] who most of them grew up like I did without a dad without having much. My mother raised me on welfare, we didn’t have much so I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to play professional football and I took advantage of it. To see some of these guys who could really care less about the opportunity to take care of their families or take care of their mother, who a lot of times is providing for them without much, it really really pains me.”
I cringed because I knew what was coming next. A panel discussion about how this was such an important issue that required in depth analysis. Additionally, the panelists navigated ever so subtly (yet navigate they did) into issues among the African American community in general.
It is statistically true, there are more black players in the NFL than other races. In my opinion, however, the fact that more black NFL players get in trouble than other races isn’t cause for broader discussion. In fact, it make sense to me. If seven out of every 10 players in the NFL is black (the majority population in this case), it should come as no surprise most cases of wrongdoing involve the majority population (in this case black players). Now if there was evidence that black and white players were being punished differently for similar offenses, then that would warrant debate and hot takes.
In 2015, the FBI released its report on crime in the United States. According to the report, there were more than 10 million arrests that year, 70 percent of those cases involved whites, 26 percent involved blacks; sensible numbers considering population percentages in the U.S.
So back to the NFL, why was this story worth a discussion on a panel, and furthermore, why did some on that panel feel the need to tread (ever so slightly) into broader issues in the African-American community at large? In my opinion, the two are totally separate subjects.
Black NFL players don’t represent the African-American community as a whole, just like white NFL players don’t represent the Caucasian-American community as a whole. To be clear, substantive discussions about community issues are great, however, the time and place for those conversations need to be well thought out. Anthony McFarland’s comments were not that time.
Why do I care? Because people sometimes make assumptions about “other communities” based upon what they see, hear, or read. Thus, anyone making a connection between 1,000 or so black NFL players and issues in a black community that numbers approximately 40 million in the U.S., even if its done subtly is navigating dangerous territory.
I get it, not everyone takes what they see, hear, or read about a small sample size of a population and projects it onto a larger one. But some do.
The marginalization of races, cultures, and genders have long existed in the media. Sitcoms have often, and still do, cast races, genders, and cultures in certain ways (i.e., the sassy black girl, the sage white male, the ultra effeminate gay man, etc). Sports media has followed suit. Black athletes, especially quarterbacks have long been lauded for their athleticism, while white quarterbacks have often been praised for intelligence or study habits. Point being, the marginalization of any group-focusing on good or bad traits-is wrong.
Minorities, especially African-Americans do not have the luxury of assuming people outside our race will see enough multi-faceted images of us to not stereotype. All too often, however, journalism takes an incident involving minority athletes, and attempts to broaden it when it is not warranted.
I hope for two things. First, the next time a black NFL player gets in trouble and a sports media outlet taps its black staff member (if it has one) to address it, that black staff member says the following. “I really don’t think much about what 0.0006% of society does unless they’re causing great harm to people en masse. These players aren’t a representation of me, or society as a whole and we shouldn’t treat them as such. What people need to know is that the narrative of the poor athlete raised by a single mom on food stamps, while it does exist, should not serve as a generalization. Athletes of all races come from all kinds of environments: they go to college, get a degree, and get a job in something other than sports. Most don’t go to the NFL combine, don’t water down urine samples, and they don’t hit women. And if there’s anyone out there who believes that these 1500 to 2000 NFL players represent any segment of society at large, you’re kidding yourself.”
Here’s hoping there comes a day when there’s enough diversity in managerial positions at media entities to facilitate a more thorough discussion. Unfortunately declining revenues, loss of experienced journalists, and lack of managerial diversity at many sports media entities, doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that day is coming.