NEW YORK — Two quotes have been knocking around in my head.
One is from Brett Favre, and you’ve likely seen it floating around in the last few days.
“I know when I turn on a game,” the Hall of Fame quarterback said in a recent interview with The Daily Wire, “I want to watch a game. I want to watch players play and teams win, lose, come from behind. I want to watch all the important parts of the game, not what’s going on outside of the game, and I think the general fan feels the same way. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘I don’t watch anymore; it’s not about the game anymore.’ And I tend to agree.
“It’s really a shame that we’ve come to this. Something has to unify us, and I felt like the flag, standing patriotically — because Blacks and whites and Hispanics have fought for this country and died for this country. It’s too bad.”
Favre’s comments came in the wake of 20-year-old Daunte Wright being shot and killed by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minn., and during the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd.
The other is from James Baldwin, in a 1964 essay in “Playboy.”
“The reality I am trying to get at is that the humanity of this submerged population is equal to the humanity of anyone else, equal to yours, equal to that of your child,” Baldwin wrote. “I know when I walk into a Harlem funeral parlor and see a dead boy lying there. I know, no matter what the social scientists say, or the liberals say, that it is extremely unlikely that he would be in his grave so soon if he were not Black. That is a terrible thing to have to say. But, if it is so, then the people who are responsible for this are in a terrible condition. Please take note. I’m not interested in anybody’s guilt. Guilt is a luxury that we can no longer afford. I know you didn’t do it, and I didn’t do it either, but I am responsible for it because I am a man and a citizen of this country and you are responsible for it, too, for the very same reason: As long as my children face the future that they face, and come to the ruin that they come to, your children are very greatly in danger, too. They are endangered above all by the moral apathy which pretends it isn’t happening.”
Baldwin’s essay, “The Dead Boy,” concerned his play, “Blues for Mister Charlie,” which was based on the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.
On Thursday, the Chicago Police Department released footage of an officer chasing down 13-year-old Adam Toledo and shooting him dead as he turned, arms raised in surrender.
In the five years since Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee, speaking about racist violence has evolved from a moral imperative to an occupational burden placed upon Black athletes and Black writers, tapped on the shoulder and asked to perform grief and loss and anger every time America inflicts a new violent horror on Black families. To argue, as Favre does, for sports to remain a secret garden free of politics the right finds disagreeable, ignores just how much of those politics the world brings to sports’ doorstep.
(It is a ridiculous premise, by the way, to imagine a world in which sports are hermetically sealed away from the rest of the world, as though that ever could or ever has happened. Sure there is the odd occurrence, such as when the New York Times wrote up Jackie Robinson’s debut without mentioning him by name outside of the play-by-play and box score, but sports have always been at the center of the moral conversations of the country, and certain subsets of fans have always been put out by that.)
Absent the chance to avail themselves of the comfort and safety of sticking to sports, athletes have turned acts such as kneeling through the anthem, once highly politically charged, into a baseline shibboleth. More is required to turn that shift in public acceptance into hard policy — it cannot fall only to Black athletes and Black writers and Gregg Popovich to have the moral fortitude to acknowledge what is happening in the world — but it is an undeniable sign that they’ve won over an increasing amount of people. One could say they’ve begun to unify opinions on police violence.
After all, something has to unify us. And if that is too divisive for the people who seek out Brett Favre to tell him they don’t watch football, it really is too bad.