Stop saying the NFL can't be racist because "70 percent of the players are black"

The most disingenuous defense of the NFL's treatment of Colin Kaepernick is making the rounds

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published August 29, 2017 6:58PM (EDT)

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Recently I watched a painful exchange on Fox News between anchor Tucker Carlson and NAACP Atlanta Chapter Vice President Gerald Griggs about Colin Kaepernick’s future in the NFL. In this conversation, Carlson represented everything that is wrong with cable news. Don’t get me wrong, being condescending and snarky can be acceptable when your guest is a jerk, but not when he’s a really nice guy like Griggs. And to make matters worse, Carlson tried to speak intelligently about the NFL, African Americans and diversity — all topics that he clearly doesn’t understand.

“So you have a league that is 70 percent African-American. 70 percent of the players are black, as compared to about 13 percent of the population. So clearly, there is no racism in hiring,” said Carlson. “Here you have a guy who signed a contract in 2014 for like $126 million. Collected $39 million of that. Just on the basis of those facts alone, it’s hard to see how Colin Kaepernick, at 29, is a victim of racism. Tell me how he is.”

According to Tucker Logic, a team paying a very talented quarterback the rate that very talented quarterbacks warrant, along with many other black players, exempts them from being racist.

I guess Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, which was a predominately black team, wasn’t racist either, even though he was caught on tape making racist remarks about black people and why his girlfriend shouldn’t take pictures with them? When he said, “Yeah, it bothers me a lot you want to . . . broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” that was racist, no matter how many black players Sterling employed and paid handsomely. The decisions that have been made to shut Kaepernick out of league employment because of his high-profile anti-racism activism, despite the number of other black athletes employed by NFL teams, are racist as well.

Carlson doesn’t understand, or won't acknowledge, that team owners only care about winning games. They don’t sign African-American players because they are black, they sign them because they are really fast and can jump out of the gym. Athletics has been one of the only pathways to social mobility, including to college, for black people as a whole in this country, so we take sports seriously, as excelling in athletics can be a matter of life or death for us. We don’t all get the opportunity to reject facts on cable TV for a living.

“Now maybe the owners are making a poor decision in not picking up Colin Kaepernick," Carlson continued. "I’m not qualified to assess that and I doubt you are either.”

“What makes you suspect it’s racial?" he asked. "Again, the league is 70 percent black. If anything, it seems like it might be able to use a little diversity. I mean, that’s not — I mean, how is that racism? I’m honestly confused.”

Carlson needs to learn that Kaepernick's employment shut-out is racist because his lack of a job has nothing to do with skill, as he has the 17th best quarterback rating in the league. Again, usually team owners only care about winning; however, in this rare case, it's clear Kaepernick is being punished because he took a stand against the many racist systems in our society. He’s truly brave. I wish I could say the same about Carlson, the owners who are blackballing Kaepernick and the NFL who aren't standing behind him.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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Colin Kaepernick Donald Sterling Football Fox News Naacp Nfl Race Racis Sports Tucker Carlson