On Football and Social Justice

Last night, after officials announced the decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Mike Brown, I struggled.  I’m still struggling.

I watched the news and  I scrolled the news.  I absorbed images of peaceful protestors, led by secular and faithful leadership.  I absorbed images of violent rioters, so filled with the rage of injustice, they sought relief in the bedlam of violence and looting.  I read the comments (ugh.  Never read the comments).

And then I “liked” a video made by Dude Perfect, featuring Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson making successful trick shots all over the Seahawks Training Facility.

And then I “shared” an article about the Saints’ 41 year old rookie cheerleader.

Why?  Why engage in such frivolity in the midst of anger and despondency?

Football as a distraction

I love football.  I look forward to it all week.  Why – I even started a blog about it!  But I can – and did – use it as a distraction from “reality.”  Last night I reeled, overwhelmed with the sense that nothing can ever be right in our world.  So, I anesthetized myself: looking away from the jarring truth of injustice and bubbling chaos, and toward something with clear rules and order.

Ooh, shiny.

And it made me feel better to look away.  But I was wrong to do so.  Numbing my senses with entertainment is how we continue to ignore systemic racism, oppression, and inequities.

The Hunger Games are Real

It reminds me of The Hunger Games – my focusing on sport and entertainment, while communities in my own country are in civil disarray.  I was a Capital citizen.  (Yuck).

And, just as in the dystopian novel, the participants in the games often come from these oppressed communities.  Ask my students of color what they want to be when they grow up.  They can see themselves as pop stars, rappers, and athletes.  They can see themselves entertaining the masses.  They can see themselves owned and managed by oppressive corporations (who glean greater profit from their efforts) while they sacrifice talent, their physical selves, and every ounce of privacy for public consumption.  They do not see themselves as leaders in their own communities.

We – I – sit distracted by the entertainment, willfully ignoring the undercurrents of corruption, violence, and objectification implicit in the game.

The Harry Potter Alliance (an organization that utilizes literature to motivate actions for social justice), is currently running a campaign called The Odds Are In Our Favor.  It’s worth a look, especially in light of last night’s news.  The juxtaposition of the Mockingjay trailer in the midst of Ferguson footage was startling.

Football as Community

I don’t think it has to be this way.  I know it doesn’t.  Football doesn’t have to be a distraction.  There’s still too much good in it: its ability to band diverse people in a unified purpose, its tendency to point toward hope, its opportunities for leadership and platform, its intrinsic values of perseverance, honor, hard work, and dignity …

As a fan community we can refuse to be anesthetized to the ills of inequity in our own world.  We can look inward first, and call into question the inequities we see here.  How are athletes treated?  Why are there disproportionate numbers of Caucasian owners, managers, lawyers, and coaches?  How do the communities which develop athletes benefit from successes?  Why do we allow the NFL to evade taxes, taking our money, but not putting it back into the community?



I’m awake today – struggling to filter through the glitter of shiny distractions to seek truth.

Hugs and loves

and peace

and justice.






3 responses to “On Football and Social Justice

  1. On the gridiron the world functions more the way I wish the rest of the world did. In football the game is set up to reward the hard worker, the consummate teammate, the diligent student, these all pay tangible dividends. The group that sacrifices for one another raise the entire team, the team that follows the rules is rewarded, the team that does right reaps the benefits that the game has to offer. I don’t think that I invest in football to deny societal reality, I think I invest in football because it gives me a little vision of how I want society to be. Or I could be wrong.

  2. I appreciate your thoughtful response, but I’m not sure I agree that going to sports and entertainment was a wrong thing to do, IF you come back again later. One thing I have learned by going through many difficult things in life is that sometimes you have to find something that will help you step away, because you can’t carry the anguish all the time. My first experience with this was when my mom died and a day or two later I had a moment of blessed relief playing the Monopoly equivalent of “52 Card Pickup” with my best friend (we threw all of the money in the air, let it shower down a few times, and then grabbed as much as we wanted and could reach). I have dealt with funerals through dance, the broken hearts of my orphans through Lord of the Rings, and the hurt of my visitors through playing with my cats. It is right for us to give as much as we can, to face honestly and unflinchingly our own pain and the pain of others, but at the same time it is also right to take a break for something frivolous to cope. I’m betting that even some of the rioters and protesters are taking time to talk about the weather or a Thanksgiving recipe or something like that; some way to let go for a minute.

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