In 2012, I unfurled my Terrible Towel near the mouth of the largest cave entrance in the world, determined to be the fan furthest afield in the Steeler Nation.
I was at Deer Cave, in Mulu National Park, Borneo, Malaysia, over 9,000 miles away from Pittsburgh. As my friend snapped the photo, a gentleman in our tour group yelled, “You just ruined my vacation!” I later found out he was a Baltimore Ravens fan. I was not then, nor am I now, saddened by this fact.
However, in 2018, I am not even sure where that Terrible Towel is, and I cannot remember the last time I sat down to watch a football game. It is like breaking up with my first love and I am not sure where I stand, what to do, if I should text or call.
There is something painful about watching thousands of people cheering, jeering, booing — who seem to only care about the Black bodies in labor and entertainment and not the Black lives those bodies contain.
When Colin Kaepernick sat — and then, at the request of a veteran — kneeled in protest to police brutality and injustice faced by African-Americans, it seemed a simple thing, a quiet protest, the kind that white people supposedly like. But to quote the shirt Kaepernick wore after being shut out of the NFL for his peaceful protest:
“We march, y'all mad; We sit, y'all mad; We kneel, y'all mad; We die, y'all silent.”
Our politics and sports can only blend when that slush fits a nationalistic red, white, and blue variety — singing the national anthem before football games began during World War II. That sounds political to me, folks.
The fear-attraction-repulsion-admiration of the Black form in the United States plays out in so many ways, but especially in sports. Muhammad Ali was Enemy No. 1 until his Parkinson’s dampened his strength. Roberto Clemente is given more respect in death than he was in life.
Serena Williams battles both racism and sexism — she revealed she is getting drug tested more than any other woman tennis player by the Women’s Tennis Association. Now, her court attire — a one-piece catsuit she wore to prevent blood clots — is under scrutiny for being “disrespectful.” I wonder if the Black children turned away from their first day of school for wearing their hair natural can relate?
All of this regulation of Black bodies. And the NFL wants to monitor, penalize, or intimidate a grown-ass man, telling him if he can sit, stand, kneel or throw a ball.
I don’t know, I think we will just have to remain broke up for now.