The Super Bowl is superfluous this year. Who needs a reality show about violence, domination, and sexism, not to mention brain damage, now that we have Trumpball, actual reality that not only authenticates football’s authoritarianism but transforms us from bystanders into victims? Before this game is over, the players may swarm the grandstands and beat the hell out of us.
Pro football actually helped prepare us for the new president’s upset victory by normalizing a basic tenet of jock culture: Anyone not on the team is an enemy, the Other. And it’s open season on opponents, the fans of opponents, critics, and women (unless they’re cheerleaders or moms). Trash talking is the lingua franca of this Trumpian moment, bullying the default tactic.
Yet pro football has also provided us with the single most vivid image of current American resistance to racism. Last summer, before a pre-season game, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the playing of the national anthem, as a symbol of his refusal “to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” As the season progressed, he started going down on his right knee when the anthem began, revealing that he was wearing black socks decorated with pigs in police hats. These, he said, represented “rogue cops that are allowed to hold positions in police departments.” He would eventually stop wearing them, convinced that the socks were a tactical mistake.
Kaepernick’s nonviolent gestures, done initially without fanfare, were the most powerful message from SportsWorld, since that other hard year of despair and determination, 1968, when two American Olympic medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their black-gloved fists in Mexico City.
Incredibly, Smith, Carlos, and Kaepernick were all tutored by the same man, sociologist Harry Edwards. In the 1960s, as a young San Jose State professor, Edwards created the Olympic Project for Human Rights as his protest against racism. Now a retired Berkeley professor, he has been a longtime adviser to the 49ers.