Snatching immigrant babies may have scored some points for President Trump with his base, but it was never going to light up the scoreboard like tackling black jocks. That one really played to the grandstands. The complicated combination of adoration and resentment so many white males feel for those rich, accomplished über-men is a significant but rarely discussed aspect of fandom, especially in relation to football, that magna cum macho of American sports.
Last September, when the commander in chief of toxic masculinity dubbed any football player who didn’t stand during the playing of the national anthem a “son of a bitch,” the war on black men took a spectacular pop-cultural surge. And unlike white cops who shoot unarmed black men, President Trump didn’t even have to claim that he had been afraid.
He should have been, though. After all, he might have sparked a slaves’ revolt that, in the end, could do him in. The opportunity to crack the whip on the fantasy plantation called pro football was, however, just too irresistible for him. Whether it will trigger a long-awaited, long-deferred Jock Spring is the big question of the coming season to which there’s a critical corollary: Will such sustained activism be supported by the white players of the National Football League as well? That hasn’t happened yet and it could change things in major ways.
“For white players it’s about the fear of losing their jobs,” David Meggyesy, a white former NFL linebacker, who in the 1960s set a standard for radical outspokenness, told me recently. “But too many white fans share Trump’s tribalism that includes seeing white players as the brains and black players as the bodies, not too smart, who should just shut up and play.”
Trump, once a pro-football owner himself, clearly understands a white male mindset in which black football players exist only to provide on-field thrills, never to be humanized, much less allowed to protest inequality and racism. Meanwhile, the players, most of whom know that they are easily replaceable, often lacking guaranteed contracts, exist at the sufferance of their white billionaire team owners, a number of whom were early Trump donors.