By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
I will not watch the Super Bowl Feb. 13.
I am the consummate NFL junkie. I have watched a whole or part of nearly every NFL Monday Night game since its start in 1970. I have watched more Sunday night, Thursday night and Saturday NFL games than many coaches.
I have attended countless NFL games in Los Angeles, almost all of them Rams games. I have even traveled to other cities to attend NFL games. Most importantly, I have watched every Super Bowl since the first one in 1967. I have even sponsored Super Bowl game community parties.
Colin Kaepernick’s anti-police abuse protest, his subsequent blackballing and the boycott by many Blacks of the NFL didn’t damper my NFL passion and support. But this did: Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ potential landmark lawsuit against the NFL that charges the NFL owners, and management with systemic racism in its non-hiring of Black head coaches.
Flores knows that suing the NFL means that he can likely kiss any chance of another head coaching job goodbye. Here’s why he took a stand.
In the most telling line in his suit, he called the NFL a modern-day plantation. The numbers back him up.
There are 32 non-Black owners in the NFL. I use the non-black qualifier instead of “all-white” only because Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is Pakistan-American.
The NFL has done better in hiring Black general managers. There are now seven of them.
But the position that is most visible, commanding, prestigious and identified by the media, fans and players as the jewel in the crown is the head coaching spot. Ten NFL teams have never had a Black head coach.
This in a league where about 70% of the players are Black.
The NFL has been on a big charm campaign since the Kaepernick fallout to prove that it is not racist. It has paid lip service to backing Black Lives Matter, slapped slogans about ending racism on players’ helmets, churned out public service announcements touting diversity, shelled out millions to minority community improvement organizations.
Flores, though, is not suing the NFL and is unemployed as a head coach because the NFL is inherently racist. His problem, and that of other aspiring Black head coaches, is the structure of the NFL and who runs it.
The NFL is not and never has been a democracy. It’s a quasi-militaristic, top-down organization. It’s run by an entrenched elite core of billionaire owners who set the tone and determine policy for the league.
They are called “key owners.” Some of them can trace their NFL family pedigree back to the founding of the NFL nearly a century ago. They are mostly conservative Republicans.
Some are very outspoken Republicans. They routinely kick in thousands to Republican political candidates. Some have been deeply involved in GOP political campaigns, including serving as finance managers for Republican presidential candidates. They all imposed the tacit, unspoken blackball of Kaepernick from the league.
It was no surprise that former GOP presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump have bragged that some of their tight pals are NFL owners.
Flores is being held captive not by the racism or petty whims of NFL owners, although a healthy dose of that is there, too. He is being held by the NFL’s rigid, unbending and unyielding arrogance of power, insular structure and mindset that is virtually immune from any outside influence.
That has been evident in every challenge to the NFL elite, be it the threat of player strikes, contract negotiations, the dust-up over chronic traumatic encephalopathy (brain) trauma and dangers and the criticism it gets for shaking down cities and states to put taxpayers on the hook for everything from luxury boxes to new stadiums.
The NFL has the muscle to keep its books hush hush and demand the players play more games, thus radically increasing the injury hazard. It has the muscle to knock down the player’s revenue take and not guarantee any long-term health benefits to the players.
The fan base is no small point when trying to figure out why Flores may become a pariah. The NFL’s fan loyalists initially shouted down Kaepernick and other Black players when they made the mildest of protests by taking a knee or some other equally tepid gesture during the playing of the national anthem before kickoffs.
Those loyalists are not African American or Hispanic for the most part. They are blue-collar and conservative middle class, white football junkies who, year in and year out, pack stadiums, plop down tens of millions for tickets and assorted NFL paraphernalia.
The NFL power brokers have the supreme dominance to enforce their take-it-or-leave-it imperium on the players, fans and politicians. That’s why Flores doesn’t have an NFL job. And that’s why I will not watch the Super Bowl.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Kaepernick” (Amazon). He also hosts the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.