Fri | Dec 15, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Raging bully

Published:Tuesday | October 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Cleveland Browns players raise their fists during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, on Sunday, October 1 in Cleveland.

These past few weeks in the magical land of Trumpistan, we saw new limits set for the borders of political and cultural correctness as the president cracked his whip at NFL players, sending them into a moral panic and causing unprecedented numbers to take a knee in protest.

Professional sports, at least in the manner to which I have been exposed to them in my lifetime via the North American-Hollywood model, have always struck me as one of the few remaining vestiges of slavery we neglected to abolish. From boxing, to basketball, to American football, I have always left even brief encounters with the sense that there was a palpable undercurrent of exploitation inherent to the production of the spectacle.

Inasmuch as I was mesmerised by the power and skill on display as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield gobbled each other to bits and earned a large payload as reward, I always remember the time their ancestors would have been similarly entangled in mortal combat to entertain their masters for free. Whenever I glimpse the NBA or NFL draft and observe the young warriors being paraded like prized beef for the highest bidder, I remember the slave markets our ancestors once feared and shudder at the resemblance to many similar institutions we can still find in this time.

Much has changed in the last few generations since racial segregation ceased being an official part of government policy, though much has remained the same in the subtext. Muhammad Ali protested Uncle Sam's military draft policy around the same time a black fist was raised to signal the change of the tide and the beginning of, the liberal wave. a rough ride that culminated in the era of the rhythm and blues president. Even then, the spectre of racism continued to raise its ugly head, bolder and bolder each time, with Trump increasingly playing the role of circus ventriloquist.

 

Systemic racism persists

 

Despite the fame and fortune accessible to professional athletes and entertainers of African descent in the glamorised North America of the modern era, the undercurrent of systemic racism persists, intermittently revealing itself whenever the high-paid African stallions buck in protest over the conditions of their suffering kin.

Colin Kapaernick, a professional American footballer, started a wave to increase public dialogue about an alarming spate of fatal incidents involving black men and boys killed at the hand of police officers. His simple gesture of kneeling before the US flag as the anthem was played, similar to the raised black fist that overshadowed the Star-spangled Banner at the Olympic Games in 1968, blighted the sanctity of the symbol and the nation it represents.

For a president riding a wave of fascism cloaked as nationalism, he couldn't resist the opportunity to remind the ideological enemy who was boss. So, alongside a choir of trumpeting sycophants, he huffed and he puffed and he yelled at those boys to get back to work!

Like a beekeeper, he skilfully manipulated an angry and alienated base, conjuring one final bout of fury from the trenches of white supremacy that misguided millennials thought had been disposed of after the liberal flood. He won an election in the midst of several explosive and seemingly targeted killings by police, each new incident making it more obvious than the last that they were orchestrated gun salutes to the new general.

After only a few months in office, the new master of the dominion has made it clear whose interests he has in mind by his patience with some very fine people and his obvious indignation for the sons of bitches that dare to disobey the rules on his plantation.

President Trump's latest tirade and the other more subtle incidents of disrespect involving professional athletes for the past few decades of America's ebbing and flowing race relations should serve as reminders that for many, the game is just for entertainment, while for others, including especially the proprietors of this lucrative enterprise, the game is just a fun proxy for the original model where slaves provide back-breaking labour in exchange for a few moments of leisure.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandycynic.