Because the NFL never takes a day off from testing every last nerve of every living being within its orbit … On Thursday, the league revealed that it is investigating Terrelle Pryor’s claim that he was called a common racial slur “several times” by someone in the stands in Kansas City on Monday night.
The NFL insists it is taking Pryor’s accusation very seriously — and that is refreshing, and unsurprising. This league, like Major League Baseball earlier this year in the Adam Jones-Fenway Park incident, handles its business with the obvious, blatant stuff.
How seriously it takes another observation in his statement on his Instagram account, though, remains to be seen. All we can go on is what the league and teams have actually done over the last 14 months.
That observation: That sort of treatment “is the exact reason why guys are kneeling during (the) anthem.”
That reality is something that no amount of locked arms can solve. The same for negotiations by teams like the Lions to buy off player protests with charitable contributions. And for setting aside a separate month for players to devote to “activism,” however that will be defined.
Is there an organization dedicated to the eradication of fans screaming that word at athletes in public? How many community forums and school assemblies are needed to fix that?
Amidst all the semantics, rhetoric, posturing, deflection and distraction surrounding the protests begun by Colin Kaepernick in 2016, a core truth was whitewashed at best, and erased at worst. Racial oppression and injustice were the targets. Even as the specific issue of police brutality was Kaepernick’s clearly stated aim, the underpinnings of that were institutional, structural, societally embraced racism.
If the complexities of police misconduct against people and communities of color were too much to grasp, shouting slurs at players from the safety of the crowd while still close enough to provoke a reaction is easy to recognize and dissect.
If the NFL can’t get that right, there’s no reason the players should expect anything beyond that getting support. It is literally the least the league and teams can do for the players, in this climate and any other. With this, the customer cannot be right, they cannot be the top priority, they cannot be to whom the league defers.
For all the standards to which the NFL holds players, this is the bare minimum to which it can hold fans.
And if it’s willing to do that, then it can take the next step and expand its recognition of its employees as regular American citizens with needs and concerns that aren’t bought off by their salaries, and from which they’re not immune.
Having those words shouted at you in your workplace, and having no recourse, and being open to punishment for retaliating — Pryor flipped the fans off, generally a fineable offense — that opens wounds that all humans understand.
“We going to start acting up,’’ Pryor said in his post. Who wouldn’t, if no one is there to stop it?
If the league can recognize the humanity of the players subjected to that, then it can recognize it when it uses its platform to wake America up to injustice, to them and everyone who looks like them.
Whether the actual fans someday recognize it is another story. Based on what Pryor says happened Monday night … not yet.