Katniss Everdeen and Michael Bennett: Separated at Birth?

This is about the sports-industrial complex, not about sports. You may be someone who loves watching the games and are a sports fan. You may be someone who almost never watches professional sports, but care deeply about the progress of our nation. You may be both. In all cases, I am writing to you.

The distinction between sports and the sports-industrial complex is crucial. Even if you are not a sports fan, as a politically responsive American, you cannot ignore the sports-industrial complex.

Billions of dollars (are we into the trillions yet?) go into the salaries, stadiums, profits, gear, souvenirs, salty and sweet food, etc. And for lack of a better term, the political will, mass emotional energy, personal resources and time, etc.…that citizens devote to supporting the sports-industrial-complex is massive, huge, really one of the largest cultural forces in existence.

Now take these two case examples:

The Hunger Games: An oppressed minority, often people of color, is held down by a central government that celebrates and markets and provides wide exposure and a national arena for selected champions who get that huge media spotlight and rich rewards as they enter into battle; and are usually destroyed in that battle. Eventually the players rebel and lead a revolution against the power structure.

The National Football League: An oppressed minority, often people of color, is held down by a mega-corporation that celebrates and markets and provides wide exposure and a national arena for selected champions who get that huge media spotlight and rich rewards as they enter into battle; and are usually destroyed in that battle. Eventually the players…

Now consider what Colin Kaepernick—former Quarterback of the San Francisco Forty-Niners—initiated when he refused to stand for the national anthem at NFL games. He was protesting against social injustice, especially the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/sports/colin-kaepernick-nfl-protests.html

And note that among sports team owners, and based on campaign contributions, more NFL owners supported Trump’s campaign than in any other sport. That is, the NFL, based on ownership, is the most conservative and ‘patriotic’ of them all. Consider the nationalist spectacles that accompany the SuperBowl.

Kaepernick’s lead was followed by the twice ProBowl, once SuperBowl champion defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks, Michael Bennett. Three things about Michael Bennett:

1) He sits for the national anthem.

2) In a situation whose facts are yet to be fully verified, it would appear that he was singled out by Las Vegas police in a casino in the aftermath of a shooting incident. By singled out, I mean handcuffed by police while lying face down on the concrete in Las Vegas … and you can hear him screaming that he’s innocent…one officer take(s a) position on a balcony while another cop handcuffs Bennett on the street level. During the incident Bennett screams out, “I wasn’t doing nothing man! I was here with my friends! They told us to get out, everybody ran!” Bennett claims the officer had pulled a gun on him and threatened to “blow my f*cking head off” http://www.tmz.com/2017/09/06/michael-bennett-arrest-video/ Bennett has stated that he was simply a black man in the wrong place and at the wrong time. And he intends to sue the Las Vegas police.

3) With David Zirin of The Nation, Bennett is writing a book on the NFL, racism, sexism, intersectionality and athletes being no longer silenced, due to come out in April 2018 https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/07/24/michael-bennett-seattle-seahawks-new-book-racism-sexism
We’ll have to see how things unfold, but I should like to think that Bennett is a real-life Katniss Everdeen. African-American males comprise 6% of the US population, but 70% of the players in the NFL. What will it look like if these players rise up on behalf of the oppressed minority from whence they come?

Allow me to put a positive and (maybe not) improbable spin on this situation. Think of it as a little Jujitsu move. What if the NFL, players AND owners, went ‘on strike’ together and said that they would not play any games until problem x was solved. Let’s be modest and just say that the demand was that every police officer in America had to undergo de-escalation training, situation assessment, and non-lethal ways of disarming suspects; or that in the richest country in the history of the world, no person would go hungry; or [your idea here].

When you think about all of the resources that go into the NFL, all of the time and energy, all the enthusiasm of all the fans, and how freaking important it is to so many… If we could redirect all of that resource and energy into political will to solve a national problem…said problem would get solved in a New York minute.

This Hunger Game may be coming. Stay tuned…

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