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Wormsby: The NFL Then and Now

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Hollis Wormsby, Jr
By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.

I can remember a time back in the early sixties when there were hardly any black players in the National Football or the NBA at the time for that matter.  As a young black child, it was rare to see anyone that looked like me on tv at all, and the exceptions were pretty much the Ed Sullivan Show and Pro Football.  Jim Brown was one of the first great black football players as were players like a tight end with the last name of Mackie, who was like a bull in china shop, in the way he ran over and through opposing defensive backs.

Some may not remember but Jim Brown, widely regarded as the greatest running back of all time was actually dropped by the Cleveland Browns, even though he was at the time the league’s all time leading rusher, because he wanted to report to training camp a few days late so that he could complete the filming of “The Dirty Dozen,” a classic world war movie in which he played a featured role.  In those days of the NFL, the owners imposed dress standards, they specified how long the athletes could wear their hair, and for the most part if you did something despicable you forfeited your right to play in the League.  Using these tactics, the owners and the players built a league that would become by far and away the most lucrative sports franchise in the history of the world.  They literally created a Golden Goose who delivered like a charm in ever increasing amounts.

Fast forward to the last few years of the NFL since now former quarterback, Colin Kapernik decided to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem in protest of social injustice and racial inequality in America.  Fast a little further forward to the moment when President Trump decided to weigh in on the matter and have his base fired up on the misguided principles that standing up for social justice and against inequality is somehow un-American.  I find that somewhat ironic in coming from a country that was literally founded on revolution and who made the right of free expression the first right granted to its people in its own constitution.  So, let me say without question that I believe players have the right to protest.  Let me also say without question, I think it is a mistake to do so.

Those of you who are long term readers may remember a column I did about Andrew Young a few years ago.  Getting to do this interview was one of the great privileges of my life and also one of the most educational.  According to Dr. Young, who for the benefit of my younger readers I will identify as a Dr. Martin Luther King, Captain during the Civil Rights Movement who would go on to become the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, his role in the movement was not to make speeches or to organize marches.  His role was to go into communities before activities began and try to negotiate with the business community to get them to see the value of allowing enough change to prevent the need for marches to take place.

In Birmingham this meant that Dr. Young came and he met the head of the Coca Cola Company, he met the head of the mining companies and with white religious leaders.  With each of these groups he tried to show what the potential negative impact was going to be on them and their organization personally as a way to try and inspire them to take actions to help make the proposed marches unnecessary.

Media sources say that the NFL has offered to create an opportunity fund of several hundred million dollars as a way of showing the League is willing to invest in the causes that interest the players and the issues they protest on behalf of.  I think that players need to make the League follow through on this commitment as a condition for eliminating the pre-game anthem protests.  I think they need to create an organization to go out to work to generate matching funds in cities across the nation and then let part of the pre-game show be interviews of players proudly participating in activities initiated by this fund, as a show of partial victory from their efforts.  To continue the path the players are on now will only have the effect of ultimately killing or at least severely weakening the goose that lays the golden egg.  This will reduce League revenue which will reduce player salaries.  I think it’s time to stand up and declare victory.   Or least that’s the way I see it.

(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years.  He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM.  If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at hjwormsby@aol.com)