Super Bowl 54 Will Showcase The NFL’s Biggest Issue: Race

There is nothing more American than the Super Bowl.

It defies gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, and political affiliations. You can love football, or be disgusted by everything that’s associated with the game, but on Super Bowl Sunday you will more than likely be at a party enjoying the food, drinks, fellowship, halftime entertainment, or the commercials.

It’s just what we do in this country. Which is why it’s so poetic, and coincidental, that the one event that brings America together will highlight our nation’s, and the NFL’s, greatest problem: race.

From Colin Kaepernick to the lack of diversity amongst coaches, to the league’s recent deal with Jay Z, to who is performing, and who will be playing on the field — Sunday, February 2, will be a 4-hour commercial disguised as a vanity mirror, pointing out all of the league’s, and America’s, blemishes.

Just last year, the league was in a very similar situation as four black coaches lost their jobs on Black Monday, as five lost their jobs in total. This year’s version of Black Monday had no choice but to be White, given that there were hardly any black coaches left. Currently, there are only four minority coaches in the league, as Ron Rivera (Washington) was the lone coach of color that was hired this offseason.

The lack of black coaches is beyond pathetic at this point, and what White NFL owners refuse to understand, is just how big of a role a black coach can have in a player’s lives.

“There is power in numbers and the more (black coaches) we have, the more we can change a lot of narratives about black people and black culture,” said New England Patriots defensive lineman Keionta Davis to me during last year’s Super Bowl Week.

If you’ve watched TV, listened to sports talk radio, or read anything related to the NFL over the last few weeks, you’ve probably realized that this conversation isn’t going away. There’s something to be said about a league that’s almost all Black, but has so few Black coaches, only one Black general manager, and has never had a Black majority owner.

Super Bowl LIV will be a stark reminder that only once in the history of the game have both teams been led by two Black men, and that happened in 2007 when the Indianapolis Colts (Tony Dungy) and Chicago Bears (Lovie Smith) met in Super Bowl XLI. This year’s game will feature two men of color that are coordinators in Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Bieniemy (offensive) and San Francisco 49ers’ Robert Saleh (defensive).

“We don’t look at the success or failure of the Rooney Rule over one-year increments,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during last year’s Super Bowl Press Conference, when asked if he was concerned about the lack of Black coaches in the league.

It was a very telling answer to a very serious question that still plagues the league. But during that same press conference, Goodell also spoke on the one player whose shadows still hovers over the league, even though he hasn’t been a part of it since 2016.

“I think if a team decides that if Colin Kaepernick or any other player can help that team win, that’s what they’ll do.”

Just last month, Goodell stated that the league had moved on from Kaepernick. And during last Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, it was proven. Because no matter how you may feel about the fallout from Kaepernick’s failed November workout with the league, acting like he doesn’t exist won’t erase him from people’s memories.

San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards in that game, breaking Kaepernick’s 49ers postseason rushing record. But, you wouldn’t have known that given how FOX’s play-by-play tandem of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman didn’t mention Kaepernick’s name once during the broadcast.

Anytime a player performs like Mostert did, the name of the person who set the mark that was broken is always mentioned and discussed. Except when you started a conversation that forever changed the intersection of sports, race, and politics in this country, all because you just wanted police to stop killing unarmed black people.

But, as much of a lightning rod Kaepernick continues to be, he is still one of the few Black quarterbacks that have started in the Super Bowl. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes II will become the seventh, as Black quarterbacks have only made eight appearances in the game. Seattle’s Russell Wilson has played in two of them.

And for those that aren’t into sports and only watch the Super Bowl for the performances and commercials, those also underline the league’s ordeals with race.

Demi Lovato will be singing the National Anthem, while Jennifer Lopez and Shakira will be performing at halftime. Black artists have been excluded from this year’s performances just months after Jay Z’s Roc Nation group signed a deal with the NFL that would “advise on selecting artists for major NFL performances like the Super Bowl.”

And it’s been reported that President Trump’s reelection campaign dropped $10 million on 60 seconds of Super Bowl ad time that will run early in the game when viewership is at its peak.

America’s most racist President has decided to use this country’s biggest sporting and cultural event to advertise his prejudicial and misogynistic philosophies while our nation’s most beloved game is being played.

But when you think about it, it actually makes sense given what America and the NFL have become in 2020.

Enjoy the game, if you can.

Carron J. Phillips, Senior Columnist with The Shadow League, hails from Saginaw, Michigan. In 2016, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. Phillips graduated with honors from Morehouse College in 2006 and received his Masters in 2011 from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.