Four lessons the NFL could learn from ABC

Terrance Woodbury | 6/14/2018, 11:42 a.m.
After Roseanne Barr’s obscenely offensive comments about former Obama senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, ABC took immediate and decisive action to ...
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After Roseanne Barr’s obscenely offensive comments about former Obama senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, ABC took immediate and decisive action to demonstrate that her words describing an accomplished Black woman as an ape did not reflect the network’s values. The network’s cancellation of its highest rated show—a move that prioritized integrity and a commitment to decency over money, ratings and even political expediency—surprised many. The NFL, as it faces continual media and public scrutiny, could stand to take a knee and learn a lesson from ABC. To be fair, ABC faced well-deserved scrutiny regarding its decision to reboot “Roseanne” in the first place, given Barr’s previous divisive and racist comments. The cancellation, nonetheless, has been generally well-received by the public, or at least Black Twitter, as a bold and affirming commitment to the diverse audience that ABC serves. ABC and the NFL—both massive media corporations—are at two ends of a spectrum with the handling of racism in the Trump era. Under pressure from President Trump and donors, the NFL recently decided to censor its players’ peaceful protest by forcing them to stand for the national anthem or to invisibly protest in the locker room. The new policy, set to go into effect in the upcoming NFL season, poses a serious question: How will this decision affect players who feel silenced and fans who feel ignored by the league’s aggressive stance against such a pervasive social justice issue? A poll that I conducted earlier this year on behalf of BlackPAC, an organization committed to increasing political participation of Black voters, showed that in the previous NFL season, 21 percent of Black consumers watched less football and 14 percent stopped watching football all together because of the treatment of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest. This downtick in viewership should’ve served as a warning to the NFL. Instead, the league decided to censor the peaceful protest of every single player. Many spectators, myself included, are waiting with bated breath to see how this decision will affect NFL ratings in the upcoming football season. But while we wait, there are a few lessons the NFL should have learned from ABC’s decisive response to bias and racism.  

Do not mistake the aggressive banter of a few loud racists as an erosion of American ideals and values.

ABC understood the Barr fiasco for what it was: an opportunity to declare that the normalization of hateful and divisive language does not reflect the values of this nation, no matter who they come from or how loudly they are tweeted.

The NFL had an opportunity to make a similar declaration about American values. Despite the feeble attempt of some to co-opt a movement about justice and dignity into a debate about white nationalism thinly veiled as patriotism, we still hold some truths to be self-evident. That freedom of both speech and protest are inextricably woven into the fabric of our nation. In the coming season, athletes who choose to accept punishment over censorship, as many undoubtedly shall, will be remembered on the right side of history and justice, just as Muhammad Ali has been honored for protesting the Vietnam draft.