Team sports and competition play a significant role in American society. It is entertainment, and it is a physical and mental commitment, and it is about team, and it is nationalistic and it is a source of education and it is a distraction from reality all at once. Within our attention and dedication to the sports industrial complex lies connective points between sports and life, where reflections of the former speak directly to prevailing matters in the latter. This is why sports documentaries like ESPN’s “30 for 30” are so riveting and bold, because quite often there are incidents in the sports world that are both shaped by society, and reflect the issues in society simultaneously, all while the game of it all is playing out in stadiums and on televisions for millions of spectators to enjoy.
Take Super Bowl LV for example.
The Super Bowl is simply the biggest sports event in America. The fact that we use Roman Numerals to count out the Super Bowls speaks to the heights and significance of this competition; this thing harkens back to gladiators and the Roman Colosseum. It also speaks to what is really being celebrated here. America is the biggest global empire since the Roman Empire, and the Super Bowl reflects that dominance in the same way that the Colosseum reflected Roman might.
This past Sunday, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs by the score of 31-9 to win Super Bowl LV. The new face of the Bucs is the old face of the New England Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady. He is an All-American guy, which is code for a rich white man that has been victorious in competition. He has a smile that GQ adorns on their covers, he has more championship rings than anyone else in the NFL, and he’s a friend and supporter of Donald Trump. He’s even been interviewed postgame while his MAGA hat could be seen prominently hanging in his locker. Yeah, he’s actually worn his MAGA hat to work.
In spite of my disdain for Brady, a contempt born from his former alliance with the Patriots and cemented by his current alliance with a domestic terrorist edict, I celebrated the Buccaneers victory this past Sunday. Tampa Bay’s victory represents the first time ever that an NFL team has won a Super Bowl game with an all-Black coordinator staff. The assistant head coach is Harold Goodwin, the offensive coordinator is Byron Leftwich, the defensive coordinator is Todd Bowles, and the special teams coordinator is Keith Armstrong. And they are all Black. In fact, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a coaching staff of 28, and 12 of them are Black men. They also have two women coaches on the staff. This is simply unheard of in a league that is constantly whitewashing their coaching and executive trees, and using policies like The Rooney Rule as an excuse to say they are interviewing Black candidates, even as the numbers prove out that those interviews are almost always just for show.
Head Coach Bruce Arians designed this staff himself. Arians, who is white, is a longtime coordinator that spent years and years being looked over for a head coaching position. In an interview with ESPN, he explained, “I think probably because I didn’t get a shot until I was 60 and Chuck Pagano (former Colts head coach) had to get sick with leukemia for me to even become a head coach, when I was a Super Bowl winning coordinator that didn’t even get a phone call. So, the lack of opportunities I think made me want to give more opportunities to others.”
I read a quote once that said, “to be white in America is to not have to think about it.” It was poignant in its simplicity, because to be Black in America is to always have to think about it. Arians decided to give opportunities to those that deserve them. His experience of being constantly overlooked gave him insight on the neglect of the system, the truth that it’s almost never about how skilled you are, and it’s almost always about class, connection and race. He thought about it.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are Super Bowl champions, anchored by a coaching staff that truly represents the contribution of Black leadership, a coach who is an ally in breaking down systemic barriers, and a MAGA quarterback. Once again, sports stories are reflecting the climate of society.
Marlon Rice is a Brooklyn-based educator, writer and activist