So last week, the New England Patriots mounted one of the most impressive comebacks in American sports history to win Super Bowl 51. For anyone in Massachusetts, this was understandably a cause for celebration, but I joined in the lament of every other 1-day Atlanta Falcons fan, because I genuinely loathe the Patriots more than any other sports organization on the face of the earth. Given that I’m a die hard Seahawks fan, one might quickly rush to the conclusion that I’m salty about our loss to them 2 years ago in Super Bowl 49. I must make a little room for that criticism, because I’m a firm believer that human motives are too complex for one to ever fully understand why he or she does something &/or feels a certain way. However I must relegate any potential Seahawk-loving bitterness to a low rank in the order of reasons, because: a) Pats won that Super Bowl fair & square, so hats off to them for that W, & b) my distain for the franchise predates that fateful pass from the 1 yard line. The reason I cringe at the very sight of a Patriots jersey is one that I’ve wrestled with for a while, not sure if it was rooted in any verifiable set of reasons, or just my own petty predispositions. Certain that most would find it laughable, I kept it to myself for at least the last 4 football seasons. But last week, in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, I began seeing posts that echoed my sentiments regarding the Patriots, assuring me that I was not alone in my view of this team. And at last, on Super Bowl Sunday, I stumbled across the following, which provided any remaining validation I needed & helped me concretely identify my aversion to the current Super Bowl champions:
They’re too white! I can’t stand the Patriots because they’re too white. Uncomfortably white. Like Paul Ryan in a kilt, “summering” in the Hamptons white. So white that white supremacists cheer for them, based solely on their whiteness. I’m not sure that Ricky has his stats in perfect order when he claims that New England is consistently the NFL’s whitest team, but he is indeed correct that they are perceived as such. Almost every single name &/or face (except LeGarrette Blount ) recognizable to those who are not either Pats fans or extreme NFL enthusiasts are not only white, but are white American caricatures we all know. There’s: Tom Brady, the coach’s son on your little league team, who’s named something like Lance or Clance or Gerick or Brady or Tom Brady, & goes to all the expensive baseball camps with MLB players, & brings an equipment bag to practice & games that contains numerous different bats, catcher’s gear, & a first baseman’s mitt, even though the only position he plays is 3rd base; Gronk, your best friend’s frat boy little brother who’s such a teddy bear, that you can’t stay mad at him for too long when he does one too many keg stands & rear-ends you in his lifted Jeep Cherokee while you’re waiting at a stop light; Edelman, the ASB president of your high school who you bump into a couple years after graduation only to discover that he’s decided to try his hand at being “cool” by attempting to fabricate a bad boy meets hipster persona that cannot possibly work because those two flavors of human are mutually exclusive; Danny Amendola, the quintessential nice-guy-who-finishes-last-until-the-girl-he-likes-gets-to-know-what-a-great-guy-he-is-plus-he-gets-a-makeover-and-learns-some-very-basic-choreography-that-he-busts-out-at-a-party-or-dance-or-something-so-the-girl-sees-that-he’s-the-full-package-she’s-been-looking-for-all-along character in any early 2000’s rom-com; & Belichick, the dad from Wonder Years, who invariably smells like a blend of motor oil & caramels & reminds us all of the 1950/60’s no-nonesense midwest small town hardware store owner archetype that few of us have ever met, but for whom we all possess a mysterious pre-established respect & admiration, that we can’t understand, let alone justify. It isn’t clear whether or not the Patriots intentionally present themselves as such an overwhelmingly white cast of characters, but the whiteness of their image makes them an easy favorite for white supremacists (even the passive, unwitting ones) everywhere. Being liked simply for their whiteness, as it were, makes them an actual mascot of white privilege. This alone is worthy of leaving a sour taste in one’s mouth, but let’s explore the Pats’ white privilege in contrast with the nation’s feelings regarding teams that are perceived as largely Black.
Do we all remember the hatred leveled at the NFL’s blackest teams (again by public perception, not necessarily by roster numbers) over the past few seasons? In the ’15/’16 season this was clearly The Carolina Panthers led by Cam Newton. America’s reaction to Cam’s dabbing stands in stark contrast to its reaction to the equally spirited celebration of his white NFL colleagues. Similarly, his post Super Bowl loss conduct was more sportsmanlike than that of Peyton Manning, but only one of the two quarterbacks spent any significant time under the microscope for supposed lack of “class”.
In the ’13/’14 & ’14/’15 seasons the Seattle Seahawks were arguably the most widely hated team in the league. Sure, excellence often breeds hatred, but the Seahawks held a special place as the object of the nation’s distain for those two years, for a reason that sports columnists either could not grasp or dared not touch: they were too Black for dominant culture America to palate. At the time, this franchise was the bizarro Patriots, in that almost every single name &/or face (except for Pete Carroll) recognizable to those who are not either Seahawks fans or extreme NFL enthusiasts was (& still is) Black. Richard Sherman & Marshawn Lynch, probably the two most well-known personalities on the team, made for a sort of yin & yang thorn in the side of white supremacy. First off, both men wear their hair in locs, which is extremely disruptive to America’s long-standing assumption that white preferences of physical appearance are normative. Secondly, together they embody a one-two punch of Black American disregard for white supremacy’s prescriptions for Black behavior: a Black person who does more than white America is comfortable with, & a Black person who does less than white America demands of him, respectively. The double standard these two face is a classic ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario with which much of Black America is painfully familiar.
In Lynch’s case, our society demands that he, not only do the job for which he’s signed a contract, but also happily dance to white America’s organ whenever it decides to grind a tune. America still often views Black human beings as chattel to be used for the white man’s profit & pleasure, so when the most sensational running back in professional (American) football decided that he would protect his privacy & control his own labor by doing only what he’s paid to do (make opposing defenses look like 3rd string Canadian high school football players & comply with the NFL’s minimum media requirements) & no more, he was looked upon as belligerent & unintelligent. But him choosing to avoid the spotlight makes him neither; what it makes him is aware that he is free to disregard majority-America’s expectations of him. Beastmode’s use of minimal compliance practices is well within his rights as both a human being & an employee of the NFL. Moreover, being a celebrity, doesn’t mean he owes the public any special window into his life, & if the NFL wanted more out of him, their requirements needed to be explicitly outlined in his contract; as such, people’s condescending views of Lynch’s life decisions have clear white supremacist underpinnings.
Conversely, America’s main gripe with Richard Sherman is that he’s “too” verbose. There are few things “traditional” America hates more than a Black person who dominates his or her respective field(s) & knows it full well. If Sherman were to talk the talk without walking the walk, critics would enjoy the luxury of dismissing him as “full of himself”, rather than ‘full of more talent & understanding of the game than anyone else at his position’. But this is nothing new: white America couldn’t stand Muhammad Ali’s tactics for getting in an opponent’s head, but praises Babe Ruth’s “called shot” as showmanship par excellence. So it should be no surprise that when Gronk tells you how good he is, it’s a healthy part of a competitive American sport, but when Sherm does the same, he’s a scary Black thug on a “rant“. It doesn’t matter that Sherman is a brilliant scholar who stays out of trouble & Gronk is a documented binge drinker known for lewdness, their respective skin colors determine who is the villain & who is the hero. The villainization of black skin & heroization of white skin are traditions that have always been standard fare for white supremacist ideology.
This specific facet of American style racism is largely rooted in the US’s deeply engrained sense of triumphalism. Our nation has always glorified self-made people, underdogs rising to victory, & rags to riches stories. This is somewhat understandable, as the colonies were “the little guy” when they rose up to win their freedom from England, so that same self-impression has been woven into American worldview ever since. The resulting impact on the American psyche is reflected in the dominant culture’s identification with the iconic lone hero figure, acting alone to beat insurmountable odds, regularly portrayed as a white American male. One need not look far for examples of the outworkings of this underdog complex: In the movie series “Rocky”, the saga begins with a white American male relying on nothing more than his own wits & determination to barely scrape by (note that he is a “nobody” who has never had anything handed to him). Not far into the storyline, the viewer is introduced to Apollo Creed who is the wealthy, dominating, black champion (note that he is already both wealthy & champion, & that his ascension to wealth & fame are never depicted. They are both preexisting components of his life, making him an established fixture among the nation’s powerful & prosperous). Not only is he successful, but depicted as cocky & quite loquacious regarding his position as champion, jeering the white American hero & his humble beginnings. The scene set, the viewer is invited to root for the white underdog protagonist as he earns his own way to victory, eventually attaining the title that is, somehow, rightfully due him, by dethroning the symbol of Black American dominance that has been stacking the cards against him through out the entire narrative. Thus we see white America portraying itself as disempowered & needing to rise up & set things right, encouraging white America to feel mirrored by Rocky’s plight (at this point an in-depth exploration of how Trump rose to the presidency would be apropos, but this post is already turning out lengthier than intended).
So this is what Ricardo “Knuckle Face” Spencer, president number 45, & countless other white Americans see when they look at the New England Patriots: a white savior heroically preserving white America’s rightful place of greatness, at the top rung of the nation’s social ladder. This is why I cannot cheer for them — in any way, shape, or form. Ever.
Disclaimer: racism is not the one & only reason someone who’s not from New England would cheer for the Patriots. There are numerous reasons why people like the team, but white supremacy is a common one. Also, we may start to see their perceived whiteness diminish a tad in light of the mounting number of players not going to the White House event this year, though it’s more likely that the now 6 players abstaining will simply be singled out & labeled as ungrateful, unAmerican, misfit, punks who are a select few rotten apples on the team.