J. Pharoah Doss: Scrutinizing football’s violence often adds insult to injury

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Recently, professor Tracie Canada wrote an article in Scientific American called: Damar Hamlin’s Collapse Highlights the Violence Black Men Experience in Football: The “terrifyingly ordinary” nature of football’s violence disproportionately affects Black men.

Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy tweeted, “As a Black man and former NFL player, I can say this article is absolutely ridiculous.”

Last week, I wrote a piece showing how Canada used a poor method to make her claim, violence in the NFL does not disproportionately affect Black men, and Canada exploited Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the field to make a false equivalence between the NFL and slavery.

Last week, I attempted to explain why Dungy found the article ridiculous as a former NFL player. Now, I’ll attempt to explain why he found it ridiculous as a Black man.

The comparison between the NFL and slavery gained traction when Black players became the majority. The comparison points out a “power dynamic” between White owners and Black players. The argument goes: Black players are well compensated, but studies have shown the majority of NFL players go bankrupt a few years after retirement. Therefore, “Black athletic labor” only increases the wealth of White owners.

Those who compare the NFL to slavery know it’s an inaccurate comparison, but it’s a good way to accuse the NFL of racist exploitation and make demands for Black NFL owners.

Let’s go back to bankruptcy.

In 2015, studies revealed that 70 percent of NFL players, 60 percent of NBA players, and 5 percent of MLB players went bankrupt within five years of retirement. These figures have remained constant since they were first compiled.

Why wasn’t the NHL mentioned?

It’s not that zero hockey players go bankrupt after retirement; it’s because the majority of hockey players are White. And if White players go bankrupt, it’s their fault, but if Black players go bankrupt, it’s the fault of a racially exploitive system. In other words, White players have agency, and Black players don’t.

Also in 2015, the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, made more people outside of sports aware of CTE, and the slavery comparison was expanded to include racist exploitation of the “Black body.”

Then Dr. Bennet Omalu, the character Smith played, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that said children should be prevented from playing football and other high-impact contact sports before the age of 18. Even though Omalu included other contact sports, the only sport that was scrutinized was football.


In 2016, the Daily News reported that the HBO/Marist Poll found that 40 percent of adults and 44 percent of parents with a son under 18 were less likely to let him play football. The poll included differences in demographics: 43 percent of Whites and Latinos were less likely to allow their children to play football compared to 28 percent of African Americans.

After the poll was taken, it was suggested that a doctor should be required to inform parents of boys under 18 of the dangers of football before the child plays.

Imagine if the poll numbers were reversed and 43 percent of African American parents were less likely to allow their children to play football compared to 28 percent of Whites. No one would have suggested that doctors have to tell parents about the dangers of football because it would have been assumed that White parents knew about the risks but chose to let their kids play anyway.

To justify that assertion, in 2019, Valeo Physiotherapy, a clinic that provides concussion management, released a report about which sport has the highest concussion rates among youth athletes: Rugby was first, ice hockey was second, American football was third, and lacrosse was fourth.

But doctors only needed to inform parents about #3.

Recently, Sage Howard wrote an article called Why I’m not going to let my Black son play football. She wrote, “I get that people who play football do so voluntarily and happily. But it’s not lost on me that wealth is being built on the physical labor of Black athletes who are not properly compensated or protected, as professor Tracie Canada astutely points out … The NFL is just another traditional American business model that exploits then disregards Black bodies.”

As a Black man, it’s most likely Tony Dungy didn’t find all of this just ridiculous; he also found it insulting.

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