DETROIT, MI - It would be easy to argue that the Detroit Lions’ front office reacted too slowly after they found out a fan of theirs used the n-word earlier this week on social media. It would be easy to criticize them for not saying more.
As in: We won’t tolerate racism. The fan is banned for life. Period.
Instead, we got … the fan no longer has his season tickets?
Credit the Lions for tracking down the fan and taking the tickets away. Beyond that, the organization came up short.
That’s also beside the point.
What’s striking here isn’t that a $1.65-billion corporation couched its response and refused to forcefully address — in words, anyway — a blatant act of racism. But that we are surprised these acts keep happening.
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And by “we,” I mean white folks. Because black folks aren’t surprised by this at all. It’s an ugly fact of life for them. What happened at Ford Field last Sunday is just another reminder.
To recap: the fan in question shot video of an African-American couple sitting during the national anthem, then posted the video to his Snapchat account with racially-fueled narration.
He didn’t care that he’d used dehumanizing language. He didn’t care about repercussions. He felt emboldened, even privileged, if you will. Which is the most unsettling aspect of all.
Though not to the folks who’ve had to endure the invective. You could hear the casual tone in the words of coach Jim Caldwell, who said on Thursday that “I think those things happen sometime.”
Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell discusses the incident involving a fan who posted a racist comment on Snapchat from Sunday's game on Sept. 14, 2017. By Carlos Monarrez, DFP.
He’s right. They do. Just not to white people.
Imagine having to brace yourself for a lifetime of this kind of vitriol, never knowing when and where it will come. You’d have to steel yourself to survive, and I think you can hear that in Caldwell’s voice.
In the last week alone, a colleague of mine has heard the n-word twice out in public, directed at him, for no other reason than existing. He shakes his head. Absorbs the blow. And moves on.
To think there isn’t a collective weight to this is naïve. To think that white folks experience anything similar is to simply not think.
For Caldwell, who is 62, this sort of invective is simply part of American life. Which is why, I suspect, he didn’t say more about the incident when given the chance on Thursday.
“We do have a fan behavior code of standards and I think without question that our organization followed up, found out who the individual was and, obviously, he no longer has season tickets in our stadium,” he said. “So I think it was handled appropriately.”
Technically, this is true. Clearly, he was watching his words.
I don’t blame him.
He’s a football coach, and football coaches are — generally — prone to watching what they say. It’s the ethos of the team, where bringing attention to yourself is often seen as disruptive. He’s also a black man in America and, well, like he said, these things happen sometimes.
Beyond that, he isn’t the one who should be forced to speak for the organization on matters like this. The front office is, and a forceful statement specifically denouncing the act could’ve sent a message.
Instead, we were told the fan no longer has his season tickets. We have no idea whether he is banned from Ford Field. Or if he can re-up his ticket package next year.
In one way, though, it doesn’t matter.
They have no way of keeping him out. Not if he wants to get in. The Lions don’t have that kind of power. No one does.
Not when it comes to racism. Not when it comes to ugliness.
It’s everywhere, and more public than it has been in a while.
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