ESPN the Magazine: ‘Staged Patriotism and Cops Singing the National Anthem’ Stifling Black Athletes


The police cuffed Howard Bryant for allegedly assaulting his wife. Howard Bryant charged the police with racism. Police dropped their charges and Bryant dropped his.

But five years later the ESPN writer clearly hasn’t dropped it.

Bryant posits in the June 6 issue of ESPN the Magazine that “cops singing the national anthem” at sporting events stifles the expression of black athletes.

“Nobody seems to care much about this authoritarian shift at the ballpark, yet the media and the public are quick to demand accountability from players they consider insufficiently activist,” Bryant writes. “They blame these black players for not speaking up on behalf of their communities, ignoring the smothering effect that staged patriotism and cops singing the national anthem in a time of Ferguson have on player expression.”

Surely the police from the mean streets of Shelburne Falls (pop. 1,731) and Buckland (pop. 1,902) stifled the expression of a black sports journalist, at least until he could straighten out the misunderstanding with the cops over why five witnesses at a Western Massachusetts pizza joint imagined seeing him assault his wife.

Do they use LSD as a topping at pizza parlors in the Berkshires?

Speaking of hippie hallucinogens, Bryant should have dined at Alice’s Restaurant (you can apparently get anything you want there) instead of Buckland Pizza. The irrational cops who took the word of five eyewitnesses over one NPR contributor make another law-enforcement menace in the Berkshires, Officer Obie, look as terrifying as Barney Fife in comparison. Trooper Brian Doak merely heard five people say they saw Bryant strike his wife before slapping bracelets on Bryant. Officer Obie possessed a whole envelope, found at the bottom of a half-ton pile of garbage, with Arlo Guthrie’s name on it to justify arresting him for littering.

“Kid, I’m gonna put you in a cell. I want your wallet and your belt.”
I said, “Obie, I can understand your wantin’ my wallet, so I don’t have any money to spend in the cell, but what do you want my belt for?”
And he said, “Kid, we don’t want any hangin’s.”
I said, “Obie, did you think I was gonna hang myself for litterin’?”

Howard Bryant views Officer Obie, Trooper Doak, and their brethren in blue in a more negative light than Arlo Guthrie did. At least that’s what his ESPN the Magazine article about a post-9/11 push for patriotism at sporting events suggests. He believes the police presence nudges African-American athletes to become less of a presence in contentious public debates.

LeBron James and his teammates when he played for the Miami Heat posed in hoodies in tribute to slain teen Trayvon Martin and Kobe Bryant donned an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt with most of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates to honor slain loosie-cigarette salesman Eric Garner. But the on-court and on-field activism remains too tepid for Bryant, who blames sports franchises for conspicuously highlighting law enforcement and the military at their events.

“Policing is clearly one of the most divisive issues in the country – except in the sports arena, where the post-9/11 hero narrative has been so deeply embedded within its game-day fabric that policing is seen as clean, heroic, uncomplicated,” Bryant writes. “Following the marketing strategy of the military, police advocacy organizations have partnered with teams from all four major leagues to host ‘Law Enforcement Appreciation’ nights, or similar events.”

Policing, like the arrests police make, certainly divides. Cops and perps rarely see the events that bring them together through a lens that brings them together. Five years ago, at Buckland Pizza “several witnesses observed a black male striking and physically assaulting a white female,” according to a police report. But two days later, Bryant attorney Buz Eisenberg told Greenfield District Court, “This case is about the fact that racism still exists in America, and Howard Bryant is a victim of it.”

Howard Bryant probably doesn’t belong with the mother-rapers, father-stabbers, and father-rapers known to inhabit Western Massachusetts jails. He doesn’t belong writing for ESPN the Magazine, either.


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