Column: Tomlinson hammers away at slave comparisons that should stop

By Mac Engel - Fort Worth Star-Telegram

OXNARD, Calif. — To all of my respected and well-meaning African American sports journalists, and journalists, who compare the NFL, and pro sports, as slavery please stop.

There is but one comparison to slavery — slavery. Just because I am a white dude does not mean I am not allowed to voice what should be an obvious thought on this sensitive subject.

During running back LaDainian Tomlinson’s impassioned Pro Football Hall of Fame acceptance speech on Saturday night in Canton, Ohio he mentioned his family’s direct lineage to a slave who was brought to this country and lived in central Texas. LT will never know his last name because his great, great, great grandfather was forced to take the name of his owner.

There are slaves. There are employees. There is a difference.

One Dallas Cowboys player I spoke to about this asked that I not quote him, but he went on for several minutes. He said he could make a documentary about this subject. He understood my point, but he disagreed. In his words, there is “Modern day slavery.”

He made some salient points, but this is simply a case where the analogy is too heavy. Because slavery is the degradation of a people, and a society.

We have become overly-sensitive and reactionary because we can’t wait to tell people how our feelings are hurt, but there are comparisons that need to cease. It draws an image that is incorrect to anything other than the following acts:

1. Genocide. Nothing else is like the mass murder of a people.

2. Rape. Nothing else is like the forced violation of a person.

3. Slavery. Nothing else is like the degrading and dehumanizing act of “owning” a human being.

In light of the pathetic treatment NFL owners have collectively demonstrated towards former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who still can’t find a job, the subject of unfair treatment of black players persists. For good reason. His is a case of censorship, and it’s a bad look.

It’s repressive. It’s a double standard. It’s also just not slavery.

In recent years it’s not uncommon for African-American sports journalists to make comparisons between slavery, because they are visually obvious. Award-winning New York Times sports writer William Rhoden authored a book on the premise, “$40 Million Slaves.”

It starts with the white men measuring black players’ speed. Or his height. Then how much he can lift. It’s the similar image, of a black man being put on display for potential white slave owners centuries ago to purchase the “right one” to help on the plantation.

The comparison evolves to the white man “owning” the black players, and telling them what to do. The plantation owner.

Visually, it’s not entirely inaccurate. It’s stimulating, captivating and jarring. Something we journalists aspire to create and craft.

It’s also an incomplete picture.

The white player goes through the same measurements and evaluation. So too does the Hispanic. Or the Asian. It can be degrading, but it’s equal.

Then those players cash a check. Then they go to their own home. They sleep in their own beds. They exercise free will.

That sounds like a job. A job most people have where in return for their time and efforts they receive compensation, in the form of money, health insurance, etc.

Proponents of drawing a parallel between slavery and players in the NFL insist it’s not literal. That it’s just an analogy. Pretty sure Jewish people with ancestors who were murdered in Dachau or Auschwitz would cringe if they ever read a comparison between anything and the Holocaust.

Making the comparison is just not worth it.

As evidenced by the treatment of Kaepernick, inequalities exist within these parameters and sometimes race is at the core of the issue. If Kap took a knee over the mistreatment of stray dogs he would be the starting quarterback of the Miami Dolphins today rather than Jay Cutler.

That’s why the Cowboys player I talked to wanted no part of our chat on the record. He (wisely) doesn’t want to threaten his job status.

If the player wants to be done with his job, at any point, he is free to quit. He is free to leave to leave his team. He is free to leave the plantation.

LT’s ancestors had no such choices.

Because they were real slaves. And there is no comparison to that atrocity, so please stop doing it.


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By Mac Engel

Fort Worth Star-Telegram