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Pots & pans: Kwanzaa principles of unity and purpose could help fix football

January and February holidays should inspire black Americans

When I was a child, I met Dec. 26 with sorrow. Christmas had wrenched free of my eager embrace. And more than 360 days and nights stood between me and the enchantment of a new Christmas Eve and the bliss of a new Christmas morning.

Now, I look at Dec. 26 as no more than an unofficial midpoint in the nation’s fall and winter holidays, religious and secular, which end with February’s Mardi Gras.

Today, the first day of Kwanzaa, also begins what I think of as a period of African-American reflection, renewal and action. Its period continues in January with the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and the call to service that often marks that holiday, and it ends at the close of February, Black History Month. This year, my observance of Black History Month will be enhanced by a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. For me, this will be an occasion akin to visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in my native Philadelphia around Independence Day.

Like Independence Hall, the new African-American museum stands as a repository of the American credo and spirit. Further, it champions the continuing struggle black America wages to help our nation live up to its poetry and promise for all its people, not just a select few.

That struggle could not have been made without black America’s dedication to Unity (Umoja) and Purpose (Nia), the fifth of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African-American heritage and ancestors. The other five principles: collective work and responsibility (Ujima), faith (Imani), creativity (Kuumba), cooperative economics (Ujamaa) and self-determination (Kujichagulia).

And it’s in the name of unity and purpose that I call for an immediate end to black athletes and former athletes attacking one another; there is too much at stake to continue to indulge in intrafamily squabbling.

For example, while black NFL players denounce one another, black high school and college football players play more and more games, at higher and higher stakes, without getting cut in on the revenue their games produce.

Further, since 1960, NFL players have gone from playing 12 regular-season games to playing 16, a percentage increase not approached by the NHL, NBA, and Major League baseball. If Major League Baseball had undergone a similar increase in regular-season games during the same time period, today’s players would now be playing more than 200 games, instead of 162.

Further, NFL players stand alone among athletes playing the nation’s top four major league pro sports: Their contracts are not fully guaranteed. And NFL games are potentially the most hazardous to its players’ long-term health and well-being; coaches, sports writers and TV highlight shows laud and encourage a brutality and viciousness that shorten the players’ careers. Black NFL players continue to have their playing styles attacked and penalized for being “unsportsmanlike” and “unprofessional,” on the field and off. And, as is the case with young black men in the larger society, black NFL players are defined by the worse behavior of their troublemakers. Consequently, when the pro football miscreants are African-American, even the sports pundits, who should know better, tend to talk about the NFL’s conduct policies mainly in terms of appropriate punishments, instead of prevention and rehabilitation.

Which is to say, given the challenges that today’s black NFL players and their would-be successors face, they can’t waste time playing the dozens with each other on Twitter or in postgame interviews.

Their energies need to be directed toward ensuring aspiring players receive quality educations, making football games and their players safer at all levels, extending the careers of those who play in the NFL and making sure that those who play NFL football can, upon retirement, live financially secure lives and then pass on that security to their children and grandchildren.

But can the black NFL players summon the unity and purpose to set aside petty differences, create alliances among themselves and, with their nonblack teammates, improve the game they play? Can they negotiate with team owners to make the needed changes to the NFL? At long last, can they exemplify the collective work and responsibility (Ujima) required to improve the game so many play so well?

Or will too many black NFL players be content to preen and pout, babble and signify, as if the jokes they seek to tell at one another’s expense won’t turn out to be on them?

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.