It's long, but so is the Super Bowl...
When the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers meet for Super Bowl 50 think about the fact that this is a very rare matchup of two teams from swing states.
How rare? It's actually never happened.
Think about that for a second. This is a huge occurrence. The owners, executives and players of both of these teams will have substantial clout through this election cycle and the upcoming NFL season. If Cam Newton comes out and endorses Hillary Clinton, almost nothing Killer Mike or Cornel West can say will get Bernie cool points with Black voters. If John Elway and Peyton Manning want to start a Super PAC and put $1 million in Marco Rubio's campaign, they may just be able to push Jeb Bush out of the race knowing he won't have the necessary support in one of the key swing states. If Manning retires, he'll have plenty time to campaign.
The closest you could look for a Super Bowl matchup of teams from presidential swing states would be Super Bowl 32 on January 25, 1998 when the Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers just one week after the Lewinsky scandal broke.
In 2000, Al Gore narrowly carried Wisconsin over George W. Bush with something like 5,000 more votes, but Wisconsin hasn't actually voted for a Republican president since 1984 - the first presidential election of my lifetime - when Ronald Reagan was re-elected winning 49 of 50 states (with the exception of Minnesota where Walter Mondale was from). So basically Wisconsin isn't really a swing state unless you think Gov. Scott Walker is going to get a VP nomination and flip the state this year.
Modern thinking about the Electoral College leads most political strategists to focus on key swing states like Ohio, Colorado and North Carolina, forgoing the 50-state strategy that former DNC Chairman Howard Dean actually proved fairly effective in the 2006 mid-term elections when Democrats won both the House and Senate, and in 2008 when Obama was able to win larger states like North Carolina and Virginia and the smaller Indiana.
It's probably because no one has ever carried all 50 states though Reagan did win the aforementioned re-election in 1984 with 49 and Richard Nixon won 49 states (losing Kennedy-stronghold Massachusetts). Reagan and Nixon's 49 states is the highest percentage of wins since George Washington and James Monroe ran pretty much unopposed in some of the earliest elections.
So the swing states is where everyone focuses their energy now.
In 1992, Bill Clinton won Colorado and lost North Carolina to incumbent George H.W. Bush, but won the presidency. [Third-party candidate Ross Perot garnered nearly 20% of the popular vote, which is the best available evidence that a run by Mike Bloomberg could be substantive, but that's another topic.]
In 1996, Clinton lost both Colorado and North Carolina, but still won the election over Bob Dole by nearly nine points.
In 2000, George W. Bush won Colorado and North Carolina.
In 2008, Barack Obama won Colorado and North Carolina.
In 2012, Mitt Romney took North Carolina, but Obama still won in the first presidential election since the misguided Supreme Court ruling referred to as Citizens United, which now allows unlimited campaign spending by corporations, lobbying groups and Super PACs backed by individuals like the Koch Brothers.
This is all a ton of information, but stay with me here.
When you’re watching Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, I want you to ask yourself a serious question.
No, I’m not going to worry myself with who you’re rooting for to win the big game. I’m not speaking on whether or not Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is unfairly labeled as egotistical because he’s a black athlete and celebrates his team's touchdowns by dabbing. I’m not even going to address the mounting evidence about the severity of concussions.
Instead, I want you to ask yourself this question: do you want a president who benefits from the NFL?
If you're up in arms about the speaker fees Hillary Clinton received from Goldman Sachs or other big banks and Wall Street firms, you may want to give this some meaningful consideration before voting.
You may not realize it off the top, but the NFL and companies like Goldman Sachs have a ton in common. Do you really want a president who takes campaign donations and speaker fees from the NFL and its owners, executives and players? Do you want a president who associates herself with this most physical, brutal team sport in America in which young, mostly black, men often end up as older men in deep financial ruin, customarily lacking meaningful college educations, frequently ending up incarcerated and with concussion-related complications and death?
There’s big money and obscene salaries and bonuses like Wall Street. Working and middle class people support this industry with their tax dollars going to these stadiums and their paychecks going to season tickets and merchandise. There’s an exclusive club consisting largely of wealthy white men with very few women and ethnic minorities in positions of leadership yet nearly every dollar generated requires black bodies – mostly those from underfunded schools (except the football programs) and poor homes (unless they're adopted like Panthers lineman Michael Oher who inspired the movie Blindside) – to throw themselves at one another to entertain us and make the men in this exclusive club millions.
The NFL is a system that disproportionately relies on misguided and short-sighted life decisions by those from lower socio-economic strata from which bullshit college courses they take to decisions to play through injuries for pro scouts and bonuses dwarfed by the paychecks of the men who “own” them. When's the last time you saw a televised airing of a young black kid taking the SATs or winning an academic award? I don't remember many folks being there when I was awarded two dozen academic scholarships, that's for sure.
A system that conditions its players to act like soldiers at war, fighting and leaping for extra yardage like it’s a battlefield, that fundamentally requires poor and black bodies and disproportionately sees those same men go from rags to riches and then back to rags and incarceration. A system that seldom receives meaningful judicial punishment, and when it does is little more than a slap on the wrist. An oligarchy where family pedigree, attendance at prestigious universities, and physical appearance significantly impacts one’s standing and promotion. An industry with outsized influence on the commercial and political makeup of this nation. A machine that is deeply intertwined into America’s political fabric, and often protected by various legislative and judicial authorities at the local and national level. A place where high ranking women and Blacks are few and far between.
Consider this: Hillary Clinton took big speaker fees from companies like Goldman Sachs, and many out there believe this disqualifies her as a true progressive capable of ushering in lasting change to the system and over-reliance on big banks and Wall Street in political dealings.
How does the NFL with its crown jewel, the Super Bowl, not represent much of the same thing?
Yes, there are dozens, maybe a few hundred, poor Black men who've been able to use the NFL as a stepping stone, but how is that any different than the financial services industry where someone like black billionaire Robert Smith can rise the ranks at Goldman Sachs then leads his own $14 billion private equity firm? Even many of the leading black men in the tech industry - people like Robert Reffkin at Compass, Tony Gauda with ThinAir and Tristan Walker with Bevel - have made the transition to technology after getting their starts in finance with finance and Wall Street companies like Goldman Sachs and Mastercard.
There will be millions of people watching Super Bowl 50. Millions of these viewers may be buying the message of folks like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump that candidates like Hilary Clinton who've taken massive speaker fees and campaign donations from big business like Wal-Mart and companies like Goldman Sachs are too close to the system and corrupted by it to lead real change.
I call bullshit.
If you want to have a beef with campaign donations, then don't blame the candidates who have to figure out a way to make the corrupted campaign finance system work for them in order to get elected and change it - the same way every American has to work hard to make the system work for them.
Goldman Sachs was one of Barack Obama's leading campaign contributors. I don't see much evidence that these funds have led to him ignoring matters of social justice, economic reform and change anymore than Obama being a fan of Jimmy McNulty's character on The Wire makes him less likely to press the Justice Department to look into the happenings in the Baltimore police killing of Freddie Gray.
The NFL's Super PAC Gridiron has made significant contributions to the campaigns of everyone from top Democrat Nancy Pelosi to the National Republican Senatorial and Congressional Committees. According to Melanie Sloan, executive director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), in 2012, the NFL spent $1.14 million on federal lobbying — a five-fold increase of what it spent a decade ago.
If you don't want your president corrupted by Goldman Sachs because of how that company may take advantage of the financial system and working and middle class families, you should also take your Congressman, Senator and other presidential candidates who've received money from Gridiron and other NFL-related funders to task, too.
In 2010, I co-authored a book called Real Role Models: Successful African Americans Beyond Pop Culture. It was published by The University of Texas Press, and I took the book with me on a tour through the South from Houston to Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Panthers play, speaking in Teach for America classrooms in schools that were typically serving mostly Black kids from poor families and on free-and-reduced lunch programs.
When I think about the kind of President I want, I don't concern myself with Goldman Sachs because I know it's not Goldman Sachs preventing many of those students from putting full effort to their academic pursuits and scholastic abilities, but the NFL. It's that large, looming possibility that a boy can become the next Cam Newton that hinders his ability to focus on his studies. I've seen this not only in the 100-plus classrooms I've spoken in over the years, as recently as Blackshear Elementary in East Austin just last week, to my own family where my oldest brother was hindered by an over-emphasis on athletic participation and performance.
My co-author, Dr. Louis Harrison is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin and he has focused his research on the influences of race related self-schemata and African American racial identity on physical activity choices and performance. The purpose of this line of research is to investigate the factors that influence sport and physical activity participation, and identity developmental patterns of African Americans. Through his research he hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the racial labels ascribed to particular sports and physical activities, and how these labels affect participation, persistence, effort expended, and performance. Additionally, he wishes to investigate ways physical educators and coaches can precipitate changes in the development of self-schemata for sport and physical activities in an effort to erase these racial labels, and broaden the perceived physical activity choices of all students.
If you want to blame Goldman Sachs and companies in the financial services industry for preventing poor and Black people especially from being able to make the corrupted system work on their behalf, I challenge you to look to the NFL and ask yourself what they're doing for young Black boys who have more access to football pads and cleats than coding classes and internships.
As for me, I'm going to be voting for Hillary Clinton because I think she'll appoint the kind of Supreme Court justices to fix the campaign finance system at the root rather than trying to attack its tentacles like Goldman Sachs, the Koch Brothers and, yes, the NFL.
When America unites in front of a TV tomorrow for Super Bowl 50, please keep in mind it's Citizens United - and the future Supreme Court justices - we need to be focused on. Not speaker fees that every president and male politician has collected for years.