Even snorting Dolphins coach scandal is stuck in national anthem protest debate

Eric Adelson
Columnist

This was an actual headline on the Miami Herald’s website Monday: “Just who is this model whose snorting video brought down a married Dolphins coach?”

“Ballers” better step up its game.

For those late to the story, a Las Vegas model named Kijuana Nige released a video of Miami Dolphins assistant coach Chris Foerster snorting a white powder through a $20 bill. He talked dirty to the camera as he did lines and said he had to go to a meeting. It’s not difficult to leap to some disturbing possibilities: Foerster had an illegal substance in the Dolphins’ team facility, and he was high in at least one team function. Either fellow Miami coaches didn’t recognize it or they knew about it, and either is an unpleasant thought.

Foerster resigned on Monday, “and accept full responsibility for my actions,” he said in a statement. “I want to apologize to the organization and my sole focus is on getting the help that I need with the support of my family and medical professionals.”

Chris Foerster, pictured in 2016, resigned Monday from his job as offensive line coach less than 24 hours after video surfaced of him snorting a white substance. (AP)

Throughout Monday morning, the yuk-yuks filled social media and sports radio – Talk about a “line” coach! Bet he’s good at teaching crackback blocks! – but there is something serious underlying the scandal, and it’s a warning all teams should recognize.

The Dolphins reportedly added a rule requiring players to stand during the national anthem, and Nige apparently released the video as a response to the backlash against pregame protests. She wrote on social media:

“The white people mad at me like I forced blow down this mans nose and like I recorded it on tha low [sic]. No those are his habits and he recorded himself and sent it to me professing his love. So quick to make excuses for him but will roast a minority player over an anthem, dog fights, weed, domestic issues etc. But y’all keep saying ALL LIVES MATTER STFU‼”

Later on, she added what seemed like a threat: “They better leave ppl like Colin Kaepernick alone before I pick off more of ’em you know this sh*t easy 4 me.”

This may be one person blowing hot air, but it goes to the deep anger among many people at how the NFL is sidestepping the real concerns of people in its community. Politicians and the media have focused on the resentment caused by the police brutality protests, pointing to the kneeling by Kaepernick and other athletes as an affront to the military. We know all about the offense taken by jersey-burning fans as well as power-wielders like Vice President Mike Pence, who spent nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money to fly to Indianapolis and stage his own anthem protest on Sunday. He had the full backing of President Donald Trump, who suggested last month that “sons of bitches” who protest during the anthem should be removed from the field. Trump has the ear of important NFL figures like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who proclaimed Sunday, “If we are disrespecting the flag then we won’t play. Period.”

The bottom line from the protest opponents: don’t disrespect the anthem. But the message to glean for black people in the NFL is this: We don’t really care about your problems.

Oh sure, there have been unity displays lately, but Jones’ words and the Dolphins’ decree show the real goal is to make the problem go away. Create the appearance of solidarity, then turn your back. Think about the pains taken by NFL teams lately to make sure they seem patriotic. But what lengths has the league gone to address the issues of black athletes and their families?

Fans at the Dolphins-Titans game in Miami have an idea what players should do during the playing of the national anthem. (AP)

The NFL has had many months to show true interest in listening to its players about police accountability. The protests have all been peaceful (silent, actually), and framed by the insistence that this is not about disrespecting the flag or the anthem or the military. Some of the protesters have shown their genuineness by visiting with public officials or police officers or children in the community. Kaepernick has pledged $1 million. Players have dealt with severe backlash and responded with continued investment of their time and resources. This is because the issues of racial injustice and police brutality affect them to their very core. Someone doesn’t risk a dream job, reputation, and potentially safety unless something is deeply bothering them and their loved ones. There are many NFL families who are legitimately afraid of encounters with police.

With a few exceptions, such as Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford agreeing to back players’ causes with money, the protesters have been regarded as nuisances and distractions. Do it on your own time, said cabinet member Steven Mnuchin, who can’t even be bothered to fly on his own dime even though his net worth is estimated at $500 million. The echo of dismissal and denigration by elites only reinforces Kaepernick’s initial claim: that there’s suppression if not outright oppression from the very top tier of American society. Don’t speak; just play. And be grateful for the opportunity to play without speaking.

But that gets us back to Ms. Nige and the “domestic issues” she wrote about. The NFL has a history of harping on the missteps of its players while ignoring real-life problems affecting families. For years, domestic violence was swept under the rug or worse. Only when the Ray Rice video emerged did more people realize the true nature of the disease. Steroid abuse and opioid use are also problems that have been cast aside as part of the game, even though both can have consequences after careers end. It’s the same with concussions. The NFL does too little until there’s an urgent need for real engagement with players and their families. There is not a single problem that the NFL has in its orbit that hasn’t been made worse by looking the other way.

And now the Dolphins are making rules about the anthem so that the entire football community can look the other way.

One of the common arguments against the protests is that television ratings will crater as disaffected fans tune out. It’s bad for business. The NFL is indeed a business, with owners and employees. It has a right to conduct its business as it chooses.

But those employees are humans, with very human struggles. To ignore those individual lives is to risk a collective failure. If NFL executives forget the humanity of the people it employs, problems will build to a crisis right under their noses.

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