An NFL Poem in 4 Quarters

All Rise

Oh say don’t you know
that for the past decade
the US govt so proudly paid
the NFL to broadcast
its broad stripes and bright stars
to recruit poor Americans to fight
so we can all watch
in peace our online streaming
as the rockets are stockpiled
the bomb raids and drone strikes
give proof through the lie
that our flag is still a ruse
oh say does that blood-soaked banner yet wave
for the land of the duped and the home of the debased.

1st Quarter – A Lesson in Accounting Methods

This was never about the flag
unless the rights they claim the flag protects
don’t count for us

It was never about the military
unless all of us who gave life and limb
for freedoms we’ve never known
don’t count

but that’s just it,
isn’t it?

To them, we don’t count.

The numbers of us returned in body bags
when presidents fumble our names
and scold our wives with
he knew what he signed up for”

we don’t count.

No matter the numbers of us killed by police
left to rot in the street
our murders livestreamed

we don’t count.

the only time it seems we count
is when they’re counting the billions made on our backs

and yet no matter how much they make on us
our heard-earned doesn’t earn us their respect

it has always been like that.

This is our lesson to learn.

2nd Quarter – Defining Terms

Buck:

1. Noun – the male of some antlered game, as in deer, reindeer or antelope.
2. Noun – a racial slur used to denigrate Black men. Usually deployed to those displaying physical prowess, as in athletes.
3. Noun – a form of currency, as in a dollar bill.
4. Verb – to resist, as in the system.

Halftime – All-American Music

That moment when Beyonce
drenched in Blackness
with an all-afroed entourage of Black dancers
called on women to get in formation

singing about preferring wide nostrils
kinky hair and hot sauce

and white men turned red-necked
watching their daughters
twerking in front of their widescreen TVs.

that moment after
when police launched a campaign to boycott
providing security for her concert tour.

3rd Quarter – A Love Raging (for Colin Kaepernick)

it didn’t matter that you got the idea to kneel
from an army veteran

we had our hands up high as goal posts
saying “Don’t Shoot”
but that didn’t arrest their bloodlust
didn’t cease their fire
and we are still burning.

when you took a knee
you took your place in history
beside Rosa Parks and Ali

playing a position
still the preserve for white men
but you are nobody’s Brady
conducting interviews with the likeness of Malcolm and Fidel
emblazoned on your chest
as if it were a crest of arms
replying to each question with the nerve of Angela
eyes alight with a truth
they cant contain
can’t ascertain
taking on an entire nation in a denial
as old as itself.
suffering from a concussion of conscience
since those pilgrims first hit Plymouth Rock

and they have killed to keep it that way.

but we know this.

What you endorse is no longer dictated by Wall Street stocks
you represent the people without voice, without choice
the mothers screaming into the void of an ever-waking nightmare
fathers seething in sorrow
whole hoods up in the flames
you carry a world circling on an axis of pain
on shoulders tatted with wings
our arch angel carrying a message from the nether world
where our dead congregate still waiting for justice served
their names hashtagged into our memory

with one silent act
you spoke louder than a riot
a love raging against a blue wall of violence.

4th Quarter – Hail Mary

a segregated country club of white men
bearing a title that is a throwback
to when the fields Black men worked were called plantations
no coaches but overseers paid to keep them in line
with a referee’s whistle of whips splicing the air

for them
owning the team
means
owning you too.

first branded by the NCAA
you were the poster boy for college recruiters
marketed to rich white kids
seeking that real college experience
complete with frat parties and binge drinking
and you were still poor, labor unpaid
sold a hope that one day
you will play in the national football league

seasoned by millionaire coaches
to ask how high when told to jump

we know
they care more about your knees and ankles than you
to them you are a kind of property
bought and paid for on a national auction block called the draft
by teams of white execs who have never played a down
but are given the gentleman’s bargain to scrutinize your body and abilities
with the thoroughness of slave traders.

Let’s be honest here.

Could they care any less
that one of us killed could be
your brother, your sister, your own son or wife
or you, Black
or you?

as if you ain’t got no relations with us no more.

OJ you into thinking you are beyond race
a class unto yourself.

But we remember you
young boy running ball
first downs marked by car lengths parked on
narrow potholed streets.

we remember you
carrying your team to the state championships
coming home to celebrations where momma’s cooking was on full spread
as one and all
lovingly chided you to mind those grades
so you could get that full-ride
praying that trouble wouldn’t find you

but trouble is all we know
and we in deep trouble now.

with this move they’ve shown their hand
and the discrimination of its complexion

we can no longer pretend
that this is just a game

our lives are on the line
and yours is too.

What we know
is that
there is no game without you.
No new stadiums to fill.
No billions to be made.
No anthems to be played.
Without you.

Ewuare X. Osayande is a poet, activist and author of several books including Whose America?: New and Selected Poems.