SPORTSTALK: THE JAGOFF

I CAN’T BREATHE: WEEK 16, JAGS VS. TITANS

Victory! (And politics!)

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After Brent Martineau and Dan Hicken tweeted out the picture of Cecil Shorts and the Jags wide receivers in the I Can’t Breathe shirt, I checked Hicken’s Twitter feed, where the responses were full of nothing but condemnation and venom.

What else would be there? Hicken is right now the ultimate sports host in the region; he knows he can say whatever he wants and he won’t lose his audience. Part of that is that he connects with the local sports fan. And, quite frankly, the local sports fan doesn’t like black athletes very much. They bury them sooner or later, every time.

Byron Leftwich and Dave Garrard got The Treatment. Jimmy Smith and Reggie Williams and Rashean Mathis, too. Not at first. But after a while. And those cats kept it non-political. Not our Jags WRs.

They aren’t the first athletes this week to take a stand on police brutality. But they are the ones who did it here, in a city where the sheriff and the mayor came together just last week to take a stand against protesters — who were arrested, who found their recording equipment confiscated, for protesting the strangulation death of Eric Garner in Staten Island.

He couldn’t breathe. Most black men can’t. They are hunted down from before the days their voices change, subject to egregious police surveillance, locked up so much that the condition of their ritual imprisonment is the most horrific human rights practice in the so-called civilized world. The black family, especially in places like the Operation Ceasefire zone, where young men kill each other just to get over or get a rep, is in shambles, because of the deindustrialization of the American city and because those industries have been replaced with a prison-police matrix propped up by dirty money.

I can’t breathe, either, and I’m a middle-aged white guy with a bald spot. We watch all of the garish quasi-patriotic, thoroughly embarrassing schlock associated with the National Football League of the Goodell era, and at the center of it all, players who are little more than fungible commodities. We don’t care about them as people. They are objectified, until their games fall off and they are immolated, dust on the scrap heap that is history in our present-tense world.

Speaking of the present-tense world, the Jaguars pulled it together in the home finale, storming back from a 10-0 deficit to throttle the Tennessee Titans in the second half. They looked legit in front of a national audience. Bortles’ numbers weren’t awesome in aggregate, but the second half was stronger than the first.

This team seems to succeed or fail based on how much they open up the offense. When Bortles is allowed to try to make things happen, when the play-calling is not “coach not to lose,” the Jags look like a different team. That always seems to happen once the team is behind on the scoreboard. Hopefully, next year, we’ll see stronger starts.

It will be interesting to see if the organization actually makes some plays in free agency. What could the Jags do with Adrian Peterson, for example? Fans might balk at that for the expected reasons. They balked at Michael Vick also, but NFL fans have rarely let their moral codes stop them from cheering players, especially players who produce W’s. What hasn’t worked, in terms of wins and building a fan base, is second-tier free agents. For every Sen’Derrick Marks, there’s a Toby Gerhart.

Casual fans may hate the Jaguars with Adrian Peterson. But they wouldn’t ignore them like they do now.

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