On the Very Real Possibility of a Super Bowl Conspiracy

marshawn lynch

By Summer McDonald 


Among the collective gasps, OMGs, and guttural expressions of utter shock from seasoned 12s and Seahawks bandwagon riders alike after Russell Wilson threw an axis-altering interception in last Sunday’s Super Bowl, was some version of this question: Why in the world did they not give the ball to Marshawn Lynch? Since it was the Super Bowl, the Monday morning quarterbacking of the Seahawks’ second down play-calling was amplified to conspiracy levels. Indeed, The Nation’s Dave Zirin dedicated a few hundred words to the conspiracy theory that emerged after the Seahawks failed to score what seemed like the inevitable game-winning touchdown:

The conspiracy theory lies in the fact that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll believed that the last yard the Seahawks needed for that Super Bowl victory was a gimme and, all things being equal, much better to have the iconic Super Bowl moment go to Russell Wilson than to Marshawn Lynch. Coaches setting certain favored players up for glory is as old as football itself. In addition, the politics of race, respectability, public relations and what’s in the best interest of a $2 billion corporation all played into this. That’s the theory.

Though Zirin simply delineates the conspiracy and refrains from asserting his own judgement, several commentators have been more vocally dismissive of the theory itself. For instance, in a segment on the theory on ESPN’s His and Hers [sic], hosts Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, both Black, called the theory as dumb as the play the Seahawks ran. Smith and Hill are not alone in their assessment. After all, there is plenty of evidence that would support a dismissive, “that was the dumbest play-call in Super Bowl history,” assertion rather than a conspiracy theory. Clearly, all of that evidence should be noted and heeded in the discussion. Yet the tenor of the conversation ignores a core issue. This conversation cannot merely concern itself with whether the aforementioned conspiracy theory is true, but rather it must consider why the conspiracy theory exists at all.

There’s an intriguing and apposite footnote in Mat Johnson’s novel, Pym, that highlights my point:

[Here] in America, every black man has a conspiracy theory. (That statement in itself reveals a conspiracy, omitting as it does the conspiracy theories of black women [copious though they may be].) Some theories are quite creative, fascinating. But more are quite mundane, because they’re true. This obsession with conspiracies is most likely due to the fact that our ethnic group is the product of one.

Utter disregard for the possibility of even a thread of truth to the conspiracy theory against Lynch is a semantic rendering that undermines the reality of what we witnessed each time Lynch sat before the media before the big game. At the very least one must momentarily seriously consider the validity of the conspiracy. After all, as Johnson notes, so much of Black people’s experiences in the United States sound so absurd, that if they had happened to other people, we’d deem them lies.

Many Black folks were rooting for Seattle because Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch are Black men who have been publicly critical of the NFL. Though they agree to play the game, Sherman’s refusal to silence himself  and Lynch’s defiant silence, while letting his presumed-deviant Black body speak for him, are acts of rebellion. White structures of power have always taken such acts as “threats” and doused them accordingly. There are no exceptions to this rule. Lynch might not be a political prisoner, as Jemele Hill noted,  but he has placed himself in (comparatively innocuous) danger by not being an upstanding company man. Black folks are well aware of how such persons are handled. As such, a circulating theory whose core claim is that Lynch was being punished in some way must be given attention, crazy as it may seem, precisely because things that have actually happened to black people under white supremacist conditions often sound conspiracy-level ridiculous. Can you imagine what your response would be if you were kicking it in West Africa and heard “rumors” of the Middle Passage? Or if somebody told you what western medicine has done to black bodies in the name of science? But those things really did happen. Because we know that, because we are continually reminded of the absurd and sinister shit that happens to Black bodies in this structure, we must take these theories seriously. What’s unfortunate about Smith and Hill’s commentary is that dismissal of the conspiracy against Lynch theory requires one to miss key lessons of Marshawn Lynch’s relationship with the NFL.  And to get on television and not at least say some version of, “I don’t believe the theory, but I get it…” totally undermines the reality of what we see with our own eyes each day.

The blatant dismissal of this theory by Black sportscasters in particular, isn’t surprising. Today’s most visible Black personalities in sports are often as conservative and apolitical as the black players they cover. They tow the line of respectability, sometimes for survival purposes, and other times to cultivate a white audience that lacks the stomach for such inconvenient truths. It is that set of conditions that gives white, male writers like Zirin the task of describing these conspiracies. Consequently we must understand that perhaps amplifying the conspiracy theories to something above a Russell Wilson whisper is not a burden for Black sports writers to bear.

Marshawn Lynch’s Super Bowl experience before the game is the most innocuous evidence that this conspiracy could be real. The way that the media and NFL have continued to punish Marshawn for behaving in ways that don’t meet their expectations sets the stage for a conspiracy theory about a coach who would be willing to risk the Super Bowl to do the same. It’s a metonym, because football is America and the Super Bowl is the most American holiday ever. And if that’s the case–and I think it is–then conspiracy-sounding shit is going to happen to Black people within that venue.  This Lynch-centric theory holds weight amongst some of us because, if I may crudely paraphrase Lynch himself, that is the way that Blacks so often get got. And immediate dismissal of such thoughts implicitly expresses a fundamental misunderstanding of Black American life itself.








Video: How ‘Broken Windows’ Policing Harms People of Color

From Fusion:

Last summer, a New York city police officer choked a black grandfather named Eric Garner to death. Garner was suspected of selling loose cigarettes. The arrests of people like Garner are part of a controversial policing tactic called Broken Windows. Broken Windows claims to prevent large crimes by cracking down on small ones. But it’s really about controlling and punishing communities of color, through police encounters that can sometimes be deadly.

h/t Fusion

Ya Tú Sabes: Being Boricua and Morena

Zoe Mungin

By Rana Zoe Mungin

The key, ultimately, is to blend.

Granma speaks Spanish, but she’s dark enough that no one asks, just assumes, really, that she’s the same: black, Afro American, whatever you’re willing to say. Her people are from PR, but she was born on St. Croix, the only kid with a different daddy, cursed with the sharp European features of her mother with skin the color of coal (that’s from her papi). It’s a death sentence, really. When you’re dark-skinned, it doesn’t matter how pretty you are; you’re always going to get shit.

Granma gets married and has a baby, but she eventually leaves both of them in St. Croix. She’s too dark for the in-laws; nappy-haired, like there was too much Africa in the water where she was born. And I don’t care what anyone says, negrita isn’t always a nice word.

When Granma moves to New York, she locks up her Spanish like a bad thing. She straightens her hair, wears bright red lipstick that makes her skin shine and the men call. She never dates another latino, but there are Russians and Jews instead. She copies the ways that they talk, heavy with parts of Brooklyn she’s never even visited, staining herself with a heritage not her own. There are anthropological terms for all of this (acculturation, assimilation, appropriation) but whatever. Granma was making shit work.

Granma gets married again, this time to a black man from Carolina (like the rice) named Herbert. My Granpa has a complexion like tea with too much milk, pale gray eyes like an animal. There’s a bit too much of Africa in him, too, but Granma gets pregnant and she’s Catholic so they get married and when the baby is born (my uncle), he’s the color of tea with just enough milk. Not white, like Granpa, but light-skinned enough to pass the brown paper bag test. Granma doesn’t know about things like that, just her own prejudices about black skin, and her kids—all café con leche complected, arejust light enough. When they move to East New York, it’s Granpa who’s assumed to be the non-black anomaly. Granma doesn’t even allow herself to have an accent, other than what she’s picked up from the Jews. It’s easy. She fits.

Two generations later, this is the identity the colors my skin: dark and ill-fitting, unsuited for the labels my grandmother embraced, a way to avoid the rejection from the place where she was born. ‘Black’ is a label that can define anyone with a little pigment, hair not exactly straight. For years, inmy house, we permed our curls into submission. To Granma, that was the right thing to do.

Even through my grandmother’s denial, there was the endurance of culture, routine and instinctual: Mass on Sundays, all rosaries and the Jesus-candles that they sell in the corner stores (bodegas, because where Granma was from had followed her all the way to East New York, and when I’m a kid, everything is en español. The flags that hang from the houses are red, white, and blue, but instead of fifty starts, there’s only a single one, centered in a blue triangle, viva Borinquén).

Granpa taught my grandmother how to make pig’s feet and collards; biscuits came from a can. Still, every other product in the pantry was Goya, and when Granma cooked, it rice and beans, plantain, roast pork. But even if her culture bled through to our stomachs, she never gave us the words:arroz y gandules, tostones, pernil. And without words, without language, it’s as if you have nothing. Without Spanish, you are denied any ownership to being latinaa label Granma cast off like old clothes, something you donate to the church, because you don’t need it, and you’re okay with the idea of never getting it back again.

This is something I never acknowledged about my grandmother. My life tasted like adobo and sofrito, and Granma still spoke Spanish, she did—when she called her sister (Titi Alicia), still in St. Croix, or when she cursed out my uncle’s baby mother, a Dominican (dios mío, what crazy kids). I was like every person who told her she’d been born someplace there was too much Africa in the water. Granma couldn’t be Spanish because she was too dark; by the time I knew better—after she was dead—I couldn’t be Spanish because I didn’t have the right words.

It’s a peculiar absence, missing something you’ve never had. My father was rather absentee, but fathers are hardly necessary. Useful, perhaps, but I didn’t notice that mine wasn’t there. And yet, as soon as I acknowledged my grandmother’s heritage—built into my very name, there isn’t a story for la rana, not like the coqui, but if you know enough, you know it means something, which I was completed oblivious to for the first ten years of my life.

Lacking Spanish left me unable to express something essential to myself. It is not just about food, or the rosary. It’s not just the sound of Granma’s sandals—chancletas—when she was still here. It’s the sound of my mother’s sandals, now, though the only Spanish she knows is from Dora, and what she’s picked up in the bodegas over the years (“Ay, papi, you cheated me out of forty cents!”)

It’s the loss of the ability to relate to an entire community, conversations I may only have if someone condescends to speak to me en ingles. Sometimes, they don’t have the English. Sometimes, they don’t want to share, like the Spanish is a secret, a key to membership some people don’t want you to have. Not all Puerto Ricans—not all Latinas—are curly-haired and fair-skinned. You can’t be denied if you know the language (negrita’s not always nice, I told you), but if you don’t have the words, then there’s nothing for you to hold.

Oh, you eat rice and beans, nena? That’s nice. Your abuelita didn’t teach you Spanish? Ay, pobrecita. Sometimes, though, that’s how it goes.


Photo: Courtesy of Zoe Mungin

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