So this is what it feels like to be invisible. Even when the world is watching. Even when an institution worth billions is rocked to its core. Even when it’s our face, plastered all over television screens, and stuck in endless loops of shocking, brutal violence. Even with all that, when it comes to crafting an effective solution to a problem that most assuredly sits squarely within our lived reality, as Black women, we somehow find ourselves still pushed aside and overtly confined to a narrow space of irrelevancy. Even when it’s our voices that remain necessary to make it right.
I watched NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference last week and saw before me a clearly minimized man. Contrite. Apologetic. He had no choice but to do what I’m sure must have been exceedingly uncomfortable for him, if for no other reason than pure lack of experience. Humbling oneself is never easy. But I imagine it’s especially challenging for those who have lived a lifetime of entitlement and unquestioned authority. Still, I have to give it to him. He put on a good show—at least for a while. Appearing deeply remorseful, he wore the mask of regret well. Lamenting over and over again, the sting of disappointment, first, to himself, then, to the NFL and finally, to the fans. But when it came to the prospect of disappointing Black women, he showed no such concern, no empathetic musings, and no admissions of wrong-doings of the past. For us, it seems, he is more than willing to stand in the on-going catastrophe of what has proven to be the complete inadequacy of his own disastrous decision-making. For us, he remains unmoved.
A week before, as a member of the Black Women’s Roundtable, I was one of those who signed an open letter to Roger Goodell seeking a meeting to discuss the conspicuous absence of Black women from his newly announced Domestic Violence Advisory Panel. Given the massive over-representation of Black women among the nation’s domestic violence and sexual assault victims, and because the League itself is over two-thirds Black, we were right to point out that an all-white Advisory Panel would not provide the cultural competency that is indeed necessary to effectively turn the tide in the NFL’s war against abusive behavior.
Our concerns were echoed again last week when the lone Black female journalist in the room, after several attempts, finally captured the Commissioner’s full attention. She put the question to him directly, and this time, on live TV. She wondered, as had we, how Goodell could justify the glaring omission of Black women as part of the team of external advisors he had amassed to help him craft a plan to deal with domestic violence and sexual assault within the NFL. No sooner had the words escaped her mouth, did his cloak of contrition fall, to be replaced by the arrogance and entitlement that seemingly suited him in a much more comfortable manner.
“Well that’s not true!” he shot back. Dodging the question completely he referenced NFL staff, one of whom is an African American woman, and according to Goodell, has “great experience in this area.”
I remain unconvinced.
Any of us who have ever worked, went to school, or merely breathed in overwhelmingly white spaces knows the feeling of being expected to be the expert in all things Black just by mere accident of our common existence. So Goodell’s insistence of this, no doubt, highly capable sister’s domestic violence bona fides, I personally, find somewhat less than convincing. But even if I’m wrong, and this mystery woman truly has worked on the issue for years, her glaring omission from the Advisory Board that Goodell just announced last week, becomes even more perplexing. Why then, is the head of this newly announced Board a completely different NFL executive? What made her more qualified for this position, than the Black woman whom he now claims has been doing this work for years? Playing the sistah-card and trotting her out now as merely one of countless NFL employees to weigh in on the matter, is insufficient to meet our demand for the inclusion of external Black women experts with a track record of demonstrated expertise in the development and implementation of culturally specific services, policies, and programs designed precisely to address domestic violence and sexual assault within the Black community. Admittedly, it’s good to see that Goodell does indeed employ at least one Black body that isn’t placed at risk of career-ending injury on a weekly basis, but her mere existence is far from enough.