Commentary
By Jeff Biddle 5-01-2018

Last week, a video surfaced of police in Georgia slamming a handcuffed black man to the ground.

It sounds like an alarmingly familiar tale, but this time with a twist: The man who officers tackled was Desmond Marrow — a former NFL player. Once the police learned they had arrested American athletic royalty, they offered to drop the charges in exchange for one thing — silence. 

Marrow recounted what happened in December 2017 on his Facebook page last week. He writes:

I had No type of weapon in my possession, I was arrested for having a Gun that turned out to be my Cell Phone . During the arrest the police knocked my teeth out, slammed me on my head and choked me out until I was unconscious … This has affected me mentally and impacted my life in a way I can’t even humanly describe. This isn’t a cry for sympathy, I just need it to be known . . . My cry is for JUSTICE … Henry county police dept was trying to keep me quiet, but once they found out I was a former #NFLplayer & there was a video of the incident did they then try to drop my charges. They were basically trying to get me to sell my soul in exchange for the video not being posted and they would drop all the felonies and clear my record. But GOD recorded it and I have PROOF! You know the truth take a lil longer to make it around lies travel faster.

In official court documents, Marrow and his attorney said that had been “agitated” because minutes ago he had been the victim of a hate crime. Marrow is still facing the felony charges.

Marrow’s story shatters the idea that Colin Kaepernick and the anthem protesters are somehow speaking out of turn. Critics have painted protesters as spoiled, attention-seeking millionaires. But Marrow’s encounter shows that membership in America’s supposedly privileged athletic royal class does not even guarantee that a black man can keep all his teeth past age 30.

On a deeper level, Marrow’s encounter illustrates a direct relationship between local brutality and the national reaction to Kaepernick. When authorities encountered Marrow only as a visibly agitated black man in a public place, they cuffed him, tackled him to the point where it seems he lost consciousness, branded him a felon, and hauled him away. 

 After discovering he had a public profile, they tried buying his silence by “giving” him back his freedom in exchange.

Kaepernick’s fame made professional assassination the only feasible strategy, but on each level the goal is the same: Silence. Only silence will allow the brutality to continue, leave the powerful unaccountable, and maintain status quo for the comfortable. The chilling message to black and brown people is that freedom and success are permissible only at the price of absolute compliance. Deviate from the party line of the powerful, and the empire will strike back.

Critics mock that success at football does not qualify Kaepernick to speak on social issues. Yet the athletes of the NFL have achieved their elite status through years of focus, passion, and training in an industry that is inextricably tied to conceptions (right or wrong) of black and brown masculinity and success. They are probably more qualified than anyone to comment on the intersection of strength, fear, security, and vulnerability that undergird the state-sanctioned brutality in America’s streets.

Queen Esther’s only “qualification” for access to the Babylonian halls of power was physical beauty. Yet within a system that groomed her only to please and entertain, she risked her life protect God’s people from the violence of a power-hungry state.

And who knows, maybe these athletes have come to their royal position for such a time as this. 

Kaepernick and Marrow were brave enough to risk everything to speak for the oppressed of God’s flock.

Christians, are we willing to do the same?

Rev Dr. Jeff Biddle, Jr., is the pastor of New Hope Community Church in Charleston, WV, and recently defended his doctoral thesis focusing on sports, faith, and community development at Palmer Seminary.

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"Desmond Marrow and the Price of Silence"
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