The right-wing loves to collectively yell “shut up and play” at Black athletes when they speak out on political issues — but apparently, that doesn’t apply to conservative coaches who feel the urge to spout off pro-insurrection Fox News propaganda about January 6th. The Washington Commanders’ defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, made waves on social media yesterday when he tweeted out a comparison of the George Floyd protests to the January 6th insurrection.
The coach demanded to know the “whole story” of why the vandalism in the summer of 2020 was never brought up, but the Trump-inspired mob attack on the Capitol was.
Would love to understand “the whole story “ about why the summer of riots, looting, burning and the destruction of personal property is never discussed but this is ???#CommonSense
— Jack Del Rio (@coachdelrio) June 7, 2022
When faced with the Washington D.C. media today after practice, Del Rio doubled down on his comments, dismissing the mob invasion of Capitol Hill as a “dust-up” and complaining that it was being made into a “major deal.”
“I can look at images on the TV; people’s livelihoods are being destroyed, businesses are being burned down, no problem. And then we have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we’re going to make that a major deal,” griped Del Rio.
Unwittingly, Del Rio has neatly provided an illuminating flashpoint into the intersection of the Black Lives Matter protests, the double standard of free speech, the white clique mentality of NFL coaches, and the deeply entrenched racism in America.
Del Rio is entirely unafraid to broadcast fringe right-wing narratives that are explicitly designed to demonize Black Americans and does so with the arrogant confidence of a man who is certain to face no consequences because he is a member of a select clique of white coaches that will continue to reward its members with wealth and jobs no matter how successful they are (see Gase, Adam).
On the other hand, Black players who take political stances, speak out on social issues, or simply enjoy the limelight a little too much are disparaged as “distractions” and told to shut up and play by fans, commentators, and by then-President Donald Trump.
It is this same dynamic that we see playing out in the false dichotomy of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and the 2021 January 6th Capitol Hill attack; the exceedingly sparse, spontaneous protest violence during the BLM protests triggers howls of disgust and fury from the white elites while the premediated and shocking mob violence of January 6th is dismissed and excused as a “dust-up.”
When Del Rio complains that it’s his right as an American to express himself and then pushes racist right-wing narratives about the Black Lives Matter protests, he’s implicitly asserting that Black people do not have that same rights.
In essence, he’s saying it’s OK when white people do it because they are not challenging the white-dominated power structure of the NFL or the United States at large.
The Black protests against police brutality and entrenched racism, be they in the streets of Minneapolis or on the football field, are an existential challenge to white supremacy in America, and so those protests are treated with hysterical demonization by the white elites who reap the benefits of injustice.
Del Rio’s obsession with his Fox News-fueled sense of white superiority is so strong that he doesn’t even bother to consider how the players he’s in charge of coaching might feel about his comments, comfortable in the knowledge that he holds power over his Black players and that they’d better shut up and play if they want to keep their jobs.
But if anyone should be concerned about their job, it’s Jack Del Rio. The Commanders’ defense was bottom five in DVOA last year, and they lost ten games.
So why don’t you shut up and focus on the playbook there, bud?
The author of this opinion piece is a lifelong fan of Washington football.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.