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Comparing segregation to vaccination policy, former Chief Anthony Sherman warped both

·6 min read

Anthony Sherman was a fan favorite with the Kansas City Chiefs, known for his rugged special teams play, the occasional offensive highlight, colorful arrivals at training camp and that nickname, “The Sausage.” So plenty lamented his retirement at the end of last season, when he announced he was pursuing a career in law enforcement.

But perhaps his departure was right on time considering his crass and racially tin-eared (if not outright inflammatory) work Saturday on Twitter.

“The @NFL is making players wear colored wrist bands now based on vaccination status,” he wrote. “Funny, I thought we all agreed on the evils of segregation back in the 60s. Here we are again- only this time it’s based on personal health choices instead of skin color.”

The offensive and ridiculous comparison would figure to be unpopular in a locker room full of Black men, including Patrick Mahomes and Tyrann Mathieu, who have been advocates for social justice.

Sherman later tried to walk it back without taking it back, saying his words were twisted and adding, “I NEVER said that segregating players based on vaccination status was AS BAD as racism and the segregation of the 60s.”

Alas, actually, he did by saying “here we are again.” And in the process, he did double-damage.

He trivialized the scourge of segregation, which reverberates to this day. And he warped the point about vaccinations by trying to make a case that this somehow is a civil rights matter instead of about the privilege, not the right, to play pro football.

Not to mention about the fundamental obligation one has to others around him, something that has taken root with the Chiefs: They are one of seven NFL teams on which 95 percent of the players have received at least one dose, the Chiefs have confirmed, a reflection of crucial safety measures being taken by the NFL amid an ongoing pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 Americans.

Moreover, if an NFL player doesn’t want the vaccine, or doesn’t want it to be known he doesn’t want the vaccine, so be it. They are completely free to not play.

But Sherman, who missed three games last season on the reserve/COVID-19 list, characterized that complete freedom of choice as some sort of victimization.

“Do you even KNOW what NFL players who choose to remain unvaccinated experience?” he wrote. “They can’t eat with their teammates. They are not allowed in the weight room with players who are vaccinated. They can’t leave the hotel when they travel. They have to wear masks at ALL times.

“And IF an outbreak happens that is linked to the player, their team forfeits the game and all game checks associated with that game …”

In another of his burst of tweets, Sherman said the NFL “clearly values being woke, not awake. What a shame. And what a sham.”

But even if the term “woke” has been distorted by many, Webster’s defines it as “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”

So perhaps Sherman could stand to be more woke.

If he wants to try to understand why it’s absurd and antagonizing to compare the vaccination protocols to segregation, he could simply Google “segregation in America.”

He’d instantly find countless piercing images, including Elizabeth Eckford being abused by a crowd at Little Rock Central … buses burning during the Freedom Rides … Gov. George Wallace blocking a door at the University of Alabama … Bull Connor’s fire hoses in Birmingham … and 6-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted into a Louisiana elementary school by U.S. Marshals.

Or Sherman could look to the past of the city that embraced him and the franchise for which he played for eight seasons.

The Chiefs were a vital part of desegregating Kansas City, including in the example they set in their operation: Under the leadership of owner Lamar Hunt and coach Hank Stram, they hired Lloyd Wells, the first full-time Black scout in pro football and drafted and signed numerous players from historically Black colleges and universities. They went on to become the first team in the game to start more than 50 percent of Black players on the way to winning Super Bowl IV.

Moreover, all of that was achieved despite an abiding segregation here.

Soon after Hunt made it public that he was moving the team to Kansas City from Dallas in 1963, he brought a contingent of players here that included two Black men, Abner Haynes and Curtis McClinton. At a reception in a Westport restaurant, a bartender refused to serve them until Mayor H. Roe Bartle intervened by slapping his hand on the bar and demanding he do so.

That was just the start of what many Black players faced in a segregated city where they ultimately, but arduously, became catalysts for change in a region where in 1971 even Black players weren’t allowed on certain golf courses.

Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Bell, who grew up in North Carolina riding in the back of buses and drinking from “colored” water fountains and having to sneak onto a golf course at night if he wanted to play, at times wondered how much different it was here. Not only wasn’t he welcome in some establishments, he also was shunned from buying dozens and dozens and dozens of homes.

That’s segregation.

“It was like, ‘No Blacks can live here, no Blacks can do this, no Blacks can do that,’” he said last year.

Speaking of the ongoing implications, particularly in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Bell added, “People have walked away from it for years; you can’t walk away from it now. Segregation has been out there, stays out there. People don’t want to talk about it. They’re uncomfortable talking about it.

“If you want to talk about it, I’ll talk to you about it.”

Or maybe Sherman could educate himself more by speaking to Hall of Famer Willie Lanier, who grew up in segregated Richmond, Virginia and walked to school every day past the tributes to the confederacy on Monument Avenue.

What Lanier considered “identifiers of slavery” and barriers to equality, he said last year, often left him contemplating “what if they had won? Where would people who look like me, where would we be? What would our futures have been?”

Those who cannot remember the past, it’s been written, are condemned to repeat it. And those who falsely equate an ongoing trauma of the American experience with a mere inconvenience in the name of the greater good should know better.

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