Fresh Paint Over a Lemon: The NFL, Racism, and My Own Ugly Heart

Fresh Paint Over a Lemon: The NFL, Racism, and My Own Ugly Heart February 10, 2022
February is Black History Month. A month dedicated to celebrate and educate the nation about the beauty and splendor and history that is the black race. A month that includes a nation-wide remembrance of the great Martin Luther King, Jr. And let us not forget: February is also host to the biggest football game of the year – The Super Bowl.
This makes the news coming out of the NFL last week all the more startling. The beginning of February – a month dedicated to black history – saw racism accusations from one of the NFL’s own. Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the NFL, claiming extreme racism in its hiring practices. When the news broke on the second day of February, it had all the talking heads doing what talking heads do: talk about this bombshell and its ramifications.
Now. I have no idea what all the lawsuit claimed and/or if any of the allegations are true. That’s not for me to decide. Do I think there is probably some racism going on in the NFL? Of course. Do I think significant changes can and should be made? Yes. I would probably say this for any organization. But here’s what “got me” about this headline that is still – a week later and days leading up to the Super Bowl – being discussed: from a casual viewer of NFL games (and an arm chair quarterback if there ever was one) perspective, the NFL has been trying to eradicate racism. With all the horrific racist headlines in our country in recent years – it appeared (from someone watching on television) that the NFL was at least trying to deal with racism. Helmet symbols. Words on jerseys. Banners on and around the field. Declarations on warm-up clothing. Slogans in commercials. All calling for unity. For equality. For an end to the sin that is racism. From all appearances, the NFL was making efforts to communicate their desire to view all men as being equal. The cynic might argue that all the anti-racism pageantry the NFL has deployed has merely been a PR stunt, a way to hide its problems by way of public gestures. But still. It at least appears they were trying.
That’s what “got me.” After seeing the phrases and words in and on all these things for the past several years, news of the lawsuit was striking. All the efforts to end racism, only to have a 60-page document claiming from one of its coaches that it didn’t work.
This is a good reminder to us that you cannot put fresh paint on a lemon (car) and expect the vehicle to be new and improved. The NFL has been trying to “dress up” the racism problem by putting slogans on jerseys and helmets. That doesn’t end racism. It’s just painting a useless car. The only thing that can make a dent in alleviating inequality is a new heart. A changed heart. A transformed heart. A heart revolutionized by the grace that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Fresh paint cannot revolutionize a car. The car itself must transform into a totally different machine. Putting #endracism on the back of a football jersey will not #endracism. Brian Flores can testify to that. And so can we.
But let’s press into this a bit more. It is easy for me to point fingers at the NFL and with all the self-righteousness I can muster declare how only the Gospel can begin to change racial practices. It is easy for me to wag my finger at how futile it is to put slogans on the field. But if I am honest; like really honest – I do the same thing. Instead of allowing the Spirit of God in the Gospel to renew and transform my heart, I try to put paint on my own ugly “lemon.” I’ll fast from social media for a season and assume my sinful tendencies will go away. I’ll read an extra chapter in the Bible today in the hopes that it will abolish my outrage from yesterday. I’ll adopt a child from Ethiopia and hope everyone will see me as the anti-racist. I’ll try to implement positive speech into my conversations and vocabulary and hope it will turn me into a new, positive person. I’ll go on an overseas mission trip and appear to be burdened for the unreached.  I’ll keep my radio on the Christian music station thinking that what I have blaring in the car will make me a better Christian. I’ll carry my Bible with me everywhere I go so I will be known as a “Bible-person.” All I am doing is putting a slogan on my jersey. I am trying to make a lemon look like a new corvette. Some of these practices, to be sure, have their place. But they cannot change a heart. They cannot transform. They cannot make me a new person. Only God can do that. Only the Spirit can do that. Only the power and Person of Jesus in the Gospel can do that.
The NFL doesn’t need more slogans on jerseys. And I don’t need additional paint. That’s exhausting. We need a new heart. We need God. Though I cannot say for certain, it appears the NFL’s commissioner (Roger Goodell) is looking for more and better cloth for the backs of jerseys. He isn’t looking for transformation. He’s trying to restore the NFL’s public relation. Consider also that of the nine coaching vacancies in the NFL after the 2021/2022 regular season – only two coaches hired were minorities. More paint. Same lemon.
None of this is to say slogans don’t matter. They do. And it also isn’t to say that the conversations don’t need to be happening. They must. Light must be shed where there is darkness. But more cloth on jerseys and fresh paint on a lemon will not cure the problem. Only a new heart can begin to bring about real change. It’s true for the NFL and its racism problem. It’s true for me and my sin problem.
Let’s learn something from the NFL. Putting a band-aid on a mortal wound won’t make it go away. It may cover what’s really there for a while – but what’s really there will eventually emerge. It’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean. It’s what comes out of the heart. We need Someone outside of us to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus has done it. His Spirit can effect it. Let’s cry out to Him and let Him transform our “lemon-ness.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the store and get snacks for the Super Bowl. I hope my lemon of a car can get me there.

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