On Wednesday, Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio found himself backpedaling like a 22-year-old cornerback, via Twitter apology. In his initial offending tweet, he questioned why authorities are looking into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection (for which public hearings begin Thursday) but not the protests for racial justice that swept the country the previous year. In the news conference that followed his initial tweet, Del Rio sounded like Tucker Carlson on a bender, making it clear where he stands on the pesky matters of U.S. democracy and racial justice.
This kind of right-wing propaganda and disinformation is common in NFL circles.
“I can look at images on the TV, people’s livelihoods are being destroyed, businesses are being burned down, no problem,” he said, “And then we have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we’re going to make that a major deal.”
In other words, the effort to prevent a peaceful transfer of power, an effort that resulted in seven deaths and numerous assaults on police, was nothing more than a “dust-up.”
With these words, Del Rio was slandering the national protests during the summer of 2020 for racial justice after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd. These were the largest protests in the history of the United States and took place in all 50 states. The violence of which Del Rio speaks took place at a profound minority of the protests; in many such cases evidence of right-wing provocateurs has been documented.
Reducing this national act of resistance to, as he said in his initial tweet, a “summer of riots, looting, burning and the destruction of personal property” is classic disinformation — both depressingly ignorant and brazenly racist. Del Rio seems to be feeling confident enough to flex his ignorance, luxuriating in the current racist backlash against teaching history and voting rights.
In his apology, Del Rio attempted to atone for referring to the Jan. 6 attack as “a dust-up,” and clarified that he has “fully supported all peaceful protests in America.” Forgive us for rolling our eyes. If he truly supported peaceful protests, he would not have slandered the most widespread peaceful demonstrations in U.S. history — which just happened to be for racial justice — as “riots” and “looting.”
Del Rio’s description of protest, particularly protests for racial justice, is as old and musty as resistance itself. It’s a right-wing trope aimed at not only discrediting the protest but as a precursor and ideological justification for a backlash, like the one we are seeing today.
In a league where many franchise owners helped financially back Donald Trump, it should not be surprising that this culture is pervasive well beyond the owner’s box, particularly among white coaches.
The Del Rio tempest in a teapot also highlights several issues that the NFL would undoubtedly like to remain safely in-house and behind “the shield.” The first is that this kind of right-wing propaganda and disinformation is common in NFL circles. In a league where many franchise owners helped financially back Donald Trump, it should not be surprising that this culture is pervasive well beyond the owner’s box, particularly among white coaches.
In a league that turned Colin Kaepernick into a pariah, robbing him of five years of his prime because he dared to demonstrate against racialized police violence during the national anthem, it gives insight into the kinds of politics the NFL will abide — and what it is willing to overlook, as long as it comes with a half-assed twitter apology.
Lastly, this is a league that settled out of court with Kaepernick for its blackballing, partly to keep hidden from discovery thousands of emails between coaches, executives and owners that could have potentially proved collusion. One can only wonder, if this is the kind of politics that Del Rio feels comfortable spewing in public, what in fact was being said behind the scenes.
While the NFL aims to keep this hidden, hoping that the sports media, like a cat chasing a laser pointer, goes on to the next story (not that story, please), there is a question looming for the crisis-ridden Washington Commanders. This is a club in disarray, with owner Daniel Snyder, according to reports, hanging by a thread after accusations of rampant sexism as well as of “cooking the books” to rip off other NFL owners (guess which one the league is more concerned about). Coach Ron Rivera has been criticized by former star running back for Washington and D.C. media maven Brian Mitchell over his lack of stewardship on this leaky ship.
And now, there is the question of what happens when Del Rio returns to that locker room and the players on the defensive side of the ball get to look him in the eye and know that he told on himself. In a league built on top-down leadership and obedience, Del Rio may find that players won’t find his hot takes inspiring and an incredibly talented defense will once again underperform. Maybe this is just Del Rio setting himself up for a future out of the league and on Newsmax. If so, he’s certainly on the right path.