Former NFL safety Hamza Abdullah attacked the NFL, NFLPA and numerous other topics via Twitter on Thursday afternoon. His comments were both virulent in nature and contained strong language. If such strong language offends you, please hit the back button on your browser now.
Have you ever said something, in the heat of the moment, that you later regret?
Today, as Abdullah took to Twitter to lay waste to his opponents before him, I couldn't help shake the feeling that he would ultimately have second thoughts about his remarks. If not the content, at least the tone. If not the tone, then perhaps the audience he chose. If not the audience, then perhaps the format.
Short, punctuated, less-than-140-character tweets flung out to the farthest reaches of the Internet—F-bomb after F-bomb, filled with anger and rage...for what purpose?
Was Abdullah just trying to make a statement? He made about a dozen, starting with religion:
Abdullah and his brother, Husain—now a safety for the 8-0 Kansas City Chiefs—left the NFL in 2012 in order to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Before that, the two were strong advocates of the Muslim faith. Husain, especially, seemed to have a level head as he explained teachings and rituals. Whether or not one shares their faith, it's a strong statement to leave professional sports in your prime in order to fulfill one's religious obligations.
Abdullah's rant against "fake" Muslims continued for a while:
Then, Abdullah moved on to football, where he seemed to blame the league for mental problems from which he is currently suffering. The problem, however, is that this all took place in the span of roughly an hour.
It left people unable to focus on the valid points that Abdullah wanted to make—and that people need to hear—because he kicked up a ridiculous cloud of dust around himself. At some point, it seemed as though Abdullah was simply very angry about a lot of things and it all boiled over.
If he was looking for a rational conversation, he certainly went about it the wrong way.
Maybe he wasn't looking for a rational conversation, though. Maybe he just needed to vent. The problem is, as a visible former player with a sizable following, his venting obscures the larger argument that needs to be made.
NFL players, like Abdullah, actually didn't know all the risks when they entered the NFL. Some fans like to repeat ad infinitum that the players did, but that doesn't make it true. Recent reports, like the new book League of Denial from ESPN's Fainaru brothers, show that the NFL knew much more about the long-term effects of concussions then it let on, and it misled the players until very recently.
Abdullah has a story to tell. It's a valuable story that we need to hear. Yet, this was the social-media equivalent of a man on a street corner yelling, "The end is near!" The message may very well be true, but it gets lost in the messenger.
As if things weren't already off the rails, that quickly became the case with his next string of tweets:
Using slavery in any context outside of, you know, actual slavery is one of the most asinine and useless propositions in the entire realm of rhetoric. It's right up there with saying "Nazi" or "Hitler" with zero context of what those terms and phrases actually mean in real life.
Not only was black slavery in America the darkest time in our country's history and a pock mark on our otherwise-proud national heritage, but slavery still goes on today, and it is horrific. According to the SumAll Foundation (via The New York Times), the current number of slaves worldwide sits at 27 million—many of those child and/or sex slaves.
So, slavery is actually still a pretty big problem that we should care about. Comparing it to your NFL career doesn't pass any litmus test for sanity, and (sadly) it is what a lot of people are going to focus on when they read Abdullah's rant.
Is it troubling that a game and league which are so predominately black still have trouble fielding more than a handful of black head coaches and general managers? Absolutely. Is it a little jarring that the NFL owners are a largely homogenous group of elderly white males? It should be.
Is making a large amount of money in the NFL while the owner makes substantially more money anything like slavery?
No, absolutely not.
The rest of Abdullah's timeline is far more informative and less inflammatory—though, just as angry.
These are things which people do not believe. These are statements that fans and media need to be reminded of, over and over again. While, yes, football is just a game to you and me, football is life to men like Abdullah. Life is real. Life is dangerous. Life is messy. That doesn't change for professional athletes. In many ways, the stakes are simply raised.
The morning tweet-fest ended with a short discussion on NFL players' post-career mental health:
Again, this is a side of the "game" that fans don't see—and many don't want to see. They tend to believe that what we see of former players on ESPN or on pregame telecasts is the sum of post-playing-career life, and that those who go broke, get divorced or commit either crimes or suicide do so because of horrible mistakes they've made. The truth, as Abdullah points out, is likely far scarier.
The players—current and former—deserve an advocate who is willing to say all of the things that Abdullah expressed on Thursday, but who is able to do so in a thoughtful, level-headed manner.
He's not alone:
If Abdullah's point was simply to be heard, or to vent, well, mission accomplished. But anyone who saw and agreed with Abdullah's rant likely already agreed with him.
His analogy between an NFL player's salary and slavery, along with his discourse, will lead many in the media to disregard the story. Those fans who did see it aren't going to be moved by his words, because he looks childish, entitled and off-kilter.
If Abdullah doesn't regret this tirade now, he should later. Not because he didn't speak the truth—in large part, he did—but because he muddied the waters so terribly in the process that it defeated any positive and valuable purpose he might have had.