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June 01, 2020

John McMullen: As our nation burns, it's impossible to 'stick to sports'

Opinion Sports

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Philadelphia George Floyd protests Natalie Hope McDonald/For PhillyVoice

Protesters outside City Hall earlier this week.

The stick-to-sports crowd is going to have to press pause for a moment.

If the west-coast offense, RPO’s and Cover-2 invert seem small compared to what’s gone on in our country over the past week, congratulations you’re ahead of the curve when it comes to common sense, a rather uncommon trait these days.

That doesn’t mean sports weren’t involved, of course. Dozens of NFL players offered their thoughts in the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd as did NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, something that was predictably not well received.

Locally, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz took to Twitter to express his feelings after a Minneapolis police officer killed the unarmed Floyd, who was already in custody, clearly not a threat, and essentially begging for his life.

All of the ancillary noise got far too much attention and that’s certainly not an indictment of Wentz or any other athlete, who should use their platforms in any way they feel is necessary. In Wentz's case, the QB1 already has on many occasions with his faith-based altruism, something that’s typically not recognized nearly as much because it’s not sexy enough for the headlines.

Ameican cities burning and stars reacting to it? That’s going to garner some traction.

Instead of the nation mourning an incalculable tragedy, however, the aftermath of Floyd’s death set off protests that quickly morphed into violent riots with the tipping point being the burning of the Minneapolis police department's 3rd Precinct, the epicenter of the unrest.

Really by Day 2, any memory of Floyd was forgotten, not only by the authoritarian with the badge who coldly took his last breath but by so many purportedly upset by that action, replaced as simply a conduit of revolt with the goal perverted from social justice to anarchy and material goods.

By late in the week the riots had reached Philadelphia and most other major American cities and Sunday the evil even skipped the pond over to the United Kingdom. The crises not fueled by Floyd’s tragic murder but by a feckless mayor in the City of Lakes.

Officers in Minneapolis used tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse the crowd gathering ominously around their precinct but the department was breached by protesters and set ablaze. The decision was made to evacuate with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey saying: "The symbolism of a building cannot outweigh the importance of life, of our officers or the public."

Lost in the incompetence was the mayor’s own symbolism.

Minneapolis had become a one-sided war zone reminiscent of the Fall of Saigon if only for a moment in time when a helicopter was brought in rescue one officer. The incendiary rhetoric of left vs. right, democrat vs. republican and red vs, blue finally went off, ironically in the Midwest, the home of “Minnesota Nice.”

Many business owners who woke up in Philadelphia to the shattered remains of their lives this weekend have Jim Kenney to blame, much like Governor Tom Wolf following the lead of other bigger-name peers in the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenney was also playing follower to a disastrous playbook designed to placate people whose goal isn’t appeasement.

As usual in these types of situations, there were meaningful, non-violent protesters but they were quickly overtaken by others trying to take advantage of the crisis, perhaps only magnified by the recent shutdowns and frustrations of the pandemic. Social distancing was no longer an issue in “Blue” cities across the country when the five-finger discount was in reach.

The South Minneapolis neighborhood destroyed, among the poorest in that city, was sacrificed by politicians failing on so many levels, the simplest of which was keeping two clear thoughts in their heads at once -- the family of Floyd and a disaffected community deserves justice and the law-abiding citizens and business owners in and around Lake Street also needed protection from unruly mobs.

Those two things are mutually exclusive only to the obtuse incapable of layered, critical thinking.

"Many have been indoctrinated to believe that the 'thoughts and prayers' of the rich and famous are the same or somehow even greater than tangible action by the actual leaders with real power who have failed them time and time again."

Having lived in the Minneapolis area earlier in my career for a lengthy period, I have a deep affinity for Lake Street, named for running through the Chain of Lakes area on the west side of town. Personal friends owned a tattoo parlor, a collectibles store, and an antique shop on the thoroughfare. Many in the area use public transit and if they have the luxury of a car, it might be burned to a shell by now.

All the local businesses are now gone with virtually no response from the city or state other than Frey’s disastrous stand-down order. The Mayor’s reticence to make difficult decisions not only destroyed his city, it created a domino effect that endangered others nationwide — both rioters and peaceful protesters — with uneducated opportunists under the false impression that all other communities with different leadership would follow suit instead of allowing police and prosecutors to continue to do their jobs.

It will not take an army of trained contact-tracers to find out the source the thousands of lives destroyed in the name of George Floyd. It’s almost as if the poor man was victimized twice for the petty crime of trying to pass a phony $20 because he wasn’t allowed to work due to yet another twisted government policy.

As mentioned, sports remains an incredibly small part of this story and only notable at all because a generation lives and dies with celebrity culture, along with likes and follows on social media. Many have been indoctrinated to believe that the “thoughts and prayers” of the rich and famous are the same or somehow even greater than tangible action by the actual leaders with real power who have failed them time and time again.

Wentz, along with his teammate and good friend Zach Ertz and his wife Julie, were all lauded for getting out Notepad and positing their thoughts to social media.

Of course, there is no real-world efficacy to that as far as solving problems. Nothing changes except in the echo chamber where those followers and likes are currency. Meanwhile, for those who expect sports stars to use their standing to conform and amplify any ideological talking point, that’s also fundamentally unfair.

Professional athletes, like other celebrities, are not moral compasses. Nor are the leagues they play in. If you’re looking for that kind of guidance you could and should find it elsewhere.

Some athletes, like former Eagles’ Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins and the now-retired Chris Long, develop into leaders on social issues through passion, education on the subjects that move them, and most importantly, demonstrable action.

For what’s it’s worth, Wentz acknowledged the different circumstances in life experience others need to understand and embrace. No two people have the same worldview, never mind two racial groups, and perhaps understanding that simple truth and showing empathy toward others is a good place to start.

As caucasian stars in a predominately African-American sport, the words of Wentz and Ertz are likely to resonate in the Eagles’ locker room and both current teammates and former teammates have already thanked both players for acknowledging the issue and the difficulties surrounding it.

It can get even simpler than that by asking everyone to implement the easiest fix in the world: be kind.

Later this week we’ll be sticking to sports. I hope.

For those needing a distraction right now and a football fix here are some options:

Why fourth-and-15 failed...

Examining new coaches in the NFC East

The Eagles' young and veteran running backs

MORE: McMullen: Miles Sanders for MVP? In-person NFL minicamps next month?

John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for You can reach him at or on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

You can listen to John during the week every Monday and Friday on @SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on @SBNationRadio, and daily on your favorite podcast platform for "Extending the Play."