Written by: Trill Russell
The New England Patriots has always been my team. Period. And it sucks that I, a black man, feel like I have to defend my allegiance to the Patriots.
I first started following the Patriots during the 1996-97 NFL season, in which they made a Super Bowl appearance against the Green Bay Packers. Although not nearly as popular a team as the Celtics or the Red Sox back then, the Patriots were the default football team in Massachusetts. Having been born in the Bay State, I was born into Pats Nation.
While Drew Bledsoe was understsandably the team’s biggest star, players like Curtis Martin, Dave Meggett, Ben Coates, Shawn Jefferson, and Terry Glenn made the team’s offense exciting for me to watch. On the defensive side of the ball, the Pats boasted players like Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest, Chris Slade and Willie Clay were ball-hawks who invoked fear into their opposition.
That season, I witnessed the Pats run through the AFC with an 11-5 record and face off against the league MVP Brett Favre-led Packers in Super Bowl XXXI largely because of the spectacular individual and collective efforts of the aforementioned players. Although we lost the championship, the team’s success during that season gave me a reason to finally count myself as a Patriots fan.
Twenty years later: The Patriots have just clinched their 5th Super Bowl victory after snatching the souls of the Atlanta Falcons. I’ve long blossomed into a hardcore Pats fan and I, the sole Pats fan among my friends, have been vindicated once again for my allegiance to Pats Nation.
While Tom Brady showed me once again that he is the best quarterback of all time, it was James White, the team’s running back, who was largely responsible for our offensive success that game. White had 139 total yards (29 rushing and 110 receiving) and set a Super Bowl record for most receptions (14); he also had 3 touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. He was my personal choice for Super Bowl MVP, which was ultimately awarded to Brady.
Our defense also played a huge role in overcoming the 25-point deficit for the win. Standouts like Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch and team captain Devin McCourty each made spectacular defensive plays that helped us clinch our 2nd Super Bowl victory in 3 years.
All the above-named players, except for Bledsoe and Brady, are black.
Which is why I’m always baffled when people claim that the Patriots are the “whitest team” in the league or act as if the Patriots are devoid of black players.
It’s like people forget that Corey Dillon set career highs and franchise records with 1,635 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in the Pats’ 2004 Super Bowl-winning season.
It’s like they’re ignoring that Randy Moss, probably the 2nd best wide receiver of all time, had 4 record-breaking seasons with us. Head coach Bill Belichick once called Moss “the smartest receiver” he’s ever been around.
What about Darrelle Revis? Do people not remember how he made the Patriots’ secondary defense Revis Island during our Super Bowl XLIX-winning 2013-14 season? Or what about Malcolm Butler? Do people forget that he made probably the singlemost important play in Patriots’ history with his game-winning interception on the final play of that Super Bowl?
Now, it would be massively disingenuous for me to say that I don’t understand (at least to some extent) why some people may have the idea that the Patriots are “White America’s Team.”
Compared to most other NFL teams, the Pats do have disproportionate amount of white players on the offensive side of the ball. Specifically, the Pats have Brady under center, Rob Gronkowski as tight end, Julian Edelman as the primary wide receiver and Danny Amendola as the secondary receiver. Aside from James White (trust, the irony is not lost on me), all of the Patriots’ offensive skill positions are occupied by white players. Even Chris Hogan, who features as a third receiving option for the Pats, is white. When one considers all this, surely it’s somewhat understandable how the Patriots (which represents the overwhelmingly white New England region of the United States) is viewed as a “white” team. Throw in the fact that Pats always pick up undersized white players almost every season like.
But then again, one would see that there are several black players who feature in the Pats’ offense. Aside from White, Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason feature as offensive linesmen. Moreover, LeGarette Blount (a staple of our offense) features as a power running back and Dion Lewis is our third down running back. The Patriots also added the hard-blocking, black fist-pumping Martellus Bennett as a second tight end.
Then there’s the defensive side of the ball. The Pats defense is overwhelmingly black. Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Trey Flowers, Malcolm Butler, Alan Branch, Patrick Chung, Malcom Brown, Duron Harmon, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and Elandon Roberts are all black players that make up the majority of our defense.
Another factor to consider is the Patriots’ perennial regular season and postseason success. Due to the fact that the Pats are perennial contenders, they consequently almost always have low picks in NFL drafts. Due to their success, the Pats are almost never in a position to draft a Julio Jones or a David Johnson. The The low draft picks typically translate less athletic and talented players (i.e., undersized white players from lesser-known college programs who otherwise would have been undrafted) for the Pats to draft. best example of this reality is Julian Edelman, who played quarterback at Kent State University. Edelman was a 7th round draft pick and the 232nd pick overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Edelman was not a desirable (or highly-regarded) player in that draft and that’s reflected in the fact that he wasn’t even invited to the 2009 NFL Combine. As a matter of fact, had the Patriots not conducted private workouts with him prior to the Draft (and not drafted him to utilize him as a wide receiver), Edelman most likely wouldn’t even be an NFL player.
Cynics may still point to the fact that Patriots almost always trade for white, undersized players and could refer to Danny Amndola, Chris Hogan, and Kyle Van Noy as examples. However, one could also argue that the Pats have also traded for many black players (some of whom had less-than-stellar reputations), most notably Corey Dillon, Rodney Harrison, Randy Moss, Martellus Bennett, and Michael Floyd. When one takes off their anti-Patriots goggles, he can logically deduce that the Patriots’ personnel decisions are not racially motivated.
When all the above is considered in its totality, one can only conclude that the idea that the Patriots is “White America’s Team” is complete nonsense.
Another reason as to why people view the Patriots as a “white” team is the Donald Trump connection.
It’s no secret that Pats’ owner Bob Kraft is a very close friend of President Trump, who is also a noted racist and xenophobe. The two developed a close friendship when Trump provided emotional support for Kraft while he was coping with the death of his wife. They’re also both elderly white male billionaires so chances are that they roll in the same circles, anyways.
Also Tom Brady, who beforehand was usually mum on political topics, was seen with a red “Make America Great Again” cap in his locker during a September 2015 interview in the team’s locker room. Naturally, this caused a big commotion among Pats/NFL fans and followers. When asked about it, Brady explained that Trump sent him the cap personally and that Trump also sent the cap to Kraft weeks beforehand. He also explained his friendship with Trump, which started back in 2002, when he judged one of Trump’s beauty pageant. Brady also said that he and Trump are golfing buddies who stay in frequent contact with each other. In subsequent interviews, whenever Trump became the subject for discussion, Brady would either go silent or awkwardly end the interview.
Furthermore, Bill Belichick is a noted friend of Trump. Belichick wrote a letter to Trump congratulating him on his “tremendous” campaign and his “amazing” leadership. Sigh. In November 2016, shortly before Election Night, Trump read the letter while speaking to a crowd in Manchester, New Hampshire. Understandably, there was an incredible amount of backlash and negative press.
Being aligned with Trump has become very problematic if you’re a professional sports franchise. Here, from the top to the bottom, it appears as if the Pats are, at the very least, an elitist, Republican team and, at worst, a team for white supremacists by mere association with Donald Trump.
However, one would be remiss to overlook the more liberal/progressive members of the Patriots organization, particularly Martellus Bennett, Devin McCourty and Chris Long. Both Bennett and McCourty are vocal when it comes to addressing issues affecting the black community, not to mention Trump’s campaign and election into the White House.
During the national anthem before their Week 1 Sunday Night Football game against the Arizona Cardinals, both Bennett and McCourty raised their right fists on national television to make a political statement against police brutality and the United States’ legacy of slavery and racism. McCourty explained after the game that he and Bennett raised their fists to acknowledge social injustices and to utilize their platform to foster change.
Additionally, Bennett and McCourty, among other members of the Pats, announced that they would be skipping the team’s trip to the White House following their Super Bowl victory, in order to avoid meeting Trump. In fact, Bennett, McCourty, Chris Long, Alan Branch, LeGarrette Blount and Dont’a Hightower all skipped the team’s White House visit.
Furthermore, Long, a white player, vocally supported Colin Kaepernick (and his Pats teammates) in their right to protest against oppression and acknowledged that his experience as a white male is much different from those of his peers, especially his black ones.
Personally, I don’t care for any player’s or team’s political affiliations. I’m of the belief that politics and sports should not mix but I’m also aware of how both are intermingled in today’s society.
I have no problem with those who want to call out Brady, Belichick or Kraft for their Republican/Trump affiliations. Who they want to support politically is their business and theirs alone. As a Pats fan, it’s definitely a downer that I support the team with multiple leadership figures who support Trump. However, my love for the Patriots is not limited to Brady, Belichick or Kraft. As mentioned before, players like Curtis Martin, Ben Coates, and Terry Glenn are who initially started my Patriots fandom. I’m a Patriots fan for life and that has afforded me the luxury of enjoying not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE Super Bowl victories.
It really grinds my gears when people misrepresent the Patriots as a “white” team without any nuanced intellectual reasoning. I’ve grown to tired of arguing with the wilfully ignorant. Most of the time, the same people who label the Pats as such support franchises that are in red states and have Republican and/or racist owners. And the only time people resort to labeling the Pats as such is when their respective teams are exposed as inferior to us. While Kraft, Belichick and Brady represent the Patriots organization to some degree, the Patriots organization do NOT represent Massachusetts or New England at large.
Massachusetts is the biggest state in New England and is arguably the most solid blue state in the United States. New England, which consists of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and, of course, Massachusetts, is a collection of solidly blue states. The entire New England region voted for Hillary Clinton under the Electoral College in the past presidential election.
Compare New England to, say, Georgia, home of the Atlanta Falcons. Leading up to the Super Bowl, the media (mainly “black twitter”) dubbed the Falcon’s as “Black America’s Team” and influenced black NFL fans, casuals, and nonpartial viewers to root for the Falcons to win by default. However, the irony is that Atlanta is the biggest city in Georgia, which is a solidly red state that went for Trump under the Electoral College. Interestingly enough, this tends to be overlookedby those who are all-too-eager to paint the Patriots as “White America’s Team” and the New England region as ultra-white.
At the end of the day, I know who I am. I’m a black man from New England who supports the Patriots. I grew up supporting the Patriots and I’ll forever support the Patriots as long as I’m an NFL fan. The haters can continue to spew their race-baiting lies. I will continue to enjoy every single Super Bowl victory that my team wins.