Famous in part for its commercials, the Super Bowl’s annual telecast didn’t fail to produce any number of conversation-generating ads that ran throughout the NFL’s championship game on Sunday night.
One commercial, in particular, placed a spotlight on the NFL’s ongoing expansion into the continent of Africa, where more than 125 players from this current season were either born or are of first-generation descendancy.
The spot, titled “Born to Play,” not only makes an overt appeal to African youth to become fans of the game but also encourages them to aspire one day to play in a professional American sports league that doesn’t have a single majority team owner who is Black.
The slickly produced commercial was filmed on location in West Africa and shows a young male protagonist – Kwesi – imagining he’s playing in an NFL game alongside current stars while he’s running through the busy, market-lined streets of Ghana’s capital city in Accra. When Kwesi chases the dog that “intercepted” his football, he arrives at an “NFL Africa” camp where he sees dozens of young, African men playing American football on a field where he’s told that he can realize his dream one day with hard work: “It doesn’t matter where you’re born, as long as you’re born to play.”
As the African music playing in the background grows louder, a message was shown on the screen: “The NFL international player program is expanding across the globe helping athletes everywhere make their football dreams come true.”
Watch the commercial below.
A fair number of reactions on social media found it to be a compelling commercial that pulled at the heartstrings. Some even crowned it the best commercial of the night.
To some critics, however, the blatant attempt to recruit Africans as prospective football players in the United States for a league that’s been credibly accused of racism was seen as a bridge too far.
“Ghana should be ashamed for inviting that predatory sports league into their country, seeing the NFL’s deep abuse on Black Americans,” one person posted on X, formerly Twitter, in response to the commercial.
“Oh the NFL tapping Africa for talent… sounds familiar,” said another.
One post took it there: “nfl farms in africa commercial was just a commercial for the slave trade.”
While, of course, there would be no actual slavery happening with the NFL using Africa as a recruiting field, the hyperbolic language used in the social media posts criticizing the commercial could be seen as justified considering some of the recent controversies surrounding the professional football league in recent years.
The ousting of Colin Kaepernick for the quarterback’s silent kneeling protest of police violence against Black people notwithstanding, the NFL has been accused of fostering racist owners and colluding to hire – or not hire – head coaches based on race.
Not to mention, the NFL was accused of suppressing for decades the effects of a concussion, the brain injury that is so commonly sustained while playing American football and can lead to a world of problems later in life, including suicidal thoughts and actions.
It is in that context that critics took umbrage with the NFL looking to Africa for players who in theory could be subjected to the same alleged anti-Black racism and health risks that have invited numerous lawsuits involving the NFL over the years.
The NFL’s expansion into Africa began in 2022 and remains co-signed by Osi Umenyiora, a former NFL player and two-time Super Bowl champion who was born in the United Kingdom to Nigerian parents.
“It has always been a dream of mine to bring the NFL to Africa,” Umenyiora, NFL’s lead ambassador for NFL Africa, said in a statement last year.
The NFL is far from the first professional sports league to look to African for talent, and most assuredly will not be the last. But it is seemingly the only one such such a terrible track record when it comes to race.
Other aspects of the NFL aren’t particularly great, either.
For example, statistics show that the average NFL career lasts a little more than three years. And while the median salary is about $860,000, NFL contracts are notoriously not guaranteed, especially after sustaining particular injuries.
This is America.
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