Game On / A troubling blue and red line
When loyalty is accompanied by hate speech
The culture of Bills fans concerns me. I’m not here to clutch my pearls about drinking. I’m not even going to say that I disapprove of people body slamming each other through tables. The Bills Mafia has carved out its own weird little niche of fandom and I am extremely here for it.
What I am not here for is the creeping alt-right, white-powery vibe that is starting to take hold around the stadium, and sometimes inside it.
This is the team that employed Richie Incognito after he was despicable, demeaning, and racially intolerant toward a teammate in Miami. The rest of the league wouldn’t touch him, but the Bills and Bills fans were happy to be part of his rehabilitation. There are text messages documenting all the horrifying things that he thought were acceptable to say to another human. He was consistently voted one of the dirtiest players in the league, but everyone cheered him to a couple of Pro Bowls.
This is a team that currently employs Josh Allen, whom we all love. We love him so much that we swept his racist tweets under the rug on draft night. The face of the franchise had tweeted the n-word and, “If it ain’t white it ain’t right” as a high school student. We wrote it off as a youthful indiscretion, and, by all accounts, he does appear contrite, but even a high schooler should know better than to say or do those things. It’s not that I think Josh Allen is racist; I just think we as fans are very quick to dismiss racial issues as “not a big deal.”
The Bills only make moves like this because they think they can sell it to their fans. And they have good reason to think so. These are the fans that sold T-shirts outside of the stadium parking lot with pictures of Colin Kaepernick’s face in crosshairs when Kaepernick and the 49ers came to town in 2016. This was right after he took a knee to protest police violence against black people.
These are the fans who fly the thin blue line flag at tailgate after tailgate. Many who fly that flag say they do so to support the police, which is admirable, but—all over the country—police departments are refusing to fly it because of its associations with white power.
Another symbol of the white power movement has made its way onto the field. Before the week-seven game against the Miami Dolphins, the color guard for the National Anthem flew the Gadsden Flag—a yellow flag with a segmented snake and the inscription “Don’t Tread on Me;” it was first flown during the Revolutionary War by the first Americans. It has been co-opted since by radical elements of all sorts, most notably the KKK in the 1960s. Recently, it was flown side by side with the tiki torches at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally. In 2016, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission said that displaying the flag at a workplace can constitute racial harassment. Yet, the Bills displayed it during the national anthem and no one seemed to notice or care.
All of this may not seem like much, perhaps. I don’t think being a Bills fan means wearing a white hood. But I think that, intentionally or unintentionally, the Bills and Bills fandom aren’t as inclusive as they could be. As fans, we come across as hostile, or, at best, tone-deaf without realizing it. Being a Bills fan is awesome, and I love it, but we can all do a better job of welcoming everyone.