c/o Charlie Riedel, AP

c/o Charlie Riedel, AP

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, what was supposed to be one of the most celebratory days of the year for the Kansas City Chiefs turned into one of the most devastating. 

Six years to the day after 17 people were murdered in the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history in Parkland, Fla., one person was killed and 22 (including 11 children) were injured during a mass shooting that occurred following the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVIII victory parade. 

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Chiefs launched the KC Strong fund in partnership with the United Greater Way Kansas City, which will raise money to support the victims and first responders, violence prevention and recovery organizations, and mental health services. The Chiefs, along with the Hunt Family Foundation and the NFL, made a $200,000 donation to the fund. Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his wife Brittany Mahomes donated $50,000 and posted a tweet on X (formerly known as Twitter), sending prayers to those affected by the tragedy. Tight end Travis Kelce and his girlfriend Taylor Swift each donated $100,000 to GoFundMe campaigns set up for victims and their families. Kelce also tweeted a message of condolence following the tragedy.

I applaud the Chiefs organization and its players for showing up to support their community in such a dark time. But as I reflected on their response, I couldn’t help but notice one glaring, though not especially surprising, omission. 

No one from the Chiefs organization acknowledged that this shooting was the result of the United States’ utter refusal to reform its incredibly lax gun laws. 

To be clear, I do not think it is Mahomes’ and Kelce’s (or any NFL player’s, for that matter) job to fix this country’s broken political system. I know that their calling for gun control would not change this country overnight, and for that matter, I don’t even know if either of them supports it. My problem is that it is apparent that even if they wanted to say something about the issue, they couldn’t.

It is no secret that the NFL wants to appeal to the broadest possible audience, and as such, it wants its teams and players to avoid weighing in on divisive political issues for fear of alienating viewers. It is also apparent that players who defy this expectation can face dire consequences for their careers. Most infamously, in 2016, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in protest of systemic racism and police brutality, sparking a firestorm of controversy. He was released by the 49ers at the end of the season and never signed by another team, leading to accusations that he was being blackballed. 

It is not shocking that none of the Chiefs’ top players wanted to take this moment to weigh in on an issue as contentious as gun control. It would likely have led to accusations of using a tragic moment to further a political agenda. 

As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in 2017 about the league’s position following the Kaepernick controversy: “We are trying to stay out of politics.”   

Goodell’s claim is, of course, total bullshit. For starters, it completely disregards how the NFL openly aligns itself with the US military and police, which are both innately political entities. But more importantly, the NFL cannot be apolitical because the people who control it are not.

In the case of the Chiefs specifically, the team was founded is still owned by the Hunt family, one of the most powerful oil dynasties in US history, with a total net worth of $24.8 billion. Over the past decade, the family has donated approximately $900,000 to dozens of almost exclusively conservative Republican campaigns and committees. This includes senators such as Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Marco Rubio (R-Florida), all of whom have repeatedly refused to support attempts to pass federal legislation strengthening gun control. 

The Hunt family directly funds the people whose inaction costs the United States over 40,000 lives every year. Their $200,000 donation (which makes up less than 0.0001% of their family fortune) to the KC Strong fund is nothing more than an empty gesture meant to distract from the fact that they are wealth-hoarding billionaires who could not care less about their organization’s players or fans beyond their ability to turn a profit off of them. So while children are being shot at and players are pressured to remain silent, the Hunts will continue to shamelessly rake in the cash.

It’s also important to acknowledge that this issue is not isolated to just the Chiefs, as owners across the league pour millions of dollars into Republican campaigns and super PACs which aggressively oppose gun control, while their team’s social media accounts post their “thoughts and prayers” to everyone affected by the Kansas City shooting. 

I can’t honestly say I know what a path forward for the NFL could look like, but I do know that this league is one of the most salient cultural entities in the United States, and its utter refusal to acknowledge this country’s gun problem in the aftermath of the Kansas City shooting is at best a waste of their platform and at worst an act of complicity. 

The Kansas City shooting is just further proof added to the growing list of evidence that, while the NFL claims to want political neutrality, what it is really doing is preserving the status quo at the expense of justice.

Erin Byerly can be reached at ebyerly@wesleyan.edu

  • Nick Scipio

    You do realize (I hope), the shooting was committed by someone with a stolen gun. Tell me which law exactly that you’d like to propose that would have prevented that situation?