A new era of antiracism could be starting for the Chicago Bears…
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Soon after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and just ahead of Black History Month, my beloved Chicago Bears of the National Football League may have made history.
My fandom started in childhood when my father took me to the outdoor games in the freezing cold, though my heart was always warmed. This was back at a time when Black football players were a distinct minority, but that did not strike me growing up.
I had a fantasy about becoming a professional football player before I settled on psychiatry. The final nail in that coffin occurred when I had a serious concussion while playing football before it was known what long-term brain repercussions could develop from that. Mine turned out to be brain trauma associated with sleep apnea, which in in turn associated to my cardiac arrhythmias and the need for my pacemaker, “Pacey.”
I obtained some vicarious pleasure by starting, along with a psychiatrist colleague and former football player, a Sport Psychiatry Institute at the Medical College of Wisconsin—the first of its kind—back in the 1990s. That evolved into an international sport psychiatry association.
Over time, professional football has become dominated by Black football players other than quarterbacks, quarterbacks being the central player on every team. It also seems that brain encephalopathy from head trauma has been underreported by the league and been increasingly common in aging Black football players.
Also lagging behind is Black administrative leadership, ranging from an underrepresentation of coaches, at the time of writing there being only 2 Black coaches out of 32, as well as general managers and CEOs. These disparities in leadership suggest the likelihood of structural racism, and perhaps an unconscious bias regarding intelligence.
I do not know for sure, but I would not be surprised if similar disparities did not occur in psychiatric settings serving a Black patient majority, let alone any setting regardless of its cultural composition. As we discussed in the last column, disparity needs to be monitored.
As in clinical psychiatric practice, all other important variables being relatively equal, it helps to have patient-clinical matches of similar cultural background available, though it is best for patients to have choices of preference. The same holds true in the team sport of football, in that it can provide some advantage in understanding between leadership and players.
So, what did the Bears just do? They hired Kevin Warren to be their new President and CEO, a rarity in itself. However, even rarer is the pairing of him with the general manager hired a year ago, Ryan Poles, who also is Black. As far as I know so far, this pairing of Black leaders is a first. And, by the way, their quarterback is also Black, Justin Fields. Keep in mind, though, that the owners, the McCaskey family, are white.
While the Bears just had one of their worst losing seasons in history, I would predict the next few years will bring a period of improvement that can become a model of antiracism.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.