How Can We Still Watch This? (with Kiese Laymon) | Crooked Media
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September 07, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
How Can We Still Watch This? (with Kiese Laymon)

In This Episode

On the NFL’s opening week, best-selling author and MacArthur Genius Kiese Laymon joins Damon for an in-depth conversation on how they can enjoy such a violent, racist sport that profits on the destruction of (primarily Black) bodies. Plus, they find beauty in Black virtuosity and 90s-fine quarterbacks.  




Damon Young: Jalen hurts is too handsome. He’s had enough advantages in his life. He is a top, top high school recruit, went to Alabama, won a national championship, walks into Philadelphia, goes to the Super Bowl. What, his second, third season? [laughter] He don’t need me to root for him.

Kiese Laymon: He in that area where, like the most homophobic motherfucker cousin in your life, will see that nigga and just be like, huh, uh huh. [laughter] That’s a beautiful motherfucker, bro. [music plays]

Damon Young: Welcome back, everyone, to a very, very, very special episode of Stuck with Damon Young. So I’ve talked and written many times before about my deep, deep, deep, deep [laughs] ambivalence about the deeply violent and deeply hypocritical and deeply militaristic NFL and how I’ve rationalized my current consumption by saying that I only watch Pittsburgh Steelers and how that is some bullshit too. Almost like saying I don’t drink water, I just suck on ice. So anyway, to help me think through this morality bear trap I’ve set for myself, I’m joined by my good friend Kiese Laymon for a wide ranging conversation about the NFL, Black college football, capitalism, our national addiction to violence, and even the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is too handsome to root for. All right y’all. [laughs] Let’s get it. [music plays] Kiese Laymon is a MacArthur Genius and is also the author of Heavy: An American Memoir, which is one of my favorite books. Kiese what’s good man?

Kiese Laymon: I’m good bro, just waiting for that bridge. [laughter] Waiting on them bridges.

Damon Young: Well you know what. I see you rocking the pirates fitted. Are you a Blood?

Kiese Laymon: Nope. [laughs]

Damon Young: Because there was a connection with the Bloods and the pirate hat. And I didn’t realize what the connection was. Even though I lived right in the middle of Crips and Bloods in Pittsburgh in the nineties. But the P was for pirate.

Kiese Laymon: Word.

Damon Young: And so you would see Bloods with red everywhere, but with the black pirate hat.

Kiese Laymon: Wow.

Damon Young: So yeah.

Kiese Laymon: I’m embarrassed about how that makes me feel at 49. [laughter] I feel like 100. [laughs]

Damon Young: I mean. When you grew up, did you have the Bloods and the Crips? Did you go through that in Mississippi?

Kiese Laymon: Man. I’m so happy we’re talking. We have Vice Lords and Folks so our gang culture in eighties and nineties came down from Chicago.

Damon Young: Okay.

Kiese Laymon: So it went from Chicago to Memphis to Jackson, Little Rock, like that area. I mean, there’s Crips and Bloods down here now. But we’ve been, you know, Gangster Disciples like Vice Lords, Folks, like region—

Damon Young: Okay.

Kiese Laymon: Because of Chicago. So but it’s interesting cause, you know, most of those people were we created Chicago and then [laughs] our gangs created gang culture and it went from Chicago down to the deep South. [laughter] And, um, but that shit was real deep. Like, you know, I’m laughing at it, but, you know, like lots of people, you know, you couldn’t rock your hat to the left or right without consequence. And people got, you know, like we laughing about it. But, you know, late eighties to the mid-nineties, man, like lots of people in Mississippi who were friends of mine and friends of friends and friends and cousins and shit just got murdered for that gang shit. So.

Damon Young: And again, we have Bloods and Crips and it felt like shit happened overnight. We’re one day niggas was just nigga in different neighborhoods, and then the next day, Bloods, Crips. And there was another gang that was specific to Pittsburgh called the Law, which was Lincoln Avenue and Wilkinsburg, and they just were Black.

Kiese Laymon: Wow.

Damon Young: And so it was funny cause, all right, so I’m like 13, 14, 15 years old when this is all happening and I’m playing on these direct league basketball teams or whatever. And so one of my teammates, I’m not going to say his name [laughter] right. One of my teammates. He was a hooper, just like the rest of us, you know what I mean? He was okay. He wasn’t like one of the better dudes, but he got some burn and he could play a little bit. And then all of a sudden, like a week later, this nigga was a Crip, all right, like a week later, just heavy Crip, but he’s still on our basketball team. And so one day you were on a way to, like, some YMCA or some rec center to play a game. And my man Var, who is to this day, is the funniest nigga I’ve ever met before in my life, said that he was instant Crip. Like someone added water to his ass. [laughter] I’ll never forget that.

Kiese Laymon: Instant Crip.

Damon Young: Called him a instant oatmeal Crip.

Kiese Laymon: That’s perfect. Oh, oatmeal. Oh, that’s great. That’s great.

Damon Young: Yeah.

Kiese Laymon: Oh, I’m a have to take the hat off, now though bro like oh no.

Damon Young: No, no. Keep it. I mean, I don’t know if the Bloods are listening to the podcast.

Kiese Laymon: Right. [laughter]

Damon Young: You what I mean I think that you safe.

Kiese Laymon: You got to believe in yo reach my brother. You’re reaching Bloods, come on now.

Damon Young: So I got a random question for you. This is a sports related question. How many baskets do you think that you’ve made in your lifetime playing basketball?

Kiese Laymon: Wow, that’s an incredible question. Bro. 80,000?

Damon Young: It might be more.

Kiese Laymon: For real.

Damon Young: Yeah.

Kiese Laymon: Talk to me about like I’m sure you did the science, tell me about it.

Damon Young: Well, okay, so I was at lunch last week with my homie Adriana Ramírez, who writes for the Pittsburgh [?] You know, writes other things, poet, essayist. And she asked me, like, do you think LeBron James has made a million baskets in his life? I was like, a million?

Kiese Laymon: Mm. Mm hmm.

Damon Young: And then she broke it down. It’s like, okay, so he’s been playing basketball. Let’s just say. He’s 38 now. 39. So he’s been playing basketball. This is to give him 30 years.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: So let’s just say he makes 100 baskets a day.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: Trust out. And that accounts for the days where he doesn’t hoop at all. So let’s just give him 100 baskets a day every day for 30 years.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: That comes out to about a million.

Kiese Laymon: That’s. Wild. So it’s probably more than that.

Damon Young: Maybe, but it’s give or take a million, right? So for someone like you who was hooping as a young kid, hooping in college, that number is probably in the six figures, it’s probably like 100, 200 K.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah. And you know what? And I’ll played more basketball, honestly, like after college, like, after I wasn’t a basketball player anymore because you start nostalgia and shit.

Damon Young: Mm hmm.

Kiese Laymon: And I didn’t go to therapy. So yeah, man, you probably right like, you know, you start getting in your thirties, like all you I see you shoot like all you want to do is just like, like I just used to, like when I got in my thirties, I just used to want to make 15 footers, you know, like when I was in my twenties, it was like, you know, 23 footers and shit, like I just want to see see how many 15 footers I can make in a row.

Damon Young: I mean. We both hooped. We both grew up hooping we both hooped in college, we both hooped after college. And again, like you, I played more basketball after college you know what I mean, than I did in college. In fact, you know, I didn’t get a lot of burn when I was in college I had injuries, I had condition issues or whatever. I was the nigga who was shooting around after practices, like after practice was done, I would go like and play with like the regular students and go play pickup with them.

Kiese Laymon: That’s what’s up.

Damon Young: You know what I mean, just to get my confidence and just get my swag or whatever back.

Kiese Laymon: Absolutely.

Damon Young: But we’re both from regions of the country where basketball is maybe second and it’s a far second to football.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: Maybe it’s third. Maybe it’s fourth. But football is king.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: In Mississippi football is king, in western Pennsylvania. And so when you were growing up, how much did football shape your region?

Kiese Laymon: I mean, it shaped the region of Deep South, I mean, completely. But within Mississippi right it shaped Jackson more than anything you can imagine. You see like the like the residual effect of that last year, last three or four years with Prime in Jackson. My mother and father were at Jackson State when I was born. My grandmother is a Payton. You know, we’re cousins of Walter and Eddie. So my mother and father were in college with Eddie and Walter when Walter was, I think, best football player in the country. Our Saturdays in Jackson, Mississippi, because we didn’t have any professional football teams was all about going to the 50,000 seat stadium, watching the halftime show and watching Jackson State, you know, beat up on or get beat up by Alcorn and Mississippi badly. So it was all Black football. And I think that’s what’s important. It’s like so it was all Black football and we were surrounded by the SEC, so we knew that there was like white football around us and we supported like the Black players in the SEC, like Bo Jackson, who were doing their thing, but like it was Black football for us growing up. And then all it takes is like one person to go pro in basketball and then your city sort of becomes a basketball and football city, which for us happened. But it’s been football my entire life, Black football, SWAC football.

Damon Young: And just for context, you referring to Walter Payton and Eddie Payton and also when you referred to Prime you’re talking about Deion Sanders.

Kiese Laymon: Absolutely.

Damon Young: Who was coaching at Jackson State and then ended up going to Colorado. You know. I’m glad you brought up Prime because I feel like he’s a what’s that, the ink blot test, where you know motherfuckers look at it and everyone has like a different opinion or everyone sees something different when they see that shit and I feel like you got some niggas who are just happy you know what I mean that like, okay, there’s this Black man who was a superstar, been a superstar talking shit, taking it to the system, playing the white man’s game in the white system and thriving. But then on the other end, you got some other niggas who are like, Yo, he’s always been for himself. First. Deion. It’s always been about Deion before anything else and the way he left Jackson State, the way he is acting at Colorado is just an example of him just putting himself first again.

Kiese Laymon: Mm hmm.

Damon Young: So where do you fit in all that?

Kiese Laymon: I mean, yeah, I mean, I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with putting yourself first. I think there’s wrong with coaching two football teams the week that one of the football teams has a national championship. And so my problem is Deion not leaving Jackson State. You know, that’s what people who love Deion want to make this about. Nah bro. Like you can’t coach Colorado and coach Jackson State the week the Jackson State is playing in the national HBCU championship game and expect to win just like we wouldn’t expect the coach who beat us to have beaten us if he were coaching two teams at the same time and only reason he could coach two teams at the same time was because of a disrespect for Jackson State. I say all that and I say, what, Prime did at Jackson for my city is has just been incredible the way he went out was wrong and Jackson State leadership shouldn’t let him do that. You know I did the commencement address at Jackson State a few months ago and it was, wow, like going up to a bro. Like I was going to go so hard on Deion. And then at the night in a hotel like, you know, my better self kind of took over. But then when I got there, I saw his son, too. If I would have done the speech I wanted to do going in on Dion, this motherfucker would have rocked me, bruh. [laughter] You know this nigga would have rocked me. So I’m saying, I get what Deion did what he had to do. Everybody knew he was going to do it. But what we need to be talking about is how Jackson State and Jackson State leadership and Jackson State fans. We kinda allow Deion to coach both teams. That’s just unheard of, bro. Like one of them was won like two games last year. One of them was in a national championship. He shit on us for that and I’m always saying it and I’m always appreciate what he did for my city.

Damon Young: I guess. How are the fans culpable for that? Because you mentioned the fans allowing Deion to do that.

Kiese Laymon: We’re so hungry man, we’re so thirsty. Bro like because a lot of those fans, went to Jackson State grew up in the seventies and again like SWAC football, you know, Jerry Rice, Willie Todd and Steve McNair, you know we saw great, great football coming up and then there was a lull. And so what Prime did is he brought the energy back, you know what I’m saying? He brought it back and we were just so hungry and so thirsty. A lot of us just forgot to talk and force and encourage the dude to talk to the Black politics that made Jackson State University. Jackson State University. You know, he was apolitical as fuck, which means he was like, I think serving white power. He wouldn’t critique white power, white power feel. And so I think we as fans, because he was winning and when he was winning, we were winning our team. You know, Jackson and Jackson State are on ABC all over it. You know, we just weren’t critiquing him. And I just think we know better. You know what I’m saying? We know that the politics that man was espousing with some bullshit like Jackson State is not about that. We also know he was going to leave, which is fine. I just think we played ourselves into believing he was going to leave respectfully. And as an athlete, you just don’t get to the final game like two years in a row and lose when you have the most talented team unless you’re being out coached. Deion got out coached two years in a row the team that beat him ran Read Option fucking 60 times in a row and he couldn’t stop him. I think if he would have been a Jackson State coach instead of fucking in Colorado trying to recruit, maybe they would’ve stopped the Read Option. [laughter] You shouldn’t ask me  about Deion like I have lots of thoughts. I have lots of thoughts. [laughter]

Damon Young: Well, hopefully at Colorado he learns from mistakes. He learn how to defend a Read Option. [laughs] You know what I mean he learns how to handle it?

Kiese Laymon: What I love about this conversation, particularly though, is that like Deion has to be Black in like white space now in a different way. You know what I’m saying at these colleges, this motherfucker’s is like, you know, talking about Jesus Christ in the locker room and shit, bro you can do that at Jackson State. You can not go be able to do that in Colorado without winning and have, you know, everybody be okay with it. So I want him to do well, like I’m not going to front. I want, you know, I’m that Black dude who wants Black people to do well. But I also just want him to get a little bit more radical or Black loving in his politics. That would be great.

Damon Young: We were talking before we got on about all the rappers who— [laughter]

Kiese Laymon: Who fucking hate you.

Damon Young: All the people. Yeah, all the people who I grew up listening to and I’m big fans of. But, you know, I had critiques about certain things and they haven’t been happy about that and now they don’t fuck with me. And that’s, you know, it is what it is. And again, for clarity sake, Talib Kweli is one of them who was upset about a thing I wrote two years ago, three years ago, and caught wind of it last year because I think he’s on Mars or something and just doesn’t have like update WIFI and just finds out about shit two years after it happens [laughter] and he just started spamming and harassing like all my social media, particularly my Instagram account. But my point about even bringing that up is that I think that there’s a conversation to be had about what happens to us middle aged Black men, you know what I mean and you see so many different examples of this where our politics, for whatever reason, just stop evolving. Obviously it’s not true for all of us. Obviously, you know, there’s some of us, a lot of us who are conscientious, who are conscious, who are still making an effort you know what I mean and I guess I’m bringing that up also because even while I say that I can’t help but recognize my own like hypocrisy, because the NFL season is about to start, everyone who knows anything about the NFL knows all the shit we know about the CTE and about how the majority of the players who retire are going to have brain damage. Like, that’s an inevitability. Like you cannot play that game without the majority of the people who play it having broken brains when they’re done. We know about like the unguaranteed contracts. We know about how each of the games is this exercise in copagenda. We could just go down the line. We know about Kaepernick, right? And yet I am still excited for opening day when the Steelers take the field. [laughter] Now, I’ve tried to rationalize it by saying, you know what, I don’t I don’t watch NFL anymore. I just watch the Steelers. But that’s some bullshit. [laughter] That’s some bullshit. Right. You know what I mean? I don’t drink water no more. I just suck on ice. Like, come on, nigga. It’s still water.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah. I like how you walk that down, bro. Like you walked it down real smooth. Can I just jump, if this is out of place, I just want to. I want to ask you this based on what you just said. You hype, NFL season’s about to start. Your team has the Black coach, right? So, like niggas worldwide love your team for lesser reasons. Dallas and Pittsburgh in the seventies, but nigga like me fuck with Pittsburgh because you have a Black coach. Would you be as excited as you are for opening day if the coach of the entire team were white?

Damon Young: No, definitely not. Okay. Definitely not. Tomlin. Mike Tomlin definitely plays a part in my excitement and my current fandom. The coach before was Bill Cowher and I like Cowher as a coach, but if Cowher was still coach, I would carry them less. You know what I mean? But I root for Tomlin. You know we’re big fans we call him Iron Mike here in the city, Iron Mike Tomlin and also the fact that half the city wants to fire the nigga. Whenever they lose a game or whenever, you know he maybe mishandles the clock. And you know you listen to any of the talk radio here you know they call them Coach Cliche they want to get rid of mean it’s like yo he has literally never had a losing season and every other organization around the league looks at him as being like a top three coach.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: And you want to let him go because of whatever.

Kiese Laymon: My grandmother is 94 and you know, I’ve been watching football my entire life. But that symbol is a symbol that means the most to her is Mike Tomlin, which says everything. But you asked me how I got into it. It was again through the swag, like.

Damon Young: Mm hmm.

Kiese Laymon: When Walter went to the Bears, like, you know, our city, which was already connected to Chicago in a particular way because of migration. You know, we became Bears fans when the Bears did them dirty, according to us, by not letting them score a touchdown and shit letting Fridge score a touchdown in the Super Bowl. We kind of jumped off of the Bears when Steve McNair was with the Tennessee Titans. You know, we were hardcore Titans people. We sort of jump around.

Damon Young: Yo, I didn’t know that was a thing that, you know, Walter Payton not getting a touchdown and Refrigerator Perry getting at you know, I didn’t realize that people felt away about that.

Kiese Laymon: What?

Damon Young: This is news to me I, I had no idea that that was like a point of something for people. I had no idea.

Kiese Laymon: Oh. Man, we’re never going to forgive their franchise. Like Walter carried the motherfuckers man, for years and carried them to the Super Bowl.

Damon Young: Oh wow.

Kiese Laymon: And Walter didn’t have a great game, but he was Walter. And you going to let the Fridge score a touchdown instead of letting Walter score motherfucking touchdown in the Super Bowl? This is the greatest motherfucking running back ever nigga, come on, bro.

Damon Young: Mm hmm.

Kiese Laymon: I’m talking about this shit like it just happened like it was just disrespectful again to Mississippi but also like to like, you know, our history of, this motherfucker went to Jackson State. It’s not like he could have gone to play at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama. You know, he went to Jackson State because we had a history of HBCU players and shit, but we knew the great motherfuckers there who were great, weren’t allowed to be great. And would you know, we knew Jerry Rice couldn’t be great in any SEC schools, you know what I’m saying we knew. So anyway, we just followed them, bro. And so now, because Black quarterbacks are doing their thing, I tend to root for like the team that has like the Black quarterback and like so right now, like, I’m loving Jalen Hurts, so I’m loving the Eagles and I’m loving Lamar in Baltimore. Of course.

Damon Young: Jalen Hurts is too handsome. He’s had enough advantages in his life. He is a top, top high school recruit, went to Alabama, won a national championship, walks into Philadelphia, goes to the Super Bowl, what, his second, third season. And he also looks like Shemar Moore, like he [laughs] he has too many advantages for me. You don’t need me to root for him.

Kiese Laymon: He in that area, where like the most homophobic motherfucking cousin in your life will see that nigga and just be like mm, mm hmm. Respect. Respect. [laughter] You know what I mean like, that’s a beautiful motherfucker. Bro.

Damon Young: You know what niggas do when they when they don’t want to admit that they find another man attractive, they start dressing like him.

Kiese Laymon: Right. [laughter]

Damon Young: Start wearing their hair like him, start getting the hair cut like him, start wearing facial hair. It’s like you just peep him. You don’t actually say yo I think that nigga cute. Or— [laughter] Beautiful. You just change your entire steez.

Kiese Laymon: That’s so funny.

Damon Young: So that you just become replicant of this nigga. That’s what we do. Now I gone admit, I’ve definitely done that before, you know what I mean where you just peep someone’s style and you’re like, let me see how this hair looks on me. Let me see how this shirt looks on me.

Kiese Laymon: How would you do Jalen Hurts though. Like, how would you imitate that beautiful ass niggas?

Damon Young: I think one of the things with Jalen that makes him unique is that he’s quote unquote “nineties fine.”

Kiese Laymon: Definitely.

Damon Young: And so I’ve been trying to unpack exactly what that means like what does it mean to be nineties fine what people in there talking like people likes Shemar Moore and  Morris Chestnut, you know people who came in that era who were known as being the heartthrobs back then. I think one thing that distinguishes him from a lot of the particularly a lot of the Black athletes today is you look at him, he might be tatted up, but he doesn’t have a lot of obvious tattoos, which again, that makes him distinct from a lot of the Black athletes today. Also, he has a fade and a goatee, which is hair that is distinct because most of the athletes today have locks, have all types of stuff happening in their hair, have full beards, but he has the goatee has the fade. So you have that lack of a whole bunch of visible tattoos. You have the goatee and you have the fade. So you have like a nineties esthetic. And so I think that’s where the nineties fine comes in.

Kiese Laymon: Let me add one thing to it and his countenance. Like.

Damon Young: Did you say countenance? [laughter]

Kiese Laymon: Whenever the motherfucker like speaks like nigga, I’d be surprised because he seems like one of them niggas who only says like five words a year.

Damon Young: Yeah.

Kiese Laymon: Which was sexy in the nineties, You know what I’m saying? Like, you know, remember when, what was that bald head nigga who was the model everybody all the sisters had on the wall.

Damon Young: Tyson. Tyson Beckford.

Kiese Laymon: Tyson.

Damon Young: Yeah.

Kiese Laymon: I mean, the first time I heard this nigga talk, I was just like, oh, oh, okay, well, you ain’t sexy as you was my brother but I feel the same way about I feel the same way about Jalen. Bro. Like he is so comported.

Damon Young: Uh huh.

Kiese Laymon: And like you know you could tell like that military shit and it’s weird that that’s sexy to a nigga but I feel like you age yourself when you say he nineties fine. But yeah that niggas nineties fine.

Damon Young: Yeah it’s the strong silent type. Back with more after the break with Kiese Laymon. [music plays] Speaking of Jalen. You know, you brought up Black quarterbacks, right? And for years, if I was watching the game, any football game, you know, other than like the Steelers or the University of Pittsburgh, two random anonymous teams and one of those teams had a Black quarterback. That’s who I root for.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: Team with the Black quarterback. I don’t care who the team is. I don’t care where they’re from. But again, if there are two teams that I have no rooting interests with, I root for the team with a Black quarterback. And so there are a lot of Black quarterbacks in NFL today start probably at least like 8 to 10, maybe even more than that. And so I’m wondering if what gets your rooting interest more a team having a Black coach or a team having a Black quarterback today?

Kiese Laymon: Mm. That’s a great question. I wish the answer was coach. The answer should be coach, but it’s still quarterback because to me, it’s just, you know, I think we’re trained to see that as one of the most dynamic positions on the field, definitely the most like responsible position on the field. And we just hardly get any Black coaches, you know what I mean? You just, you know, like, you just can’t.

Damon Young: Mm hmm.

Kiese Laymon: And when we do get them, they don’t get to exist very long.

Damon Young: Yeah.

Kiese Laymon: Like, you don’t have to, like, lose, then win. Like, you either win or, you know, you got a few who got to lose and then maybe win a little bit. So I would say Black quarterbacks still, even though there are a ton. But I just still think fam there’s nothing like to me like NFL football team being led by a Black quarterback and that’s like old school nineties in me.

Damon Young: Mm hmm.

Kiese Laymon: But I’m still taken by it, you know what I’m saying? Even with the complete understanding that football is packaged spectacular violence that we’re all contributing to. I like my violence to be led by Black quarterbacks. [laughter]

Kiese Laymon: I do. Blacks only.

Damon Young: Did you see the quote I forgot who it was. It was a sports journalist a couple of weeks ago who mentioned that Dak Prescott doesn’t get the same sort of love from Black people that other Black quarterbacks do.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: That we don’t root for him. We don’t like circle the wagons for him the way we would like Lamar Jackson or someone like that. Now, are you familiar with that quote.

Kiese Laymon: I don’t know who said it, but I’ve heard that before.

Damon Young: Okay. Why do you think that is? And again, I say that while recognizing that there have been that some things that Dak Prescott has done, like he’s been supportive of the police.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: Kind of like a roundabout way. He also plays for the Cowboys, which is its own thing.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: You know what I mean? But I think there is a conversation to be had about like there are Black quarterbacks and then there are particular types of Black quarterbacks.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: That I think that we are more likely to kind of rally around and root for them.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: I’m a keep it a buck. I’ve known who Dak Prescott was since he was in college. I don’t consider him like when I think of Black quarterbacks, he is not a name that comes to mind.

Kiese Laymon: Wow.

Damon Young: I just think of him as like the Cowboys quarterback. And not to say that he’s like some sort of coon or sellout or Tom or anything like that, but I’m [laughter] just keeping it a buck. I don’t think of him.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: I think of like Lamar Jackson as a Black quarterback.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: I think of Jalen Hurts as a Black quarterback. I think of even  Jameis Winston’s silly ass as a Black quarterback.

Kiese Laymon: Wow. Wow. [laughter]

Damon Young: All right.

Kiese Laymon: That’s a lot, bro.

Damon Young: I think of Russell Wilson as a Black quarterback.

Kiese Laymon: Without Ciara? [laughter]

Damon Young: But Dak Prescott just doesn’t get that from me.

Kiese Laymon: Okay. I won’t make the argument that I think we have to see Dak Prescott as a Black quarterback for us to understand how significant it is that someone like that Prescott, who could be good ish, can lead the most, you know, lucrative team in the NFL. So what I’m saying is like that argument where like, Black people get to fail. I just think.

Damon Young: Mm hmm.

Kiese Laymon: But I hear you. If he’s darker and or his politics is, quote unquote, “Blacker,” I don’t think he gets to be in that position being average and looking like he looks, you know, like we cannot think of as a Black quarterback. But that nigga is a Black quarterback, like to Jerry.

Damon Young: He is. Yeah.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah. But I feel you bro, but I also just think him particularly like, I don’t know if we’ve seen a Black quarterback, I mean, maybe one or two who have been able to like be in the spotlight and not win shit for that long, because nigga’s don’t get that opportunity. We don’t get to be in the center and just like fucking flail, you know, like you got to be exceptional as Lamar, you know. And as we saw Jalen last year or someone even like Warren Moon who broke all kind of passing records but never got over over in terms of winning a championship. But I just think like Dak is like said something to me about the way race is moved in athletics. I’m not trying to be like progressive necessarily, but that motherfucker is very average. And he’s still the quarterback of the most popular team in the NFL. That means something.

Damon Young: I think that you’ve made the point, right? Because he is someone who you know what I mean, he hasn’t won the Super Bowl. You know, the Cowboys haven’t been great for like the last decade or so. And he’s also not a nigga who was going to be breaking records or giving you highlights either. Like, he might as well be Kirk Cousins, you know what I mean? Like, just an [laughter] above average quarterback who is a good NFL player. Not great. A good NFL player who has kept his job for, what, six, seven years now?

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: And again, I think that, yeah, we associate when we give a quarterback like, okay, this is a Black quarterback, we think like they have to be spectacular.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: I think in our consciousness.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: Either they have to be spectacularly successful or they have to be spectacularly athletic.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: And he is neither of those things in the NFL context. And I think that that’s what kind of makes it like, oh, well, okay, he’s just a quarterback for the Cowboys.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: And to your point, I guess that is a form of progress where a nigga can lead the richest franchise [laughter] in professional sports maybe, and be above average.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah. What I like to talk about is how sad that that is like that. That is a testament to where we are in the NFL like we’re lauding like the ability of an above average quarterback Black quarterback to stay an above average Black quarterback on an NFL team. And you know, like they just got Trey Lance and you know so disrespectful like right like they didn’t even talk to Dak, Trey Lance was a I think first round number three pick in 2020, 21 one of those years. And they didn’t even ask Dak like what he thought of it. Now, whether you ask Dak what he thinks of it or not, you’re supposed to tell the fucking press like, yeah, we talk of course we talk to Dak about this decision. Dak was in favor of it, Dak was like, Yeah, no, they didn’t talk to me about it. You know, like so. And I’m not saying that’s because he’s Black, but I don’t think his Blackness is inconsequential in the way Jerry Jones decides to treat that brother, you know?

Damon Young: Mm hmm. Getting back to the question about, like, your NFL consumption today, like, do you do you watch games today?

Kiese Laymon: I do watch games today. Yeah.

Damon Young: You know, despite everything that we both know about the NFL.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: How do you make that decision? Like what’s the tree of decisions that lead to you deciding like, you know what, I’m a still consume?

Kiese Laymon: That’s a great question. Yeah. Like, you know, in basketball like I would have the league pass, like in football, I don’t have that. So I watch what’s on network TV and then I watch the NFL Network or whatever when they just show the highlights of people scoring and I’m thinking about getting the package so I can watch, what I would do is I might watch Eagles games, I can watch I can watch all the Ravens games. I’m a watch highlights of other people. And, you know, I was really excited about his brother, Isaiah Bolden, who got drafted by the New England Patriots out of Jackson State. But, you know, to speak to this point specifically, you know, he got carted off the field a few weeks ago, but New England is going to be a team that I was going to watch, which really put my head in conflict because I hate the Patriots and everything that they represent.

Damon Young: Mm hmm.

Kiese Laymon: But, you know, there’s a Jackson State player who play for them. And I don’t know, he’ll probably still get some time. But, you know, he got carted off and, you know, who knows if he’s ever going to be all right again.

Damon Young: Yeah. So one of the Steelers preseason games, they played the Bills. You know, what I mean. And the Bills is where Damar Hamlin who had cardiac arrest on the field, his heart stopped, literally stopped.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: After a hard hit. He was eventually revived and made it to the hospital, made what seems to be a full recovery, which is great for him. There’s also like somewhat of a personal connection there because he’s from Pittsburgh, right. And the place where I used to go for like open gym, to play pickup that I talked about in my book, the Thursday Night Hoops, Central Catholic High School is where he went to high school like he didn’t hoop, but I would see him around gym since he was like eighth grade, ninth grade or whatever, you know what I mean? And so him coming back to play, you know, the preseason game with the Steelers was like, okay, this is like this heartwarming moment. There was like a moment of recognition for him, for his family. It was a big deal. But it’s like you’re watching this in. You’re like, Yo, this nigga almost died.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: Right? Got hit so hard in a game where getting hit is an inevitability.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: Like you’re not playing the game the right way if you don’t get demolished every week playing it.

Kiese Laymon: Yep.

Damon Young: And so we’re rooting for him to just go right back out there.

Kiese Laymon: It’s wild.

Damon Young: And sacrifice his body and give his body and potentially have the same shit happen to him again. And obviously there are other sports where athletes have gotten, you know, that sort of serious injury, you know, heart issue, brain issue, spine issue, back issue, whatever. But those are sports where collision and violence is not baked into the sport the same way.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: Where collisions happen in basketball collisions happen in baseball collisions happen in soccer, but they’re not baked into the DNA of the game the way they are in football. And I guess there’s hockey too. You know, I have to admit that hockey [laughter] right and hockey can be violent also. Right. But the level of violence of football is different.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: And so, again, watching Damar Hamlin come back, heartwarming moment. Everyone’s like, cheering and it turns into chills, goose bumps, whatever. And it’s like, yo, he is, like, what are we rooting for?

Kiese Laymon: But you know what though Damon? Like, I agree. And because I’m just getting older. Bro like. Yes. But to me, like, as much as I watch this and watch what happened to Kap and watch what happens to all of us, I just think it’s like as violent that they do all of that for us, right? They put their bodies and their futures on the line for us to watch. But like what’s ill is that like they don’t get to fucking say anything? Like you put a mic in front of their faces, they don’t get to talk about anything. Like, I just think like the bartering of it should be. And we see what happens when you actually do say something of substance. And I’m not even talking about organizing right now. I’m just saying like, are you telling me, bro, like, you’re risking your life damn near on every play on some positions? And if you use that microphone to say anything of substance about the violence that you enduring or about, you know, sociopolitical violence or the larger violence that you and your family and your families have withstood, who knows would happened. But I guess you have to believe you won’t be able to get a check any more. So I feel you on, about the violence on the field, but I’m also just, like, taken by like how you can withstand that shit and then still, like, be just a nigga at work scared to talk. Which is what NFL players for the most part appear to be, you know?

Damon Young: So it’s another level of violence like you have the on field violence.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: And then and then.

Kiese Laymon: Absolutely.

Damon Young: Like the removal or the suppression of a voice and that’s something that I mean would it make a difference to you though? Like if after the game, if they were able to be like, yeah, man, you know, I almost died yesterday and I got back out there today and I might get cut tomorrow, but, you know.

Kiese Laymon: Absolutely.

Damon Young: Or would that make you like we’re talking about us watching the game.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: You know what I mean? And we’re talking about how we view the game. And so would hearing transparent, vulnerable honesty like that impact whether or not you decide to continue to watch?

Kiese Laymon: It would impact how I watched and that’s what I’m trying to say. I think what’s so interesting about what you’re saying is that what I just heard and you made me think that before, I thought, do I watch it or not watch, but I’m saying it. I think I’m not saying if they were loud, because I think they are loud. But I’m saying like if motherfuckers like, galvanize the power to actually say something about the conditions of their work at work, I think it would impact work. And I think when you impact labor, you impact how other people perceive labor, which means you impact to other people like perceive like labor, like our ability to do labor and our ability to talk at work. And I’m not trying to be like it’s like A to B like if they talked, we would all be free. But I think if they were allowed to fucking speak while risking their life and limb for millions of dollars that aren’t guaranteed, I think that, like it changes how we consume what we consume. And I think that means some people’s going to make them consume even less. I mean, you see when a player’s talk, white people don’t want to fucking watch the shit as much. You know what I’m saying when a Black niggas talk about shit, white motherfuckers don’t want to watch.

Damon Young: Yeah.

Kiese Laymon: Right. ESPN is struggling right now because they say too many other people talking have political agenda. So like, I’m literally saying like, and I want more of that. Like, you know, I’m saying like and so I do think it would change what we watch. It would make me watch more, honest. You know.

Damon Young: Well, another point too, is that if they had more of a voice or if they were more encouraged to be transparent, to be vulnerable, to be honest, to actually express what is happening to their bodies, to to their minds.

Kiese Laymon: Yep.

Damon Young: Maybe the actual game would change, too.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: Maybe that would have an effect on the conditions, you know? So maybe you have this symbiotic relationship where it affects consumers like me and you and also the average white consumer who doesn’t want to watch.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: If Damar Hamlin is actually talking about the conditions on the field and the conditions off the field. You know what I mean? But then maybe the game changes like, I don’t know, maybe the contract structure, maybe the amount of games that they actually play, you know, maybe the harsh conditions become less harsh. You know what I mean, even as I’m saying out loud, when you make football less harsh, when you remove the violence from it, it becomes something that like when was the last time you watched the Pro Bowl?

Kiese Laymon: Never.

Damon Young: Never.

Kiese Laymon: Never. And like, I think I watched it one year when Jerry Rice was in that shit. Like I think I watched it like 87, 88 or something.

Damon Young: Okay. This is something that I have been trying to think through, trying to write through, trying to talk through. You know what I mean? Is the fact that, yes, you know, I think that we all want the sport to be less violent.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: You know what I mean? We want the players to be safe. We want them to have more protections. We want them to be, I guess, just more secure in their bodies. Right. But one of the things that attracts me to the game and I love like the skill I love, like the running and the catching and the precision passing and, you know, the way that cornerbacks are able to backpedal or twist their hips and and, you know, do all that stuff. But that stuff matters. Because of the threat of violence.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: The threat of the violence, the violence always being near the balance being the elephant is what makes the other shit meaningful. And so if you remove the violence, or if you make it less violent, are there parts that I enjoy about the game going to matter less to me?

Kiese Laymon: Probably. Right. But that’s what I’m saying about the project. If you make this less violent. Will I like it less? Yes, motherfucker. Because we’re as conditioned by the NFL as NFL is conditioned by economic systems around the world. Right. So. So, yeah, like, I just think we need to accept it. To me, it’s not about like, are we are, aren’t we, like, obsessed with violence. To me, it’s about like once we know we are like, what are we willing to change? In addition to stopping to watch the NFL, you know, in order to like, curb our obsessive desire to consume violence? And I hear this conversation is focused on the NFL. But my point often is that like I just often just say when we focus on the NFL without the systems or whatever other things connected to NFL and I get NFL is unlike hockey, unlike baseball and like basketball and like all these other things. But it ain’t the most violent game going on in the world. Like that’s just called capitalism, of which football is a part. So I do think we could be less violent, but I don’t think we want to be. [laughter] So we ain’t gonna be, you know what I’m saying.

Damon Young: Yeah, what you’re speaking to is like our addiction to violence and the music. You know, again, we were talking, you know, offline about how my relationship with rap music is just evolving and it’s in this really like, weird and awkward space right now where I don’t want to listen to the niggas who are our age. Still making murder rap, right? I’ll listen to them when they were 20, 25.

Kiese Laymon: Right, right, right. [laughter].

Damon Young: Listening.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: Making that.

Kiese Laymon: You still like listening to them now.

Damon Young: But I still like listening to murder rap. I still like listen to Pusha T, you know.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: Being Avon, Stringer, Nino, you know what I mean, Barksdale. There’s still something about me that loves that shit.

Kiese Laymon: Absolutely.

Damon Young: Despite the fact that there’s so much out there that is conscious, that is like I can be listening to gospel rap, I could I could eat the Impossible burger [laughter] and listen to some gospel rap. You know what I mean? I mean, it’s available.

Kiese Laymon: Wow.

Damon Young: It just speaks to— [laughter]

Kiese Laymon: You had Lecrae on the show bro? Y’all had?

Damon Young: No. We didn’t have Lecrae.

Kiese Laymon: Okay.

Damon Young: Like, even, you know, I think we talked about it before, about how I’ve been thinking about getting a gun. You know what I mean? Despite everything, despite all the shit we were just talking at the beginning of the show about the Bloods and Crips and all the niggas that we know who are no longer with us because of gun violence, all the gun violence around us. I am still considering it, you know what I mean. It’s not like a present consideration, but it’s a thought that’s in my head and I feel like it shouldn’t be. But it is. And I think a part of it. Yeah. Obviously I want to protect my family. Obviously, you know, niggas out here is crazy, but there’s still [laughter] I can’t not admit the fact that there is an allure. You know, what I mean, that there is something inside of me that that thinks it’s sexy, that thinks it’s cool. And so, yeah, getting back to our consumption of the NFL again, we’re addicted to violence. We’re addicted to capitalism and the game is just an extension of that. It’s like all the things that we rail about, all the things that we recognize are fucked up politically, all in one pot. And it’s like, well, make your decision it’s the enjoyment that you get out of that. Does not supersede the violence that’s being committed and also how your complicity makes this possible? Too.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: So does your pleasure supersede all of that? Does your attraction to violence, to blood, to death even, or at least not necessarily death itself, but being in a circumstance where you could come within an inch of death, you know what I mean, which I think, God willing, that hasn’t happened on NFL field where someone has died.

Kiese Laymon: But we know people have died because of NFL fields.

Damon Young: We know people have died because of football, but we haven’t actually witnessed it on the field.

Kiese Laymon: I think the hard part for me can I just say is that is absolutely what you said about spectacular violence. And I think for me, the hardest part is that it’s also like etched. And this is the American project. It’s etched and really shaped by Black virtuosity. And so like as a Black consumer, like we understand so much of our Black virtuosity is like necessitated, like created through violence. We are who we are, partially because of this American project and its necessity that it wants to, you know, be carnivorous and fucking eat out our souls. So when we see Black people performing on football field or anywhere else and I’m not saying anywhere else is different than a football field, but I’m saying and anywhere else. I just think when we talk about divesting, I mean, I think that we’re trying to have a conversation about like the pleasure we derive from violence, but also the pleasure we derive from watching Black bodies virtualistically, like do shit with inviolate circumstances the bodies aren’t supposed to do, which is what our bodies have been doing since we got here. So I just think like it’s so deep to me and the pleasure is so deep to me that we have to have really deep conversations about the role, the virtuosity, Black virtuosity and the American violence machine. And I love watching like, you know, gymnastically fucking move our way through this shit. But I think that shit makes me a much more violent person. And that’s the part about it. I think we, I don’t know what to say next because I’m still going to watch the games, you know? So. You know? I don’t know bro. I’m trying to bridge you out of this [laughs] trying to bridge you out I don’t know. [laughs]

Damon Young: So you said it makes you more violent person. Like, what does that look like for you tangibly? What does that mean for you?

Kiese Laymon: I would love to know what my insides of my imagination were like. Like without like getting height at like one nigga damn near decapitated, another nigga trying to catch a pass. Like we grew up watching, just highlights of that. And I’m saying, like, watching that shit, I can’t, I can’t be like, it doesn’t impact the way I live my life around people who I love. But see I just got to be careful here. That’s why I want to slow. I don’t want to be like watching football makes you beat your motherfucking like partners. And I’m not sure what actually watching football does, but what I’m trying to say is we can’t even isolate the football watching in our consumptions of violence because, like, every fucking thing we do is is shrouded in violence. You see what I’m saying.

Damon Young: Yeah. Mm hmm.

Kiese Laymon: So like, I don’t want to be like, well, if I didn’t watch football, you know, maybe I’d like treat my body kinder. I want to believe that’s true. But if I didn’t watch football, you know, I would still be encouraged by my job to bow down to white supremacy and hoist up anti-Blackness at work, which is also bad for my body. So I’m just saying, I think the conversation has to, like, bend and fold with all of that shit. I think.

Damon Young: Like my coach in college had a phrase called fake hustle, right? Where if someone was not really hustling on defense but with like smack the floor or whatever, it’s like nigga that’s fake hustle. You want to say nigga, he’s white. But nigga that’s fake hustle. He said, nigga, that’s fake hustle. [laughter] And so I’ve been on this for years, right? Like, am I really grappling with this shit? Is this just some fake hustle? Is this just us talking? Because we know the conscientious the evolved motherfucker in 2023 is going to have some ambivalence about watching NFL and it’s going to be able to express that ambivalence. But you still watch. And so is all of this just fucking, a performance like this entire conversation, not, not the parts about the other stuff. But the NFL part is not just us performing because we’re just going to when this is over, we’re going to go and do what we’ve been doing for decades.

Kiese Laymon: I want to perform it because I know that, like we could organize to change the labor conditions of the NFL, like we as consumers could organize to change labor conditions. And I think we could organize to change labor conditions in this country on a larger scale, too. So like the more insidious part is like in the absence of organizing, which is what we could do, I think some of us want to do like, oh shit, I don’t want to watch Damar Hamlin get his motherfucking like, lungs blown out of his back. But I have to, you know, like, I just think because we know, like, organizing is what we could do, but we don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. You know, and I think stop and watching the mess would be a part of organization.

Damon Young: It’s funny, we had a whole conversation about Black quarterbacks and didn’t mentioned Patrick Mahomes, who is I’m going to say it like it  didn’t LeBron winning the championship. For me to say he was the best player in the league, he was the best player in the league from 2004 on, he was the best. He was better than Kobe, better than Tim Duncan, better than whoever else, USA was the best in the league. I don’t need like, accomplishments.

Kiese Laymon: Yep.

Damon Young: In order to say that. And Patrick Mahomes is, I think, the best quarterback of all time.

Kiese Laymon: Right.

Damon Young: Right now. And we didn’t even mention him in its conversation about Black quarterbacks.

Kiese Laymon: I know. Which says so much. [laughter] But I’m gonna watch the highlights. And if it was Lamar I’d watch the game.

Damon Young: The Kansas City Chiefs. Which Patrick Mahomes plays for. [laughs] Playing the Detroit Lions tonight. Opening night, Black quarterback, Black ass quarterback. You gonna watch? Black quarterback whose wife thinks that his favorite food is fried chicken. [laughter]

Kiese Laymon: I love Patrick Mahome’s daddy. I love I love Patrick Mahomes daddy. And I plan on watching the highlights of that game.

Damon Young: Same. I’ll watch some highlights.

Kiese Laymon: Yeah.

Damon Young: All right.

Kiese Laymon: For sure.

Damon Young: Kiese Laymon. Thank you again. Always, always a pleasure. Appreciate you.

Kiese Laymon: Thank you so much for having me. Man. You creating a space out here, the only space like it. So thank you for letting me come and mess around on it. I appreciate you.

Damon Young: Of course. Anytime man. Again, just want to thank Kiese Laymon for coming through. Great topic, great guests. It’s always a great time when Kiese comes through. Never know what our conversations are going to go. Also, thank you all for coming through again. Could have been anywhere else in the world, but you chose to be here with us. So thank you again for that. You can get Stuck with Damon Young wherever you get your podcasts, but if you’re on the Spotify app, you know, all the interactive questions and answers and polling, have some fun with it. Knock yourself out. Please go ahead. Tell a friend, do your thing. Also, if you have any questions about anything whatsoever [laughs] hit me up at All right y’all. See you next week. [music plays] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Kendra James and Madeleine Haeringer. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing and mastering by Sara Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. Theme music and score by Taka Yasuzawa. And special thanks to Charlotte Landes. And from Spotify our executive producers are Lauren Silverman, Neil Drumming and Matt Shilts. Special thanks to Lesley Gwam and Krystal Hawes-Dressler. [music plays]