One of the things we like to tell ourselves, whether we live in Buffalo or have expatriated to some predictable metropolis on one coast or continent or another, is how great we are at the task of sticking by each other. It's the Scarlet Letter emblazoned on our identity as a community, as individuals. Related: I'm terribly shitty at metaphors, a bumbling frontal lobe addicted to adjectives that I stuff into a crack pipe stinking of emotions, so just pretend that the Scarlet Letter is less a letter than a standing Buffalo, less an indictment than a badge of honor; pretend that Arthur Miller didn't need to write that play and that American ancestry can't be tracked to fucking witch burning.
I think about that kind of self-characterization often. From my perch in my Times Square law office, from McFaddens and Kelly's and all the Buffalo bars we choose to squeeze out of the stone of New York City life, it can feel incredibly accurate, that self-congratulatory superiority arising from the combination of Buffalo's Midwestern neighborly charm and its New York ego, because so much of that identity from this perch of mine is restricted to the high fives and Shout! call and response that litter sidewalks outside of games, on trains and in traffic, wherever two or three are gathered and things of that nature. We can stick by each other in those moments because the job of doing so is so so easy, so so straightforward. So time-limited. We can ignore the bullshit parts of Buffalo, the moments where Buffalo falls tragically short, the moments Buffalo reveals itself to be the kind of place willing to turn its back on its own, to decide that certain parts of Buffalo are actually Other, are actually deserving of exclusion.
A week and a half ago, The Buffalo News published an article by Kim Martin, a reporter none of us knew all that well because she's only been writing for TBN for a couple months. Martin had interviewed Tyrod Taylor, and the substance of what they talked about was incredibly important. The piece, if standing alone in a national and historical context, is as uncontroversial as one can probably get at this American moment, as is Taylor's identification of a the unmistakable Truth of the impossibly high standards placed on him as a mobile black QB, specifically, and as a black man, generally. It's a Truth that needs to be cried out from the rooftops as much as possible; a Truth that, frankly, is the kind of thing we should have gotten right with over a century ago. Longer, probably. Football fans see the disparity every. fucking. weekend, and even more so of late. The coin in play has many sides - slavery is prison labor is Jim Crow is denigrating marchers in Selma is killing Emmett Till is killing Trayvon, Freddie, Tamir, Sandra, Kalief is the evolution of the prison industrial complex is the idea that black folks don't actually deserve success is the idea that white people are the arbiters of fairness is the idea that playing the game the right way is some static, knowable standard is the idea that black bodies cannot have agency, cannot speak, cannot protest, cannot demand anything for themselves and for their lives without being told that they ask for too much.
That black Americans are required, by (white) communal fiat, to be a certain way: perfect. Whatever that means.
If you wake up every day with the knowledge that this Truth is woven deeply into the fabric of our national and local identity, that it's shaped every year of American life, well, the comments made by Taylor, the piece published by Martin, it all goes without saying. Obviously we all don't wake up every day giving a shit about that Truth, and many of you have stopped reading because hell if you're going to listen to my run-on sentences wax on about the fundamental unfairness of the heightened expectations - the expectations demanded at end of a sword or a gunbarrel - that continue to persist in this grand American experiment we were born into. Hell if you're going to listen to me go to war for social justice, or whatever.
A week and a half ago, The Buffalo News published Kim Martin's article on Tyrod taylor and less than a week later, with scattered rumors of unhappy Buffalo writers gracing group chats and DMs and tweets, with sports consumers in Buffalo and elsewhere scoffing at the idea of racial bias against Taylor, Martin announced she was leaving TBN for WaPo where she will be covering Dan Snyder's Washington Football Team. This decision, I must imagine, had less to do with bias in her work environment than the fact it's the Washington Post. All the same, by Friday, as I drove up to Buffalo in advance of the Bills game against Tampa, the rumor mill had doubled down in response to the news of her elevation to a national publication, and it became clear that, to many, Kim Martin was not welcome in Buffalo. Her work was deemed awful, devalued by members of the Buffalo media elite (lol) and sports fans alike; she was accused on twitter and elsewhere of having not earned her job, of having taken work from other writers more deserving of column inches and page views. In just two months, a writer that had given us a phenomenally truthful look into what it's like to play under center in Buffalo while being black, was equated to just another person of color who took what was rightfully whites'.
She isn't perfect, you see.
Buffalo is a place where we have each other's backs until it isn't.
The idea that Martin isn't a perfect writer is a hill no one need die on because we have no perfect writers; we only have the best that writers choose to give us. She need not be perfect to have value to our discourse, to the product that the Buffalo News puts out, particularly insofar as Buffalo continues to insist on getting its discourse served almost exclusively through the mouths of white men. Surely, given the quality of the work TBN produces sometimes, it shouldn't be required that she even be particularly good, though she is that. She's not a perfect writer but for many she was a necessary one; necessary because no matter how woke the men she's leaving behind might try to be, the proof is in the work they've done and haven't done; the proof is in Tyrod Taylor being in his third year as Buffalo's starting QB and it taking that long to be asked the right questions by a reporter he was willing to give truly truthful answers, questions that have been apparent as fuck to those of us paying attention. And, even if we like the guys that remain in Buffalo sports media, that interview, that topic ain't getting covered as well, if at all, by Jerry Sullivan or Howard Simon.
A week and a half ago, The Buffalo News published Martin's piece on Taylor, Martin announced her departure from TBN less than a week later, rumors swirled about animosity in the media ranks, I drove to Buffalo and watched Taylor pull off some GD miracles, and drove home Monday morning listening to people call WGR to express their displeasure with Taylor, asking for Nate Peterman to get playing time. This happens after every game, no matter if Taylor wins or loses. A player good enough and exciting enough to be put on a box of off-brand frosted flakes in my dumb hometown, a player who gave a stadium full of people everything he had on Sunday and got the win, improbably, got derided instead, got called out instead. A player whose flaws are somehow amplified by his melanin, who is likely taking his place in a long line of brilliant yet flawed players of color who have been run out of town on a wave of mostly white criticism.
Because he isn't perfect, you see.
Buffalo is a place where we have each other's backs until it isn't, until that other is other, is black. Then? All bets are off.
(Note: an earlier published draft neglected to make clear that Martin's move to WaPo was likely unrelated to the animosity she apparently elicited amongst her media peers. Apologies for being more vague than intended.)