Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Stephen Colbert, Emmanuel Acho
Stephen Colbert, Emmanuel Acho
Screenshot: The Late Show

After Seth Meyers’ Monday interview with Terry Crews, a conversation on race with a marginal former National Football League linebacker turned media figure who didn’t just say something regrettable and widely mocked would be a real palate cleanser. Luckily, Stephen Colbert invited to The Late Show former journeyman NFL linebacker turned media figure, ESPN’s Emmanuel Acho, who—intentionally or not—served as the sort of anti-Crews. Showing the undeniable screen presence of his hugely successful viral video pilot Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man, the former Brown, Eagle, Giant, and practice squad veteran (he had injury bad luck) told Colbert that his purpose in making the widely-shared video was to “breed conversation between black people and white people,” prompting Colbert to prepare him for “the most comfortable uncomfortable conversation.” (They did fine.)

For Acho, now a college football analyst, making the pilot was a nerve-racking but, for him, necessary way to “break that awkward barrier between white people and black people when it comes to race.” Indeed, the first episode tackles, among other topics, the all-too-eye-rolling white person complaint that they don’t get to say the N-word even though Black people get to say the N-word, and the attempted murder by cop perpetrated by unleashed racist Amy Cooper, with the engaging Acho guiding his unseen, hopefully white, audience over some uneasy ground. After going his first outing solo—and compiling more than 20 million views since its premiere last week—Acho’s Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man will start featuring guests, starting with fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey next time out. Previewing that presumably uncomfortable conversation, Acho told Colbert that it’s not enough in this pivotal time in American history for white people to be not racist—they have to start getting anti-racist in dealing with each other. Even when it’s, yeah, uncomfortable. Quoting one problematic white man, Acho repeated the words of Benjamin Franklin (“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”), before saying of well-intentioned white people, “They can infiltrate spaces I can never infiltrate as a black man.”

Speaking of white people saying the right things while doing absolutely nothing useful, Acho answered Colbert’s question about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent about-face on black players peacefully protesting police violence. Noting that “talk is cheap,” Acho addressed Goodell directly, asking, “How wrong were you, Goodell?,” concluding, “Were you only wrong enough to compose a tweet?” Colbert, unable to contain his own eye-rolling at the NFL’s recent change of heart corporate PR in a time of profit-threatening change, chimed in that Goodell and the NFL never once mentioned still-unemployed quarterback and noted knee-taker Colin Kaepernick in his supposedly heartfelt endorsement of peaceful protest, with Acho demanding not only an apology for not supporting Kaepernick, but also for all 32 NFL owners “colluding” to ban him from the league. (Among the 57 QBs who started games in 2019 while Colin Kaepernick was staying game-ready and donating millions to good causes: Ryan Finley, Sean Mannion, Mason Rudolph, David Blough, the hobbled ghost of RG III.) Calling for a “mandated integration on the coaching level, and probably on the management level,” Acho said that the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” token interview policy simply isn’t getting it done. “When you allow for integration at the highest level,” said Acho, “the quality of the sport, it increases.”

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As for the moment, Acho told Colbert, “I have enough hope for everyone.” Noting the overwhelming response to his initial video, Acho stressed that change in places like the NFL—as slowly and incompletely as it’s come—causes “a ripple effect.” Saying that football essentially “owns one day of the week,” he told Colbert that positive change there will “infiltrate the minds of the nation,” and, he hopes, spur some more of those uncomfortable conversations.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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