Alexander Mattison plays at the highest level. But even an elite NFL running back can literally drop the ball sometimes. In last week's Vikings loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Mattison lost a first-quarter fumble.
Like an attorney who loses a case, a politician who loses an election or a physician who loses a patient, Mattison is a highly capable professional who is also imperfect. Every fan knows that it's the flukes that make the games unpredictable and thrilling. If players never struck out, blew a free throw or missed a goal, the play wouldn't be sporty at all.
But Mattison's on-field flub led to a torrent of hateful racist rants. He screenshotted two of the more than 60 "disgustingly disrespectful messages" that contained slurs and even urged him to take his own life.
The NFL, the Vikings and countless fans have publicly decried the venom that Mattison was subjected to.
I'm sorry to tell you that Mattison's experience is not unique. Sadly, Black professionals, especially those of us with a high profile, can relate.
I know because it happens to me. Not once, not occasionally, but on a regular basis.
As a radio personality on WCCO Radio, I get ugly, racist threats all the time. Some folks who listen to "the Good Neighbor" don't like hearing the voice and the opinions of a Black woman over the airwaves.
My job as a professional is to educate, entertain and inform listeners. But whether I am hosting my own show or bantering with a co-worker like Chad Hartman, nasty, racist messages come in; on the phone, via text or through social media channels.
During my frequent appearances on Chad's daily radio program, he blocks the worst of them so I don't have to see them. He regularly feels compelled to say to his listeners, "You can disagree with Sheletta if you like, but these messages are wrong."
That's not all. I even get hate-filled handwritten letters in my mailbox at the station. They insult me, threaten me, urge me to return to the continent from which my ancestors were forcibly removed.
What astonished me at first was that these people were glad to make these racial slurs using their real names. They boldly put their return addresses on their envelopes. They want to remind me that I'm not welcome and that there are no consequences for the pain they intentionally inflict.
These threats and the fear of violence that could accompany them are why I have a security person with me when I'm involved in public events in the community.
Sadly, the disrespect for Black professionals is part of the game. It happens no matter how many degrees we earn, what awards we win or what accolades we may accumulate.
The people who crudely criticized Alexander Mattison didn't care that he was just named Community MVP of the NFL Player's Association for hosting a back-to-school event through his I Am Gifted foundation for 250 underserved Minnesota kids.
When they watched the Vikings and the Eagles, they didn't see a man who mishandled the football. They saw a Black man and then they used his race to make their cruelty cut even more sharply.
Black professionals know we have to be thick skinned, but we should not have to endure this kind of routine hostility. I should be able to say something you disagree with, and Alexander Mattison should be able to fumble the football.
We ought to have the right to give 100% of our talent and yet still fail.
Those of you who are our allies must speak up, whether the slurs or threats are verbalized or on social media.
As Mattison wrote on Instagram, "Under the helmet I am a human … a father … a son. This is sick."
Sheletta Brundidge, of Cottage Grove, is a broadcast personality and author.