The Hypocrisy of the SF 49ers Staying at The Greenbrier

The San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
The San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers’ stay at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia between Weeks 2 and 3 contradicts the organization’s statements on racism.

NFL players, coaches, front-office staff, and owners became a part of the United States’ referendum on policing and racism this offseason. The social movement reinvigorated by the police homicides of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor forced many around the country to at least feign concern for institutional racism.

Few were under more pressure than the NFL.

Many rightfully connected the social uproar to former SF 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest, which called attention to police brutality. Following the 2016 season, Kaepernick became a free agent and remains unsigned.

It has now been over three seasons since he last played on an NFL roster.

SF 49ers Statements on Racism

The 49ers were one of many teams to openly discuss these issues. In May of this year, team CEO Jed York pledged, “The 49ers organization is committing to supporting the legislative priorities of the Player’s Coalition and to donating $1 million dollars to local and national organizations who are creating change.”

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke about race as well. At his first press conference in June, Shanahan spent the majority of his time discussing racism:

"Racism is a big deal in our country right now. That’s a fact. That’s not debatable. It’s always been a big deal. It is today just like it was a hundred years ago. I think something, just as a white person, that bothers me is that I don’t think all white people realize that…We’d like to do something collectively as a team and that’s something we’re still discussing. But the main thing is, is how do you do it now? How do you do it a week from now? And how do you do it every day of your life? I think everyone has to do that somewhat individually and people have to be aware. They have to admit what’s wrong. They have to talk. We have to break through whatever the awkwardness that’s between races because that’s not there with everybody, but it’s there with way too many people I know our players are so passionate, so passionate, black guys and white guys, about trying to fix this…I’m all for change. I hope the protests cause change. I hope whatever we’ve got to do to get the change, I’m for it and I know our organization is. I know [CEO] Jed [York] is, I know our players are. We always have been."

Early in the season, San Francisco has already had to address racism from its fanbase. Following the 49ers Week 1 loss, Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker revealed a series of racist tweets directed at him by a Niners fan. The organization launched an investigation into the fan’s identity to ban him or her from attending future games.

The SF 49ers also made a statement that denounced the racist statements and added, “Incidents like this demonstrate how much work remains to be done to address racism and hate in our society. We remain steadfast in our commitment to that work.”

SF 49ers Stay at the Greenbrier

With the Niners slated to play back-to-back games at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, the team angled to stay on the East Coast between games. The organization took this approach last season, and given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting travel makes even more sense.

However, the decision to spend this week at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia should raise serious questions about their willingness to challenge institutional issues.

There’s just no way around The Greenbrier’s racist history.

Located in West Sulphur Springs, the springs have attracted visitors since the first resort was built in 1778. According to the curator and educational director of the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum, Toni Ogden, “The Greenbrier was run on slave labor until the Civil War.”

In 1831, the resort’s slave population was appraised at $56,000, more than one-third of the property’s entire value.

The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway acquired the resort in 1910, expanding the property alongside a rebranding as The Greenbrier. While not involved in the slave trade, the railway company built its wealth exploiting Black migrants, European immigrants, and poor native whites.

According to historian Cicero Fain, “significant numbers died… victims of racism and wage-capitalism.”

Jim Justice and The Greenbrier’s Modern Ties to Racism

In more recent years, The Greenbrier has remained mired in controversy. Now owned by West Virginia governor Jim Justice, the property is one of many conflicts of interest that have benefited Justice at the expense of taxpayers.

Justice, who has closely aligned himself with President Donald Trump, has made multiple racist comments over the past year. The governor called the predominantly Black Beckley High School girls’ basketball team and coaching staff “thugs.” This June, he said in a COVID-19 briefing that he would welcome any president to West Virginia except Barack Obama, the only Black president in the country’s history.

This overt racism hasn’t been nonexistent from public discourse. An op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail called for Justice’s resignation. In response to public outcry, Justice said he had “no racial bone in my body,” which appeared to be a misspeaking of the phrase “no racist bone in my body.”

The NFL has formed a close relationship with Justice and The Greenbrier. The resort underwent a massive renovation in 2014, which expanded on a sports medicine facility and added multiple regulation size fields with the help of state government subsidies. In the years since multiple NFL teams have used the resort for training camp.

Regardless, the 49ers had the entire East Coast to choose from. Just because The Greenbrier has a close relationship with the league, doesn’t mean the team couldn’t have looked to take its business elsewhere.

Instead, they furthered a relationship with an institution tied to anti-Blackness for over two centuries.

Next. How 49ers stay in contention amid brutal injuries. dark

If the SF 49ers are committed to addressing racism in society, it’ll require more than punishing a fan or two. Organizations have money and power. Who they share both with matters. The NFL has chosen to align itself with The Greenbrier resort’s racist history. This week, the 49ers followed, empowering the status quo, which in the United States, perpetuates the very racism the organization claims to despise.