There was a time when I was skeptical of Shad Khan.
It was early on in his tenure as Jags owner, that era when the marketing push consisted of those synthetic mockups of Khan’s immortal mustache. Remember? Everyone had one—they were so wacky and whimsical, the kind of thing that people here would be counted on to embrace.
You don’t see them around much anymore. And you won’t see them again—not after Khan spent the last few weeks telling the truth about where our country is in the Trump Era.
When members of the Jaguars took advantage of a rare national spotlight to use the national anthem as a forum for protest of state violence at home, it was genuinely jarring to people locally, who, rather than resist the cobranding of the military and local companies, embrace it.
There’s no room for an alternative narrative when looking at a flag covering the entire field or a flyover; there’s no space to look at it and think “well, this is a calculated decision to appeal to key demos,” or to try to add up all the countries we’ve bombed/droned in just the Obama/Trump Era alone. Much less to catalogue the civilian casualties in these far-flung outposts of the world.
Khan is from one of those countries where the U.S. military and covert ops have operated for decades, of course. When he stood by his team as individuals struggled with the decision as to whether to kneel or not, there was Khan-troversy, for sure.
Khan could have backed down. Instead, and despite having given Pres. Trump $1M for his inauguration, he doubled down.
“I supported him in the campaign because I loved his economic policies and I thought, you know, politicians do a lot of stuff to get elected,” Khan told Sports Illustrated days after the London protest.
Khan expected a pivot “to the middle.” Nyet.
“But I was appalled, right after his inauguration, how things started out,” Khan continued, “being more divisive and really being more polarizing on religion and immigration.”
Earlier this month, in Chicago, there was a Khan-tinuation of the theme.
“What [Trump] has done is shown leadership as the great divider, not uniter. We are used to being warm and fuzzy and cuddled. Well, it’s a different time,” Khan said at an executive conference.
That speech also had a money quote on Steve Bannon, Trump’s former key adviser.
“Steve Bannon or whoever is analyzing the data realizes, ‘How do I get elected?’ I get elected by dividing this person or this group against this group. What are the worst fears, phobias somebody has, how do I tap that button and get them with my people? There’s a lot of predictive behavior here,” Khan asserted.
Then there was last week, when Khan slammed Trump in an interview with USA Today Sports for botching a condolence call to the widow of an Army Sergeant as “below the lowest of the lowest expectations … bizarre.”
“Let’s get real,” Khan added. “The attacks on Muslims, the attacks on minorities, the attacks on Jews. I think the NFL doesn’t even come close to that on the level of being offensive. Here, it’s about money, or messing with—trying to soil a league or a brand that he’s jealous of.”
Those comments, over weeks, set the stage for an event at Jacksonville City Hall on Friday, after which I attempted to get Jags’ President Mark Lamping to contextualize Khan’s statements.
His forehead sweated, his upper lip sweated, but when it came to putting the Jags’ owner’s reasoned and informed takes on the president in context, Lamping did what the Jags have done so many times over the years: punted.
Mayor Curry, who counts Khan as his biggest donor these days, at least admitted there was an elephant in the room.
“As inartfully as [Trump’s] policies are expressed at times, we’re all passengers on the plane right now. I’m pulling for the pilot,” Curry said.
I then asked Curry if he thought Khan was still “pulling for the pilot.” Curry pivoted to points of agreement: “support for the military. We are aligned on economic development, jobs, trying to do things to make this a better city.”
Khan is the most legitimate change agent in this city, one who can call even the most gutless members of the City Council and, with just a few words, convince them to vote in favor of the HRO expansion.
Khan’s truth telling doesn’t make him popular with those locals who cling to the fictions and the constructs of the past. But what’s clear is that Khan doesn’t need to care about popularity. Unlike so many in this city, he cares more deeply about truth.
Those who can’t handle it might as well learn to deal with it. Money talks, and this will be Shad Khan’s town until he decides otherwise.