The NFL is a machine that cannot function without you, now is the time to make it serve you
On Tuesday, the National Football League announced a new policy to prevent players from protesting during the national anthem. Teams will now be fined if players kneel on the field during the anthem and any player who refuses to stand will be allowed to remain in the locker room. The decision comes after Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in 2016 during the Star-Spangled Banner in protest of police brutality against black Americans.
The protests caught on in 2017 in Kaepernicks absence from the league (he asserts in an ongoing lawsuit that he was blackballed for his actions) and were spread across NFL teams, as well as the WNBA, professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe and college and high school athletes around the country.
While the demonstrations were met with some backlash, it became a true debacle when Donald Trump began tweeting that the players were disrespecting the flag and veterans by kneeling. In October of 2017, Vice-President Mike Pence pulled a childish publicity stunt when he attended an NFL game, only to walk out moments later when players chose to kneel during the anthem.
The criticisms surrounding the protests were most frustrating because Trump and others continue to push the false narrative that players were protesting the flag, armed forces or the anthem itself. Of course, facts matter little these days and theirs was a more convenient narrative, one that was buoyed by, and appealed to, racists.
Its easier to reduce the demonstrations as an act of disrespect than to consider the issues to which Kaepernick was trying to draw our attention. Commissioner Roger Goodell even admitted as much in a statement saying: It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.
The cowardice of Roger Goodell is nothing new, but this capitulation to a petulant president and ignorant vitriol from fans and critics is particularly disgraceful. To be sure, the NFL does not care about black people, but we seem to forget that the NFL doesnt seem to care about people in general.
They skimp out on charities. They continue to turn a blind eye to a disease that is killing its employees. And they care little for the many women who have been victims of domestic violence at the hand of their players, often carrying out flimsy punishments if they bother to address the incidents at all.
The NFL Players Association responded to the news with a statement promising to review the new policy and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement. DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the organization, also tweeted: History has taught us that both patriotism and protest are like water; if the force is strong enough it cannot be suppressed. Today, the CEOs of the NFL created a rule that people who hate autocracies should reject.
Smiths point is the larger one I hope most players and fans take away from the decision. Its arguable that the 30 wealthy white owners, (and one Pakistani-American man) need the players more than the players need them. These athletes are the elite of the elite in their sport. They are superstars, beloved by fans with franchises and millions of dollars in advertising and marketing built around them. Theyre not disposable commodities and for that reason they have leverage.
The players can stand up to the NFL leadership for this asinine new policy by defiantly kneeling during the anthem anyway, staying in the locker room in masses or even refusing to play completely. I would particularly call on the leagues top players to recognize that their exceptional ability and marketability allows them a privilege. These players can take the safe bet that no owner is going to risk benching their best player or half of their starting offensive lineup because theres one thing fans and owners love more than they may hate the demonstrations: winning.
Most importantly, the players have the math on their side. In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, black people made up 75% of the ridership when they began their boycott of the segregated bus system. The NFL is 68% black. Kaepernicks treatment by the league is understandably concerning for players, but theres power in numbers; Kaepernick suffered largely from the occupational hazard of being the first.
Imagine if every black player, or even half of the black players, decided to sit out the first game of the season. How quickly will angry ticket-buyers accept the players decision to protest? How soon will owners start eating the cost of the fines (something one owner has already promised to do)?
The NFLs black players need to remember the system doesnt care about you, so you must collectively take care of yourselves. Change doesnt come because those in power soften their hearts to a cause or eventually see the light. Most change comes when a group of people make it inconvenient, violent or expensive for bigotry to continue. If the league is willing to silence you over a peaceful protest, theyll be willing to silence you for much worse. The NFL is a machine that cannot function without you, now is the time to make it serve you.
- Kara Brown is a writer living in Los Angeles
If you enjoyed our content, we'd really appreciate some "love" with a share or two.
And ... Don't forget to have fun!