On Sunday, a little more than one year after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat alone while protesting the national anthem to raise awareness for racial justice and inequality, the sports world witnessed over one hundred players, some joined by owners, revive a dying movement with their own statement-making demonstrations. For many NFL fans, the league’s players kneeling, locking arms, and raising fists during the national anthem; or choosing to avoid the American tradition altogether by remaining in the locker room, was a long time coming. But were they united in support of Kaepernick, their blackballed brother, and the causes he’s brought attention to; or against their president Donald Trump?
At an Alabama rally over the weekend, Donald Trump dedicated time to verbally attack athletes who protest, labeling Kaepernick a “son of a bitch”. Trump publicly challenged his friends, multi-billionaire MAGA hat loving NFL owners, to fire or suspend any player that exercises his constitutional right by taking a knee during the national anthem. He encouraged fans to boycott games until the league and its owners demand players stop disrespecting our country, flag, and military by kneeling; a false equivalency. Twitter rightfully exploded with players furiously responding to Trump. From defending their humanity to blasting Trump’s hateful and racist rhetoric, players didn’t hold back. The impact of Trump’s abhorrent remarks transcended professional sports leagues, inspiring Oakland A’s catcher, Bruce Maxwell, to become the first MLB player to take a knee during the national anthem.
As players sounded off, one-by-one, NFL owners took unprecedented action in a desperate effort to quell the storm ignited by Trump. More than half of the league’s owners released a statement in response to Trump’s name calling. Each owner struck a similar tone of challenging Trump to be less “divisive”, and vaguely calling for “unity”, while highlighting how tremendously dedicated NFL athletes are to servicing their communities.
As I watched the events unfold over the weekend, I couldn’t help but ask why owners and players are suddenly so righteous after remaining willfully ignorant for the past year?
Be clear, owners making statements and locking arms with players were at best a quick fix, a band-aid solution that changes nothing in the long term. It was a placating gesture to provoke players into submission. The real issue of racial justice, has always been, and remains secondary to the optics of owners protecting the shield by any means necessary. The consequences of Trump’s remarks were too great for owners to risk players refusing to take the field so they fell on their swords in hopes to restore order. Don’t be so naive to believe that owners are suddenly woke to the Black Lives Matter ideology.
Why did it require Trump to directly insult athletes for them to stand up for themselves? Kaepernick’s repeatedly referenced the countless unjustified police killings of black men and women as a valid reason to protest. He’s educated folks on the true meaning of the national anthem, and how it represents everything but freedom for people of color. He’s hipped folks to how black people remain victims of systematic racism. Look no further than his own blackballing to witness the systems of power and privilege work exactly as designed. Was it truly necessary for Trump to further dehumanize black men by calling them out of their name for athletes to have their 4:44 still n*gga awakening? Why did Trump have to publicly humiliate black athletes for them to finally overcome the mental shackles preventing them from standing for their rights and revering themselves as being worthy of life, honor, and respect?
Where was this unprecedented show of activism prior to Trump’s hateful tweets?
Feeding the animal, but starving the beast ignores this country’s oppressive reputation. Trump’s Twitter tirade and the subsequent reactions of owners and players, deflect from real issues. It dishonors Kaepernick’s valiant sacrifices made on behalf of truly making America great again.
Although Sunday’s events were necessary to move our country forward, we can’t have progress until we name the problem.