Like many, I’m having a hard time sorting out my feelings on the underlying issues, that is, until I had a chance to look at a post by my Assistant Editor Pat Greer, on of all things, The Political Storm Facebook page. It’s a video of a conversation led by Fox Sports’ Nick Wright.
I highly recommend that you take a look at this video, it’s only 5 minutes long and it helped me immensely in my understanding of the underlying causes and reaction to the players’ protest. It may help us explain why there is so much anger directed at the players. And it’s a way for us to reflect on this protest.
Here’s a quick catch-up for those who have been in solitary confinement recently: What started out as a protest by a lone player, former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick over a year ago during the 2016 pre-season, has turned into a full-scale protest across the NFL – players, coaches, and owners.
Kaepernick began his protest to bring attention to what he and many in the African-American community believe is unequal treatment under the law of the black community by the police. It was sparked by the several much-publicized and politicized police shootings of black men by white police officers beginning with the shooting of a young man in Ferguson Missouri in August 2014. Several days of rioting ensued and are now etched into the nation’s consciousness.
And almost every police shooting of black men since then has drawn the attention of activists and the media. Many of these incidents also ignited local civil unrest. There have also been several instances of police officers being shot in protest as well.
Kaepernick’s protest picked up momentum in the NFL among black players more or less sporadically, until this season when black and white players began to show some unity in the protest.
And of course, President Trump had to weigh in on the issue and predictably all hell broke loose.
The most memorable and flammable of Trump’s comments came at a rally in Alabama for Luther Strange, who Trump supported in a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat that needed to be filled after Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was nominated for Attorney General. His oft-repeated quote from that rally was: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b***h off the field right now. He is fired. He’s fired!'”
That pretty much united the whole NFL, and we were treated to the bizarre sight of Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, kneeling and linking arms with his players in solidarity. One of Trump’s close friends, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots also chastised him for his comments (and tweets!).
But this is not an article about the hypocrisy of billionaire NFL owners, who made much of their fortune with tax breaks and public money and sometimes-municipal blackmail. No those stories are legion and too much for one column.
No, what I want to ask you is why exactly are you mad about all of this? This was a question asked by Nick Wright in the aforementioned video.
You see I have been terribly conflicted over the whole national anthem protest. My feelings of patriotism and love of our flag are also wrapped up in the belief in peaceful protest. I didn’t really know why I was upset over all this kneeling and fists in the air.
Like Wright (in the 2 minutes running up to the crucial 3 minutes), I too dismiss any discussion of Donald Trump on this issue. Should he have commented? No of course not, but you tell him. Would he listen? Has he ever?
Wright says that there are only two things to consider as to why you’re mad about the protests: Either you are upset about the perceived dissing of the flag during the protest or you are angry about what is being protested.
He cleverly deflects the first reason by changing the protest to a “what if.” What if Kaepernick began his protest because he was upset about our war veterans’ lack of care by our country? Would anyone be upset about “disrespecting the flag” over that?
Wright then goes into the subject of the protest itself. Maybe white folks really don’t get the anger on this issue by black folks. He implies that there are some in America that think race relations and the treatment of African-Americans is good enough, especially if the protesters are millionaire football players who are doing pretty good, aren’t they?
And there, I think he makes a good point.
Now hold on, I don’t think he’s completely right. What he is definitely right about is that whether White America likes it or not, the majority of Black America think improvements in racial justice has a ways to go…still.
And agree or not, that is a problem and it’s time we all stop denying the reality of the disconnect. We all like to think that things have gotten better concerning race in America. And man, they sure have, but we are not done. No way are we done. And I guess realizing that makes us feel a little defensive.
However, there are more than two ways to look at the anthem issue and I am disappointed that Wright didn’t offer a third possibility, and that is: That many of us are also angry for a different and much more basic reason: in our hyper-politicized and polarized world we are bombarded by opinions and we seek escape in sports.
On Sunday, sometimes all I care about is why the fourth down call by the Eagles’ Head Coach was right or wrong and whether it worked anyway, really…that’s all.
We no longer have an escape in the arts because every so-called “star” has a political agenda and scolds us about our choices and ignorance about their pet cause. Sports were the final escape and now it’s gone now that pro football players have gone Hollywood.
And that’s too bad.
I would urge the NFL players to take their symbolic gestures to a new level – action in the struggling parts of the black community. They could focus on black youth, particularly in places like Chicago, where drugs and gangs have led to a soaring murder rate. This is appallingly true in most NFL cities and a worthy project that is crying out for the players’ leadership. NFL players could also form a committee to work with city governments to change the relationship between their police forces and the black community.
The players have gotten America’s attention and they’ve started a conversation. Now is the time to pivot toward real work. Because after awhile, gestures are simply empty. Do you remember Michelle Obama’s #save our girls? Nothing happens as a result of hashtags. It’s only virtue signaling.
If the NFL would put its influence behind real action and devote real time to the problems of the poorest African-American communities, they could accomplish a lot. If they continue to simply kneel or raise their fists in the air for a paltry 2 minutes, they will miss a true opportunity for real greatness.
Jon Saltzman is the Publisher and Senior Editor of Political Storm