With Their National Anthem Ruling, The NFL Shows Their True Colors Bradford J. Howard May 24, 2018 News, Speak of Freedom, Sports The NFL’s stance on the National Anthem is clear: “stand up or shut up.” So I’m giving up. There are 32 teams in the National Football League. Each of those teams has one owner. Each professional football team can have 53 men on roster (with an additional ten on their respective “practice squads”), making for a total of 1,696 football players in the league. A vast majority of players in the National Football League are Black. But the owners of all 32 teams identify as white men. Two years ago, then-San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick, his position on the roster having been relegated to backup quarterback, decided to make something of his time on the bench. He began taking a knee while the National Anthem was being played before the start of 49ers games; and, in the process, he took a stand. Actually, let me rewind. Kaepernick began the 2016 preseason by sitting whenever the National Anthem was played before games. He was approached by NFL media after the Packers-49ers game on Friday, August 26th, and asked why he chose not to stand. Kaepernick’s answer was pretty straightforward: “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” On September 1st, 2016, the final preseason game for the 49ers, against the San Diego Chargers, Kaepernick would take his now-infamous knee while the National Anthem was played. To some, Kaepernick’s motives may have appeared disingenuous. At the time, he was all but clinging to a roster spot as the 49ers’ backup quarterback. Depending on who you ask, his performance had dwindled, and he was no longer the ambitious, focused QB who led the Niners to a Super Bowl before eventually losing to the Baltimore Ravens. It could’ve been a publicity stunt, a grab at attention and perhaps even controversy to give his supposedly fading star new life. Except Kaepernick had a point. In an election year with a new President slated to be elected to office mere months later, and with a Black death seemingly happening every other month, Colin Kaepernick had a point. The very month Kaepernick began his silent protest, at the start of August 2016, Korryn Gaines was shot and killed by police who raided her apartment in Baltimore. A month earlier, in July, Philando Castile was shot by a police officer in Minnesota who mistook Castile’s attempting to remove his gun from his driving compartment as a threat. As Officer Anthony Yanez held him at gunpoint, Castile bled out in the passenger seat; his girlfriend at the time recorded the entire thing in the driver’s seat with her cell phone (and her own daughter in the backseat, as well). The month before that, in May 2016, Alton Sterling was taken into policy custody in Baton Rouge, and while he was being restrained on the ground by police, Sterling was fatally shot. This, too, was caught on camera. The summer before, in July 2015 – almost three years ago, the time has gone by so fast – Sandra Bland was violently taken into police custody during a routine traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas. Three days later, the officers who failed to keep watch on her discovered that Bland had committed suicide in her jail cell. The month before that, in June, Dylann Roof shot 10 parishioners at a bible study in one of the nation’s oldest Black churches, killing nine of them. Two months before that, in April 2015, Freddie Gray was violently accosted and taken into custody by members of the Baltimore Police Department. Gray’s injuries were so great that he had to be transported in police van, and during that transportation, Gray mysteriously fell into a coma and died shortly after. There were other names. There were other faces. There have been other names since. The common thread between them all? Someone Black was killed, often by someone non-Black – and if they were police officers, they did indeed “get paid leave” and no further consequences. Many weren’t charged. Those who went to trial, were often acquitted. The question of whether or not “Black lives mattered” was becoming more and more important, and people of color wanted some kind of a reprieve, some kind of answers… some kind of justice. Settlements might assuage a city’s guilt; they couldn’t replace the absence of a mother, a brother, a father, a spouse, a son, or a daughter. Kaepernick’s stand while sitting earned him both support and spite. Other Black players would take on Kaepernick’s mantle as their own, choosing to kneel during the Anthem themselves. Players who chose not to kneel, would opt to respect their teammates by placing a supportive hand on their shoulders, for example, or a raising a fist in the air. Some argued that kneeling during the National Anthem was a sign of disrespect, a slap in the face to the so-called Land of The Free and Home of the Brave. It was offensive to our troops, many argued, to those gave their lives for this country, that players couldn’t stand during The Star-Spangled Banner and proudly, lovingly gaze at the American flag as it soared over the stadium (Many armed servicewomen and men, however, would show their support of Kaepernick’s stand, especially on social media by way of the hashtag, “#IStandWithKap”). In a United States that prided itself on the free expression of ideas and opinions (especially compared to nations the world over where dissent could sometimes mean death), the country’s premier sports organization was unsure how to approach this expression of discontent from some of its players – possibly because its leadership was so far removed from the issue. It was never a question of patriotism. How could protest possibly be unpatriotic in a country that was literally founded based ON protest? Was a flag, a mere symbol, really that much more important than the loss of human life? — Two years later, it appears we have our answer. At a closed meeting on Wednesday, the NFL owners met and voted to finally address The National Anthem issue. Their decision? To make “law” (or at least, rule) that players and personnel were required to stand during The National Anthem during games. If one did not wish to stand during the Anthem, they had the option of staying in the locker room while the Anthem was played. But if one made the precarious mistake of kneeling or “disrespecting” the flag on the field, then a fine could be levied on that player or that team. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell explained the decision in an official statement: Statement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pic.twitter.com/1Vn7orTo1R — NFL (@NFL) May 23, 2018 The league’s stance was clear – protest during the entertainment was not permitted. It was a distraction, and it was time to “keep focus on the game.” In September 2017, two months before he would be elected President of the United States, Donald Trump accused “certain players” of showing “total disrespect… to our country” and demanded the league to “Tell them to stand!” It appears the NFL heard Mr. Trump loud and clear. 32 NFL teams. 32 white team owners. 32 votes on an issue that primarily affected and impacts people of color, with no people of color in the room to contribute to the conversation. News reports have indicated that at least some voices were dissenting: 49ers owner Jed York abstained from voting, according to The New York Times, and New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson went on record as saying the organization would not reprimand their players. “If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear,” Johnson stated. But that’s only 2 voices who spoke up… leaving 30 other guilty parties. The NFL Players’ Association, rightfully, has disagreed with the League’s new rule. But the NFL truly seems to believe that this is the solution to its low ratings over the past two seasons, and an ideal compromise for this “divisive” issue in the league. What the NFL has actually done, is stifled the conversation – ironically, in much the same way the league opted to stifle Kaepernick’s playing career (the quarterback remains unemployed two years later, even as a number of teams have said he’d be a welcome addition… without actually adding him to their roster). Telling players and personnel to stay in the locker room if they don’t agree with the Anthem is nothing more than “out of sight, out of mind.” If viewers don’t see it, they don’t think about it. Never mind that Black players in professional sports are reminded often that their position as well-regarded athletes, doesn’t always translate to them being equally respected members of society. It FEELS like the owners are putting the athletes “in their place.” They are silencing the athletes in an effort to preserve the spirit of a game that is already marred by domestic violence issues; actual health consequences as a result of on-field performance; a policing of celebration and fun amongst the players; and, honestly, a truly atrocious attempt to make non-college football on a Thursday night appealing. Presented with an opportunity to steer the conversation in a meaningful, productive direction, the NFL owners and Commissioner Goodell chose instead to put a gag order on the players. In putting the players in their place, the National Football League has also put me in mine. Many others before me were smart enough to stop supporting the organization at an earlier time. But I cannot in good conscience support a league kept alive almost entirely Black talent, that chooses to minimize Black lives in favor of preserving a symbol and a song (for what it’s worth, the National Anthem’s oft-omitted final stanza is pro-slavery). A league that had the audacity to put their priorities in writing for all the world to see: Black lives don’t matter, but white dollars do. I won’t be watching the NFL this season. Real Housewives Hive, please make room for the kid. Share this:TweetShare on Tumblr Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.