The NFL has made a martyr of its players and committed itself to injustice.
(Originally published on Medium.com)
I really didn’t want to write this. For one, I’m tired of the NFL’s constant fumbling and mishaps. For another reason, it saddens me that a game I grew up loving is consistently tainted by political scandal due to a tone deaf organization. And lastly, I’m sick of black people being thrown to the wolves for sport. If you didn’t know: The NFL has introduced a new policy requiring players to stand for the National Anthem or risk their organization getting fined and penalized for it.
So how did we get here? Well, Colin Kaepernick protested against racial injustice by sitting during the National Anthem. A bold move by a player that most people had started to not pay attention to. It seemed like the world wouldn’t catch onto this until it was finally taken notice of the third time it happened. Bear in mind, all of this happened almost 2 YEARS AGO and the debate surrounding protests and the anthem is stronger than ever. Kaepernick went from sitting, to kneeling (joined by teammate Eric Reid), to not even being in the league, and his entire point has been obfuscated and turned into an unrecognizable beast of a political issue.
Kaep’s kneeling protest was crafted with respect to former NFL player and veteran Nate Boyer, so the argument that he didn’t respect the military never made any sense. Colin specifically stated that he was protesting the country’s hypocrisy and brutality against people of color, so the idea that he hates America and what it stands for only makes sense if you believe that America stands for the racist values and inequality that he tried to bring attention to.
But, suddenly, with a change of administration came a changing of the narrative. With a new White House concentrated on changing narratives and starting controversies to cover other controversies; Colin’s protest became a dangerous story of players against authority. Remember, Colin Kaepernick started his protest Two. Years. Ago. Barack Obama was still in office. Barack Obama spoke on Colin’s protest and championed his right to free speech. This protest NEVER had anything to do with Donald Trump. Any other view of this is objectively wrong and that’s important to remember when discussing this because it ties into the issue of black martyrdom.
You may wonder what I mean by black martyrdom. Well, it’s simple. Black people in this country have put their lives on the line and become enemies of the state; only to be seen as heroes and legends in retrospect. Harriet Tubman is seen as a true leader for civil rights for what she did in freeing slaves, but that was never the narrative at the time. Martin Luther King Jr. was hunted and threatened by the FBI, but we have current racists that say that protesters and POC should be more like MLK because…they apparently don’t know their history. Muhammad Ali was seen as a criminal and a draft dodger for standing up for his beliefs and not going to fight in the Vietnam War, but now? He’s a hero that didn’t give in to a war mongering country and a true mark of athletic brilliance.
From Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid to the many players that are still committed to protesting now, we can’t allow this cycle to continue. The President created the idea that these protests were about him and all of his supporters have run with it. The NFL, foolishly, fell into this trap and sentenced all of their players to political suicide. For a league that has been so committed to trying to avoid controversy, they sure seem to have no idea of the right ways to avoid it. The NFL has allowed players to come back onto the field after domestic abuse scandals, manslaughter scandals, assault charges, murder trials, etc. and yet kneeling for the anthem is where they draw the line? It doesn’t make sense to a person with even a modicum of sense to them, but for some reason this forced unity, this shackled patriotism, is what the league has put all its chips on. And for some reason…there are people standing behind this.
I wish it was surprising I wish it was new to me, but like I’ve said, this is America’s history. We put black people right in front of the target and then get surprised when they’re shot down by the system we have in place. But listen, we’re in a new age. An age where the nationalist are coming head to head with a section of this country that’s tired of being stepped on. The athletes are tired of being puppets for billionaire owners that don’t give a shit about them and we can’t keep hiding from these issues.
The NFL is betting on white supremacy and the controlling hand of nationalism. I don’t say that because I hate football. I don’t say that because I hate the NFL. I love football and I grew up watching the NFL. I stopped last season because I knew where this was heading. I could see that a product I loved was choosing to ignore the plight of my people and it hurt me to my core. Some people see what the NFL is doing and they think of it as instilling order, but what they’re really doing is making the players decide if they want to live or die by their values.
The NFL is going to be surprised, though. Because the players are not backing down from their protests after this news. These men and women (with a particular credit to the WNBA players that have been protesting these injustices for a LONG TIME)are not going to just shut up and play in sports across the country. The time for silence is over. And the obfuscation of their message can’t be tolerated in the internet age.
We cannot allow for Colin Kaepernick to be deified in 50 years after dealing with a villainization his entire adult life over a piece of cloth. Especially in a country where men and women have died en masse after Kaep’s point was already made. If America is truly the land of the free and the home of the brave; then let’s be brave enough to protect the freedoms of those that have long been oppressed by our country at large.