Players, coaches and owners in the NFL have recently gained a lot of attention for kneeling, linking arms or refusing to be on the field during the national anthem. It has even gone as far as President Trump making a statement to urge the NFL to ban players from doing so, at one point saying, “get that son of a b—- off of the field.” This instigated many responses from NFL players in protest. If these players and coaches’ goal is to gain a lot of attention, then they have been undoubtedly successful. However, if their goal is to bring together a strategic and clear movement to make actual improvements toward racial justice, then I think they are missing their mark.
The protests began in August of last year when Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, knelt during the national anthem. At first he was barely noticed — it wasn’t until someone took a picture of it and it circulated social media that it started to gain momentum. However, from the beginning, Kaepernick was very clear about why he was kneeling. He tells the media when they ask that he was taking a knee to shed a light and speak for those who could not on racial injustices in America and the epidemic of police brutality.
In an interview with NFL media, Kaepernick explains himself, “I am 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.”
Kaepernick clearly explains his grievances and why he is choosing to kneel. Regardless of your opinions on his stance, his tactics were strategic, effective and non-threatening in getting his message across. The new wave of linking arms or standing in solidarity, however well intentioned, are ambiguous and misguided. I would also argue that these new protests are simply a way for the NFL to gain the control back that it had lost with Kaepernick by saturating the message and morphing it into some sort of unspecific call for unity.
After linking arms with his teammates during the national anthem, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers responded by saying, “This is about unity and love and growing together as a society and starting a conversation around something that may be a little bit uncomfortable for people. But we’ve got to come together and talk about these things and grow as a community, as a connected group of individuals in our society, and we’re going to continue to show love and unity, and this week we’re going to ask the fans to join in as well and come together and show people that we can be connected and we can grow together.”
While it’s a nice sentiment, it lacks any sort of clear stance or message, leaving the public to have to decide for themselves. Strategically, this is a very bad move. This is what leaves people arguing about what the national anthem or patriotism means to them, as opposed to the real problem of black people dying within systems that are set up against them, which was Kaepernick’s original point and the issue that he wanted to bring to people’s attention.
Due to all the ambiguity, some people think these protests are in resistance to President Trump, others think it’s about a general unity, a few actually relate it back to Kaepernick’s message, but most people are just confused.
Linking arms, holding hands, sitting, kneeling, etc. during the National Anthem at NFL games have become far too ambiguous and watered down to be considered effective at this point. While the NFL is supposedly calling for unity and love, it seems more like the NFL’s way of turning actual change into mere obscure symbolism.
Sam Miner can be reached at email@example.com.