The pictures of entire teams kneeling, in theory, can encourage us that the NFL is finally speaking up against systematic oppression. The reason, however, why many of the protesters –– specifically the previously silent coaches and owners –– felt compelled to kneel and disobey their previous opposal to Colin Kaepernick’s protests was not the realization of racism, the pleading for action to be done by the White House, or solidarity with Colin; it was because Trump embarrassed the league.
Tom Brady protested because he believed that, “[Trump’s comments] were just divisive” –– not because he, too, believes that systematic oppression should be worked on. He is being commended for acknowledging the fact Trump is a bully, but he completely avoided discussing the meat of these protests –– systematic oppression. Tom is just one of the many athletes, coaches, and owners who claimed that they supported the cause, without actually stating the proper cause.
Although their intentions were pure, they failed to actually show support for Colin Kaepernick, who was at the receiving end of Trump’s insults.
By only protesting Trump’s comments, these athletes completely overwrite the rhetoric of Kaepernick’s protests. The issues that Kaepernick was raising awareness for spans much larger than Trump’s presidency.
Kaepernick states, “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."
If they truly believed in the cause and wanted to instill unity within the league, they would have kneeled with Kaepernick in 2016. They would have shown support for their fellow NFL player and would have spoken out on the fact that his unemployment is the league’s attempt to silence and derail his message. Some of these athletes only protested because they were told not to; not because they actually felt a call to action to fight injustice.
Some athletes admitted that Trump’s comments truly worked as a call to action, but a lot of athletes did not feel that push.
Colin Kaepernick risked his entire career to promote an incredibly important dialogue that most fans of the NFL wanted to ignore. He devoted his time to educating others, raising awareness, and using his platform to inspire social change. Today, athletes are saying that they, “stand with Colin”, but will not truly support the cause that he has been fighting for. They’re acknowledging his right to protest but they are not vocalizing why he protested.
These players and staff are not continuing his protests, they’re reconstructing it in a way that will allow them to appear politically conscious without needing to address the actual issues that stemmed the protests.
The Seattle Seahawks perfectly demonstrated their understanding and showed the solidarity of why Colin Kaepernick knelt. Quarterback Russell Wilson explains their choice to stay in the locker room during the protests by saying, “we wanted to figure out, how can we do something as a whole team to show that the injustice in America needs to be fixed.”
Seahawks Linebacker K.J Wright says, “We were not just protesting Trump… we were protesting the message. It’s a message that’s been around for a long time. That we can’t do certain things and express ourselves in a certain way, that we aren’t full citizens.”
The Seahawks not only emphasized the reasoning for the protests, but also realized the harm of their previous passivity and explained how they are working to inform their teammates who are not affected by oppression, why they need their support.
Contrastingly, the San Francisco 49ers also stayed in the locker room during the anthem, but they used that gesture as a way to enable some of the players’ avoidance of the rudimentary issue of social justice. They failed to internalize the call to action that their former teammate Colin has inspired, and instead viewed the protests for the false image that Trump has publicized: to “disrespect the flag.”
Of some of the teams that did protest, the same coaches and owners who were kneeling because they believe that everyone has the right to protest are the ones denying Colin Kaepernick a spot on their team. By kneeling, they are saying, “yeah, you can protest, but we will just leave you unemployed and continue to punish you for speaking up.”
These hypocritical coaches and owners used these protests to create an incredibly convincing facade of activism and social awareness within the league.
They’re protesting for the right to protest, but are simultaneously punishing the very man who started the NFL protests. Why did they not stand in solidarity with Colin after he received an immense amount of backlash both inside and outside the league? Trump was not the first person to insult Colin, or to suggest that he deserves to get fired.
In fact, this was not the first time that Trump has made a comment that insulted the identities of many of the NFL players.
Out of all of Trump’s destructive comments, the final straw to these team owners was Trump saying that protesters are, “ruining the game”. Them kneeling during the anthem was them saying, “You can’t tell us who to fire,” not, “there are systemic issues that we need to address”.
The only reason why these specific comments from Trump stirred the NFLers who were previously silent is because the President of the United States directly addressed them.
For the first time, they felt an unavoidable level of pressure that demanded their response.
Due to the platform that Trump possesses, they could no longer hide behind their passivity and football games. Trump gave them a call to action, and whether or not they wanted to, they had to respond. They kneeled as a defense for the national embarrassment that Trump attempted to create for their players and the entire league; not to show that the NFL is against systematic oppression.
If they truly realized the significance of Kaepernick’s protests and decided that they are going to continue spreading his message of social justice, then they need to do much more than kneeling. Kneeling is not enough. These owners have pushed so many issues under the rug, and have kept a man unemployed purely because of his political openness. In order to truly show their solidarity, they need to take action. Kneeling does not ignore their previous inactivity.
If they truly care about the cause, and not just reiterating their ability to fire whomever they want, then they will continue to kneel. They need to continue to kneel until our country puts more effort into giving justice to their players and their families. They need to show solidarity for their players’ lives and acknowledge the incredible platform that they all posses.
These protests were incredibly hypocritical, but they certainly have the ability to create real change.
Kneeling begins the conversation, but the conversation needs to manifest into some action.
Everyone –– the players, staff, coaches, and owners, needs to emphasize that they are not protesting to disrespect the country, but that they’re protesting to improve the country. It is important for them to use their platform to continue to raise awareness about social injustice, encourage a sense of unity, and promote effective long-term action that addresses the deep seeded history of oppression in America.