Some Random White Guy’s Thoughts on the National Anthem Protests in the NFL

Image taken from:
https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/08/22/national-anthem-protests-list-players-kneelnfl-players-protest-list
Hey readers. Apologies upfront for the humongous gap in posts (last one was in January). I have been working hard to finish my dissertation and am almost finished. Also, apologies for the simple fact that this post has very little to do with Church History. I wanted to pause in that work today to post about all these national anthem protests going around the NFL. I am sure you’ve read about these from thousands of angles and mine will undoubtedly not blaze a new trail. That said, I do want to address it as a lifelong NFL fan, a white man, and as an aspiring academic. Many of these protests address issues of race (and a lot of the division in response to them is along racial lines);  therefore I think acknowledging my own race and perspective at the outset is important.

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First of all, the responses:

By now you’ve probably read a lot of tweets, Facebook posts, seen the memes, watched videos, or have even seen the protests being covered on NFL pregame shows. During last season, there were sporadic instances of players either taking a knee or raising a fist in the air during the national anthem, beginning with Colin Kaepernick. Many people weighed in on whether or not players should be allowed to do so throughout last season. In the preseason and first weeks of the regular season of 2017, many more players began to join in, such as the Browns in the first picture (that was from the preseason). However, probably the biggest catalyst on all of this was Donald Trump’s response to the issue. Trump basically intimated that players who protest during the national anthem ought to be fired. His comments, including some made at a rally in Alabama last week, provoked massive numbers of players protesting, with over 200 joining in this past week in the NFL.

Some consumers have even pledged to boycott the NFL over the protests. DirecTV has even begun issuing refunds for the NFL Sunday Ticket package for customers who want to boycott the league over the protests. Many people have come out in support of the players’ right to peacefully protest during the anthem. However, others have responded in a much more despicable way.

In order to not give too much of a platform here for such hateful responses, I will just urge the curious to do a simple google image search for “anti-Kaepernick memes” or something related to that. It’s horrendous, often racist, and hate-filled. There have even been some national anthem singers at NFL games who have protested. The singer at last week’s Lions game took a knee at the end of his performance. Meghan Linsey, the singer at the Titans game, also took a knee during her performance. She received support, but she also had people say she should have been executed on the field or that they hope she gets cancer. Many of the players have been receiving death threats throughout this movement, and Delanie Walker even had someone threaten him and his son over his part in protesting last week.

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Here are my thoughts on the whole thing:

Again, I’m not claiming to have some breath-of-fresh-air take on this, or some ground-breaking approach to the issue. I have several responses which I will spend the rest of this blog covering.

First of all, and this should not have to be said, but it’s never okay to issue death threats to someone else, no matter how much you disagree with him or her. Just because you think they are trampling on everything you believe or support does not mean that they deserve to be executed, or get cancer. Shocking, I know. If you have ever tweeted something like this to someone, even as an internet troll/ joke, please don’t ever do it again. These are real people with real families. Imagine what it would be like to see a tweet like that.

Aside from the common human decency argument, I think something more ought to be said to those who are so vehemently opposed to the protests. It’s been stated over and over again, but the players and others who take a knee are allowed to protest. It’s freedom of speech/ expression. Now, as employees of the NFL, they could face fines, suspensions, or termination for taking part in these protests. Free speech is one thing, but freedom from the consequences of free speech is another. This is the argument of “you can say what you want, but you might lose your job over it.” Free speech just means you can’t be thrown in jail for telling your boss you hate his or her guts. He or she could fire you over it, though. The NFL has chosen to allow it’s players to protest. Therefore, if you have a major issue with the protest movement, your gripe is with the NFL, not the players. If you feel the need to make your disgust known, write to the NFL–not the players.

Furthermore, and this is one of my biggest issues with the responses, people need to actually listen to the players’ themselves over this. Most of the anger towards the protests takes the line: “You are spitting in the face of those who fought and died for your freedom;” or possibly the most common: “You are disrespecting the flag, your freedoms, and this nation.” This should not have to be said, but the players are not taking a knee with the goal of “disrespecting the flag.” They are largely protesting inequality, injustice, and police brutality in this country. The national anthem is just the forum that has been chosen. And it has pushed the conversation forward to a great degree. Say what you want about the protest movement, but it has certainly gotten people talking about these issues. This is why I think people need to actually take the time to listen to the players themselves about all of this, or read their posts and blogs addressing why they are taking a knee. Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins, and Rashard Matthews have all offered very thoughtful comments regarding the movement as a whole, as well as their own personal messages.

The fact remains that in this country, white people have advantages that people of color do not. As a white man myself, I often forget about this. Systemic racism and injustice remain. Regarding the police, black men are still much more likely to be perceived as a threat first, and a person second. That’s injustice. That needs to end. That’s one of the main reasons these players are protesting. If you don’t believe me, read their thoughts and comments. Some people in this country actually believe that racism isn’t a problem anymore. As we’ve seen over the last couple of years, it’s as present as ever.

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Also, there is yet another element to this discussion: the anthem, the troops, and the flag. There are some people in this country who have responded negatively to these protests on the grounds of “disrespecting our nation’s values.” I think one of the strangest elements to this whole thing is how much people want to “defend the flag” in the face of these protests. While I am incredibly thankful to be an US citizen, I also do not get the obsession/ exaltation of the Flag by some. This argument has been made by others, but people need to realize that tablecloths, clothes, underwear, and even dog bandannas make the Flag more of a pattern akin to polka dots or stripes than a symbol of freedom. Furthermore, some Christians in this country need to do a little self-examination on how much they exalt the Flag, or the Constitution, or their political party. If it’s even remotely close to how much they exalt God or the Bible as authoritative in their lives, then it’s a problem. But I digress…

One final thought: I also think it’s fine to push back on these players and their protests. Ask them what more they are doing. Ask them how they hope to effect change other than causing rage on Twitter. Much of the arguments you hear are, “The troops did not fight and die so that these spoiled millionaires can spit in the face of this country.” It’s true that most of these athletes get paid more than you or I ever will. However, many of them are using their money and platform to support numerous programs focused on creating opportunities for people or on helping poor kids get out of poverty. Regardless of  your feelings on the protests, please applaud actions like those. By the way, Colin Kaepernick has given away $1 million towards various charities and other organizations which seek to help underprivileged kids and young adults. That’s a pretty high price to pay when you aren’t on an NFL team anymore.

I want to close by just offering a couple of “quick hits” to sum up. 1. If you want to not watch the NFL anymore because of this, go right ahead; but before you do, maybe stop and examine exactly why the protests really bother you so much. 2. Even if you want to keep watching the NFL but vehemently disagree with the players’ actions, read their comments and articles on why they are protesting. 3. Do your part to effect change for the better in this country. If you’re tired of “hearing about these whiny millionaires” (which is what many people say), then go out and take action in your own community. 4.Realize we’re not yet at a place where all people in this nation have the exact same rights and opportunities. Some people have systemic challenges that put them at a disadvantage. Don’t take my word for it, research these issues for yourself.

I am not naive enough to think I have this all figured out. I have appreciated some of the players’ messages about why they kneel. I also think that it’s a good thing for people to say, “Well so you took a knee that cost you a commercial, but what else are you doing to back up your message?” It’s a great question for people to pose to these players. If they want to be a catalyst for social change, they do need to do more than just take a knee at a football game. Many of them are. I applaud them for that. Also, their actions have moved the conversation forward greatly. That much is to be commended as well.

What are your thoughts? Do you disagree? Are you opposed to the players no matter what? I am open to hearing from all sides on this.