The ongoing debate relating to NFL players “taking a knee” during the National Anthem, took an ugly turn last month. The National Football League owners voted to penalize team ownership if its players protested in this fashion. Additionally, players that voice their concerns will be reprimanded at the team’s discretion. The new policy was drafted without any input from the NFL Players Association. With 70% of its players being African American, it appears that ownership chose not to empathize with the purpose of these protests but chose to quash the demonstrations instead. One bullet point of the new policy allows for players who seek to protest can stay in the locker room. It is as if the league chooses to sweep the dust under the rug and keep it out of view. Is the new policy solely about a concept of patriotism or is it more about the money?
The issue of patriotism has been debated ever since Colin Kaepernick took a knee two years ago. The perception of being a loyal American has been tainted recently by Donald Trump and the members of his base. It is unfortunate that the President of the United States made the blanket statement that the players who protest should be fired and forced to leave the country. That is absurd, and he is sending the message that protesting the atrocities of black people in inner city communities is un-American. His comments are divisive and create situations of adversity. In the future, those players choosing to stay in the locker room risk being labeled as unpatriotic, when they are merely exercising their right to express themselves in protest, based on the First Amendment.
There is a great misconception that football players are what people view them to be on television—individuals whose sole purpose is to win football games. What everyone needs to realize is that they are men first, just like the guy next to them. They care for their families and formulate opinions based on what’s reported on the five o’ clock news. We should all be outraged, when it’s reported that there have been 358 African American deaths since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee. It’s easy to see why these honorable men, black and white, are standing in solidarity.
It amazes me how many people embrace the lesson of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s peaceful protesting, but fail to recognize the effort of resistance among these players. The NFL owners should take a hard look at what has come out of their office. It’s not difficult to see whose interest they’re appealing to. The concern in my opinion, are those advertising dollars that they risk losing if the players aren’t penalized. The United States Armed Forces currently buys a large chunk of ad space on game day. It’s been stated that the Department of Defense spends close to ten million dollars on advertising with the NFL. So, let’s call the duck a duck. It’s the fiduciary impact that these guys are concerned about. The message to the players is simply shut up and play, because we’re not listening.
The contentious move by the NFL creates a rift in the locker room as well. Some players will concur with the decision and will have an adverse opinion of those team mates that protest. While players who take a stance may feel shunned. As one former player simply stated, “The perception is that we’re just meat on the field. Trained to think football and that’s it.” The risk is great for those who protest. They are providers for their families and will be forced to negotiate their contracts. Some aspire for post season opportunities in their communities as business owners and educators. The impact of taking a stance can be life changing. Colin Kaepernick has been banned from the league because he took a knee. Therefore, any player who chooses to voice their concern can be labeled and thus risk losing everything.
I personally admire individuals who stand for something. I was always led to believe that one should be principled in your belief regardless of the circumstances it can create. In the movie Gladiator, a statement was made, “What you do in life echoes in eternity.” Those words have never been truer than what is being witnessed in the NFL. As my dad would always say, “Don’t be a lackey boy. Stand for something.”