I’m not much of a football fan for much of the regular season or playoffs. I don’t know her. Mariah Carey is my guide as teams battle their way to the Super Bowl which is when I pretend to know what’s going on but only really want to see the Halftime show. Going forward, I’m going to have to keep Mariah’s energy all the way through.
On Wednesday, the NFL announced that players would no longer be allowed to kneel during the national anthem. Players now have the option of staying in the back rather than to engage in forced patriotism but even that is being left to the discretion of team owners. They will decide how “respect” is shown to the anthem and flag.; if a personnel acts on their own accord, they will be subjected to a penalty.
Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, thinks that he can split the baby in half. In his mind, players can still protest police brutality and other cultural flash point issues just as long as they’re not seen. They can raise fists, kneel and scream at the moon just as long as no one seems them doing it but that’s not how it goes. Not anymore. The backlash was swift and immediate.
Roger Goodell and the Shield behind him want to make it easier for fans to just enjoy the game. Basketball seems to speak truth to power and ball at the same time but the NFL can’t chew and walk it seems. They’re prompted more by appeasing Donald Trump (who doesn’t even know the words)
and the slippery slope of escapism. I’m all for that ; to just close your eyes for a few hours and forget about the troubles of the world but putting on a jersey doesn’t strip any of these athletes of their God-given and constitutional rights. They are still Black men living in a country where their status isn’t a guaranteed shield against racism. Just ask Sterling Brown and LeBron James.
The anthem is just words. The flag is a cloth. It is only when we practice the ideals of both than do they have greater meaning and carry out the convictions of their stated purpose. James Baldwin puts it better than I ever could:
I am not at war with America. I love my country and want to do my part to help make it a better union. For it to become so, the mass shootings, violent encounters with police and various injustices must be addressed. It bothers my conscience that this trauma porn is what too many of us wake up to everyday. So, I get the need to bury heads in the sand for a few hours but not under the rules of forced allegiance; a form of salute that wasn’t even mandatory until 2009 and it’s oh so telling that the NFL has responded quicker to squash peaceful protest than to be more effective with the issues of brain damage and players beating their wives. Jerry Jones couldn’t wait to forgive and forget Greg Hardy and Ezekiel Elliott. Football may not be my favorite pastime but I know the tea. We all do.
NFL players are not just mules for the entertainment of the masses. Just like the peaceful Montgomery boycotts, their acts of civil disobedience are meant to disrupt and make others uncomfortable. They don’t forfeit their dignity, character and resolve because some fans don’t want to hear about how hard it is for others; that they’d rather see balls thrown in the end zone than to help change the conditions in this country. The fact that many of those demanding players stand for the anthem probably will be the first ones acting a fool if they can’t get a beer if the NFL halts concession sales during the anthem. Maybe they’ll just stay home and sit on their couches like they probably do now.
The land of the free and home of the brave shouldn’t just be tailored to those who only believe the 2nd amendment matters. The first does to and you still have it at your job. So do these players. They can’t Colin Kaepernick everyone; punish every last player who dares to care for more than just the game.
So, after a touchdown, take a knee. Kneel after a sack. Kneel on the sidelines. Kneel at the endzone. Kneel at every opportunity.