I would like to thank social justice twitter for incessantly reminding us all these past two weeks that when NFL players kneel, it is not because they are protesting Donald Trump, but because they are protesting racial injustice. I am glad that now suddenly, once the president has insulted players who kneel, Trump donor Jerry Jones, all but one Pittsburgh Steeler, and the entirety of the 49ers, the very organization that ousted Colin Kaepernick, suddenly feel that the unjust treatment of people of color by police is worthy of protest.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. This latest round of kneeling and protesting the national anthem is not about police brutality and racial injustice. It is about the president’s response to players kneeling. It is about unity amongst NFL teams.
Over a year ago, in July 2016, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille were both killed by police officers in horrifying fashion. This came after the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, and countless other men and women of color.
Before anyone else in the sports community batted an eye, members of the Minnesota Lynx held a press conference to discuss police brutality, wearing shirts with the phrase “Change Starts With Us.” Members of the New York Liberty and Indiana Fever followed suit the next week with shirts reading #BlackLivesMatter and plain black shirts to protest the injustice they were seeing.
The WNBA originally issued fines against these players and teams, but when the players fought back, the WNBA rescinded them, stating their commitment to their players and their ability to fight for justice.
Colin Kaepernick first sat for the National Anthem in August 2016. His teammate Eric Reid joined him shortly thereafter, and the two knelt together on the sideline. A few other NFL players began to show support, and some joined Kaepernick in kneeling, or raised their fists, a gesture made popular by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics. Most NFL players stayed silent.
Following Kaepernick’s lead, the entire Indiana Fever team knelt during the anthem in September 2016. Members of the Phoenix Mercury followed suit.
In September 2016, Keith Lamont Scott and Terence Crutcher, both unarmed, were murdered by police officers.
At the next Georgetown home football game, amidst homecoming festivities, a group of Georgetown football players, and almost all of the Georgetown cheerleaders, knelt during the playing of the national anthem. The cheerleaders knelt the next week. And the next. Since September 24, 2016, a majority of the Georgetown cheerleaders have knelt at every single football game, men’s basketball game, and women’s basketball game that they have attended. They, along with Kaepernick, began this protest under Barack Obama’s presidency. They, along with Kaepernick, still feel that they have a duty to speak out because racial injustice in America is still far too prevalent.
If the NFL players and organizations protesting during the National Anthem these last few weeks were protesting racial injustice, they would have followed Kaepernick’s lead. NFL front offices would not have refused to hire him as even a second or third string quarterback. After the events in Charlottesville, VA, the league could have showed solidarity the way the WNBA players did in locking arms with players of opposing teams during the anthem. Instead, it took an insult from Donald Trump to spur them to action.
Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, members of the Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty, the Indiana Fever, and the Georgetown University Cheerleaders are American patriots. They saw injustice and they took a stand. They did it before it was trendy and in this new wave of protests we should take the time to celebrate those who were unafraid to speak up over a year ago.
We should take the time to remember what they were originally protesting.
Now let’s be clear: I am all for protesting against Donald Trump. I am all for showing unity against him. But these recent protests are not about Donald Trump.
Donald Trump alone cannot fix the problems of police brutality and racial injustice. He could absolutely be doing more to improve the lives of people of color in this country, but police departments need to implement reforms. The criminal justice system needs to hold police officers accountable for their actions. Americans need to demand that this gross injustice is not welcome in this country. White Americans, we need to look inside ourselves, at the implicit, and even explicit biases that we carry with us. We need to talk about the injustices in policing.
It’s fun when LeBron James calls the president “U Bum.” It’s cool that NFL Teams are taking a stand together. I am not calling on them to stop. But I am calling on them to use their platforms to speak out about the injustices that Kaepernick originally protested. Their actions have made an impact, but their words will have power too. I am calling on them, and on all of us as Americans to remember Kaepernick’s words when he was first asked about his decision not to stand for the anthem:
“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.”
We should all be haunted by New York Liberty Tina Charles’ words on Instagram:
“Because of a failed system innocent lives have been taken. Am I next?”
Photo: Phillip Steuber/The Georgetown Voice