I hate writing headlines. Long ago, as a journalism teacher, I learned that they needed verbs and should never use a form of the verb “to be.” But how to encapsulate almost 1,500 words into fewer than ten–almost impossible for me. This blog is about racism, sexism, peaceful protest, white entitlement, a new movement–and more. Here goes!
Colin Kaepernick has started a movement. In only three weeks since the San Francisco 49ers quarterback sat during the playing of the national anthem before a football game, professional athletes have been joined by athletes in colleges, high schools, and youth leagues throughout the nation to protest against the injustice for people of color and LGBT people in the United States. Instead of remaining seated, however, protesters are kneeling to show respect for the anthem and military while drawing attention to racial inequality and police brutality. The photo below is of Kaepernick and Eric Reid before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte (NC).
The most recent protest came from four players on the Philadelphia Eagles who raised their fists during the anthem after Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man with raised hands, was shot and killed by Tulsa (OK) police officers. At least 15 black men have been killed by police since Kaepernick began his protest on August 26.
Death threats have been sent to youth as young as 11 years old, and professional players have lost endorsements. Ohio’s high school athlete, Rodney Axson, decided to join the protest after he heard his teammates refer to players on the opposing team with the “n-word.” Since then, he has been the brunt of this term as well as a message that reads “Lets Lynch Ni—gers.” The school now plays the anthem while the team remains in the locker room. The same thing happened after lesbian Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign’s professional soccer star, knelt during the national anthem.
Lincoln (NE) Southeast High School student Sterling Smith explained his kneeling:
“I’ve learned that walking in the ‘wrong neighborhood’ past 10:00 o’clock wearing colored skin can get you questioned by the police because you clearly have ulterior motives. I’ve learned that blatant racism is only humor and that I need to ‘not take it so seriously.’ I’ve learned that going to a store will get you followed by employees because obviously your intentions are to steal.”
Donald Trump led the hatred toward a man who conservatives call “unpatriotic,” and NFL executives have unleashed their anger, one of them going as far as to call him a “traitor.” The flag is sacred to these people while women are disposable as shown by Darren Sharper’s nomination to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Less a month ago, he was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison as a serial rapist after pleading guilty in May 2015 for drugging and raping women in four different states as well as pleading guilty or no contest to rape or attempted rape charges involving nine women. Sharper also has other pending cases, including those in state courts. Asked about the nomination, a Hall of Fame said that it’s not about “character.” And Sharper always stood for the national anthem.
David Brooks’ column criticizing athletes for kneeling in protest goes beyond absurd as he revises history to persuade athletes to stand instead of kneel. He describes America’s “civil religion” in 1776 being based on the “moral premise—that all men are created equal.” The omission of women is correct because women still aren’t equal, but the only “equal” men in 1776 were the white landowners. Blacks were considered three-fifths of the other white men as determined in the U.S. Constitution and white men who didn’t own property couldn’t vote. An attempted justification for the clause (Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution of 1787) explains that only enslaved blacks were three-fifths of white people, but this clause remained in the U.S. Constitution until the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments passed almost 100 years later after the Civil War.
Brooks continues his history piece by explaining that this “promised land” is “a place where your family or country of origin would have no bearing on your opportunities.” The entitled white man producing this elegant rhetoric couldn’t be more wrong, and the facts are the reason behind the protests. Yet Brooks attempts to educate protesters that their belief comes from colleges’ not requiring U.S. history—the same high school class that has been co-opted by revisionist historians who want to conceal any bigotry or genocide in our “promised land.”
Another criticism from Brooks is that the number of people in the U.S. who feel “extremely proud” of the nation has fallen since 2003. That was the year of George W. Bush’s preemptive war on Iraq and the acceleration to move the country’s assets from the poor and middle-class workers to the wealthy coupon-clippers. One issue in which he might be right is that “we have a crisis of solidarity.” Unlike Brooks’ impression that the “solidarity” can come from standing instead of kneeling during the national anthem, however, it could come from a cultural shift away from Brooks white entitlement encouraged by Donald Trump’s support of white supremacy.
Missing from Brooks’ pap is that the protest comes from the verse of the anthem that “celebrates the killing of freed slaves who fought against a U.S. government that had kept them in bondage,” as journalist Adam Johnson wrote. Johnson also pointed out that the NFL started the standing for the national anthem in 2009 as the NFL got much more money from the Defense Department instead of being “passed down generation after generation,” as Brooks claims in his column.
Jim Aloisi wrote this statement—and much more—about David Brooks’ column:
“We don’t need the salve of fiction or myth to bring us together as Americans. What we need is a good dose of honesty about our past and our present, an honest conversation leavened and facilitated by civility. The last thing we need is repression of deeply felt emotions that lead to the kind of silent statements being made on sports fields across the nation. If Americans stand in solidarity for anything, it ought to be respect for the exercise of free speech and expression. In this instance, respect for the exercise of that freedom ought to be joined by a candid respect for our history, and a frank acknowledgment of conditions that today still cause many of our citizens to be treated unequally. If we get that right, solidarity will follow.”
Other white conservatives also trash Kaepernick. Columnist Jonah Goldberg thinks that politics has no place in sports. Wayne Newton said that Kaepernick should “get the hell out” if he doesn’t like racism. Tucker Carlson, Rush Limbaugh, and others claim that Kaepernick’s wealth takes away his right to protest racism. People angry about street violence in protest to racial inequality also oppose peaceful protests.
Some treat the protest as an isolated event in sports, but Leonard Pitts wrote about Jackie Robinson long ago writing, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.” As Pitts wrote, protest in the United States “is an act of faith, an expression of the belief that a country founded on that great, self-evident truth can do—and be—better.”
The biggest accusation toward Kaepernick is that he is “un-American” for his actions—always a device to shut people up. (Think of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s committee on “Un-American Activities.”) Calling Kaepernick “a noble and courageous man,” Harry Belafonte said:
“To mute the slave has always been to the best interests of the slave owner … When a black voice is raised in protest to oppression, those who are comfortable with our oppression are the first to criticize us for daring to speak out against it.”
The day after Kaepernick made his first statement about his protest, a black GI started #VeteransForKaepernick to answer complaints about the football player’s disrespect of veterans and soldiers. Answers showed their discontent with U.S. actions—police brutality toward black GIs, lack of treatment for those who return home with physical and mental trauma, homeless, lack of jobs, suicide, etc.
Women who want to protest the nomination of Darren Sharper to the Hall of Fame can sign this petition to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell.