Im­pact of protests un­clear as more demon­stra­tions loom

The Jakarta Post - - SPORTS - Rob Wool­lard

The wave of protests which erupted across the Na­tional Foot­ball League (NFL) has been de­scribed as one of the most sig­nif­i­cant dis­plays of ath­lete ac­tivism in decades but ex­perts re­main un­cer­tain about the long-term im­pact of the demon­stra­tions.

More than 150 mostly AfricanAmer­i­can NFL play­ers elected to kneel or sit dur­ing the play­ing of The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner on Sun­day in an un­prece­dented protest fol­low­ing a tirade by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Trump had trig­gered up­roar in Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lar sport by at­tack­ing play­ers who sym­bol­i­cally re­fused to stand dur­ing the na­tional an­them in an ef­fort to draw at­ten­tion to racial in­jus­tice.

The United States leader’s re­marks were widely con­demned by NFL chiefs and bil­lion­aire team own­ers — sev­eral of whom had do­nated to Trump’s elec­tion cam­paign — be­fore the play­ers staged their day of ac­tion.

Yet as a fresh round of NFL games kick off this week, it re­mains un­clear whether last Sun­day’s protests will gather mo­men­tum or slowly fiz­zle out.

Some play­ers who kneeled last week­end have al­ready said they do not plan to re­peat the protest.

Oak­land Raiders tackle Don­ald Penn said his protest was in­tended as a ri­poste to Trump’s re­marks.

“I’m not go­ing to do it again next week,” he told re­porters. “I didn’t want to do it this week. This all had to do with Pres­i­dent Trump’s com­ments.”

Ten­nessee Ti­tans wide re­ceiver Rishard Matthews mean­while said he would con­tinue to kneel “un­til the pres­i­dent apol­o­gizes.”

The Green Bay Pack­ers have urged fans to link arms in sol­i­dar­ity when they face the Chicago Bears in what is in­tended to be a “dis­play of unity.”

The mixed mes­sages have cre­ated de­bate about the long-term ef­fec­tive­ness of the protests.

For some an­a­lysts the mean­ing of the demon­stra­tions — which were first started by ex-San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick — has been lost.

Trump has re­framed the de­bate as a ques­tion of pa­tri­o­tism, ac­cus­ing those play­ers who choose to kneel or sit as be­ing dis­re­spect­ful of the mil­i­tary and the US.

Orin Starn, a pro­fes­sor of cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy at Duke Univer­sity who has writ­ten about sports and so­ci­ety, sees the protests as con­tin­u­ing a tra­di­tion of ac­tivism started by black ath­letes in the 1960s.

“There’s a thread con­nect­ing Tommy Smith and John Car­los in 1968 to what we saw on Sun­day — black ath­letes us­ing sport to protest racial in­jus­tice, to say to Amer­ica that it doesn’t have its racial house in or­der,” Starn told AFP.

Starn is un­cer­tain though how ef­fec­tive the NFL protests will be in the long-term, sug­gest­ing that the op­pos­ing view­points in the lat­est round of Amer­ica’s cul­ture wars re­main too deeply en­trenched.

“About such a piv­otal mat­ter for Amer­i­can cul­ture like racism and po­lice bru­tal­ity, peo­ple al­ready have their opin­ions,” Starn said.

“I doubt many minds have been changed one way or the other by this week­end or by Kaeper­nick’s ini­tial, coura­geous protest.

“This is a di­vided coun­try. One part of it thinks that African-Amer­i­cans have been given too many breaks; the other, a big seg­ment of Amer­ica, thinks we have real prob­lems with racism and po­lice bru­tal­ity and wants to do some­thing about it. But it is not clear to me that the sta­tus quo is chang­ing.”

Mary-Frances Winters, who heads The Winters Group, a con­sult­ing firm which spe­cial­izes in diver­sity and in­clu­sion pro­grams, praised the protests as “sym­bolic.”

“But now it needs to go the next step,” she told AFP. “Peo­ple need to sit down and have a proper di­a­logue. When you look at his­tory, peo­ple who are protest­ing are of­ten per­se­cuted. It’s not un­til 50 years later that they are viewed dif­fer­ently.”

Winters agreed that the point of Kaeper­nick’s orig­i­nal protest — launched in re­sponse to sev­eral killings of un­armed black men by law en­force­ment who sub­se­quently re­ceived lit­tle or no pun­ish­ment — has been for­got­ten.

Kneel: Chicago Bears play­ers Adrian Amos (38), DeAn­dre Hous­ton-Car­son (36), Deon Bush (26) and Josh Bel­lamy (15) kneel in the end zone prior to their game against the Green Bay Pack­ers be­fore the na­tional an­them at Lam­beau Field, Green Bay, Wis­con­sin, US, on Thurs­day.

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