Will NFL play­ers find real courage?

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY KAIA WRIGHT

Dear NFL Play­ers:

“The ul­ti­mate mea­sure of a man is not where he stands in mo­ments of com­fort and con­ve­nience, but where he stands at times of chal­lenge and con­tro­versy.”-Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s time to find your courage. Na­tional Foot­ball League own­ers have thrown down the gaunt­let in their de­ci­sion to com­pel stand­ing for the na­tional an­them, and left you with two op­tions: em­brace your power as nearly 70 per­cent of the sports league that is the world’s most prof­itable as a di­rect re­sult of your tal­ent and la­bor; or bow to a provoca­tive dis­play of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in­tended to crush peace­ful, pow­er­ful op­po­si­tion to cen­turies of sys­temic racism.

The NFL’s new na­tional an­them pol­icy re­flects not only a com­plete dis­re­gard for the hu­man­ity and autonomy of black peo­ple, but the ap­par­ent be­lief the ti­tle “owner” con­veys lit­eral own­er­ship of your black bod­ies. It is also the lat­est in a long list of sim­i­larly ab­hor­rent ac­tions by the NFL in ser­vice to racism and white supremacy. From overtly ex­clud­ing black play­ers from its ranks; to re­strict­ing ac­cess to po­si­tions based upon pre­sumed in­tel­lec­tual in­fe­ri­or­ity; to main­tain­ing a sys­tem of in­equity where the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of lead­er­ship po­si­tions are held by whites while you com­prise most of the la­bor pool. Like our an­ces­tors, your pri­mary value to NFL own­er­ship ap­pears to be the de­gree to which they may con­tinue to use your body, with lit­tle to no re­gard for the ef­fects on your phys­i­cal and per­sonal well-be­ing, to make ex­or­bi­tant prof­its.

Based upon the NFL’s adop­tion of this dis­hon­or­able pol­icy and the as­so­ci­ated de­lib­er­ate ex­clu­sion from the league of your broth­ers Colin Kaeper­nick and Eric Reid, I re­spect­fully rec­om­mend you con­sider en­gag­ing in one or more of the fol­low­ing meth­ods of protest dur­ing the 2018 sea­son:

1) Refuse to play foot­ball, akin to a hold­out (#Na­tion­alAn­themHold­out);

2) Refuse to stand for the na­tional an­them (#MyNameIsNotToby); or

3) Raise a “power to the peo­ple” fist clad in a black glove dur­ing the na­tional an­them (#TooBlack­TooStrong) It’s time to find your courage. The core ba­sis for the NFL’s na­tional an­them pol­icy is the con­tention that fail­ing to stand for the na­tional an­them is dis­re­spect­ful to veter­ans and the flag. This ar­gu­ment is il­log­i­cal. A na­tion’s an­them and flag’s pri­mary pur­pose is to rep­re­sent the en­tirety of its cit­i­zenry; and par­tic­i­pa­tion in the an­them cer­e­mony is a pri­vate de­ci­sion ev­ery Amer­i­can is en­ti­tled to make. Any other sym­bol­ogy at­tached to the an­them or flag re­lated to sub­groups such as veter­ans, po­lice, and civil ser­vants must be sub­or­di­nate or se­condary to its pri­mary rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Fur­ther, as veter­ans take an oath to sup­port and de­fend the con­sti­tu­tion, it is non­sen­si­cal to then de­clare that the ac­tual ex­er­cise of those rights is dis­re­spect­ful to this very group. The mil­i­tary is not a mono­lith, and our var­ied opin­ions on this is­sue should not be given any more weight than that of any other ci­ti­zen. Ad­di­tion­ally, the statute which de­lin­eates ac­tions dis­re­spect­ful to the flag does not in­clude kneel­ing or re­main­ing seated dur­ing the an­them. Fi­nally, as elo­quently stated by the Supreme Court in West Vir­ginia v. Bar­nette,

To be­lieve that pa­tri­o­tism will not flour­ish if pa­tri­otic cer­e­monies are vol­un­tary and spon­ta­neous, in­stead of a com­pul­sory rou­tine, is to make an un­flat­ter­ing es­ti­mate of the ap­peal of our in­sti­tu­tions to free minds.

And while the NFL is a pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tion to which the first amend­ment does not di­rectly ap­ply—its use of tax­payer funds and re­ceipt of tax ben­e­fits to build sta­di­ums aside—the Court’s mes­sage is a rel­e­vant and poignant one. It’s time to find your courage. The NFL’s an­them pol­icy was en­acted without the con­sul­ta­tion of any play­ers or the NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. Fur­ther, the ad­mo­ni­tion that you ei­ther stand dur­ing the an­them or re­main out of sight so as not to of­fend the sen­si­bil­i­ties of the NFL’s white fan base harkens back to a time when we were re­quired to re­main out of sight by be­ing forced to en­ter es­tab­lish­ments through the back door or sit in sep­a­rate ar­eas of buses, trains, restau­rants, etc. lest white pa­trons feel un­com­fort­able. The NFL’s pol­icy is clearly de­signed to im­pose upon you own­ers’ per­sonal po­lit­i­cal views, as well as those of white fans who be­lieve they are the ar­biters of the time, place, and man­ner black peo­ple should ob­ject to racism.

You are men de­scended from an ex­tra­or­di­nary, re­silient, and coura­geous peo­ple. Those be­fore us en­dured the most treach­er­ous and in­hu­mane treat­ment at the hands of peo­ple whom his­tory has san­i­tized as mere pa­tri­ots seek­ing bet­ter life in a new land, but who in truth were bar­bar­ians who per­pet­u­ated the geno­cide of one group of peo­ple, and the en­slave­ment, mur­der, and com­plete de­hu­man­iza­tion of an­other. Yet our an­ces­tors per­se­vered, re­belled, and sur­vived so that we would have the op­por­tu­nity to be­come their wildest dreams. Tak­ing up their man­tle, our el­ders ex­posed them­selves to and suf­fered enor­mous phys­i­cal, eco­nomic, and psy­cho­log­i­cal harm march­ing, demon­strat­ing, sit­ting in, free­dom rid­ing, and com­mit­ting sundry acts of re­sis­tance to chal­lenge the same sys­temic racism faced by those be­fore them. They did so not while mak­ing com­fort­able salaries or with in­flu­en­tial plat­forms, but with ev­ery­thing to lose and only their dig­nity and a bet­ter to­mor­row for us to gain. The man­tle has now been passed to us. It’s time to find your courage. Dur­ing the 2016 and 2017 sea­sons, many of you peace­fully protested cen­turies of racism and the con­tin­ued de­pri­va­tion of the rights, lib­er­ties, and priv­i­leges sym­bol­ized by the na­tional an­them and the flag. This is ev­i­dent in ev­ery­thing from hous­ing to the jus­tice sys­tem and the un­law­ful ex­tra­ju­di­cial killing of un­armed black men and women while white mass mur­der­ers are brought in peace­fully; to whites sum­mon­ing law en­force­ment like a per­sonal gang to in­tim­i­date and threaten us for [in­sert do­ing in­nocu­ous ac­tiv­ity] While black. And our so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus, ed­u­ca­tion, sex, or age will not shield us from racism’s per­ni­cious, de­struc­tive ef­fects. It’s time to find your courage. Re­fus­ing to play, es­pe­cially if ex­e­cuted by mul­ti­ple teams, is by far the most pow­er­ful ac­tion you could take, and the stance likely to yield re­sults most quickly. It is anal­o­gous to a hold-out, ex­cept with a far more no­ble foun­da­tion. Your broth­ers on the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri foot­ball team—young men who had not yet en­tered the work force and thus had pre­cious lit­tle to fall back on should their schol­ar­ships be re­voked— demon­strated how ef­fec­tive such a protest could be. The de­ci­sion may be a dif­fi­cult one; but our an­ces­tors and el­ders made dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions as well. There hasn’t been a sin­gle sub­stan­tive shift re­gard­ing racism in this coun­try that did not in­volve acts of enor­mous courage, brav­ery, and will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice for a greater cause.

Re­fus­ing to stand for the na­tional an­them is also a very strong re­sponse. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the na­tional an­them cer­e­mony is es­sen­tially a per­sonal in­vi­ta­tion ex­tended to ev­ery United States ci­ti­zen. It is com­pa­ra­ble to at­tend­ing a non-re­li­gious event in which at­ten­dees are in­vited to pray. The de­ci­sion not to par­tic­i­pate is an in­di­vid­ual one that is not any­one’s pre­rog­a­tive to even ques­tion, let alone ei­ther de­mand an ex­pla­na­tion, or, worse, at­tempt to com­pel par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Rais­ing a fist dur­ing the na­tional an­them is yet an­other strong sym­bol of re­sis­tance, the most vivid ex­am­ple be­ing the iconic im­age of John Car­los and Tom­mie Smith with their black glove clad fists held high in a “power to the peo­ple” salute dur­ing the 1968 Olympics in Mex­ico City, Mex­ico. Though one is gen­er­ally stand­ing for the an­them while do­ing so, it is im­bued with the pow­er­ful state­ment that you will not be com­pelled into sub­or­di­nated obe­di­ence. It’s time to find your courage. There will be con­se­quences re­gard­less of the stance you take or which method you and your broth­ers, in­di­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively, set­tle upon. Even do­ing noth­ing opens the door to fur­ther abuses by the own­ers as this an­them pol­icy in­escapably probes what level of racist mal­treat­ment you are will­ing to ac­cept, and presents you with your Toby mo­ment. Ad­di­tion­ally, what’s to stop the NFL from mak­ing you re­cite a loy­alty oath or per­form some other ges­ture such as salut­ing to show your “re­spect for the flag?”

And here is a hard truth. As with any group of op­pressed peo­ple, there will be those among you for whom lack of in­testi­nal for­ti­tude, fear of not be­ing liked or ad­verse con­se­quences, and re­signed sub­servience are guid­ing life prin­ci­ples. This is so de­spite their sta­tus as pro­fes­sional foot­ball play­ers and, as such, among the strong­est, most tal­ented, in­tel­li­gent, hard-work­ing, and gifted men on Earth.

But there will also be those of you who are will­ing to ac­cept our an­ces­tors’ and el­ders’ man­tle of for­ti­tude, re­silience, and brav­ery; face and con­quer the nat­u­ral fear as­so­ci­ated with do­ing what is dif­fi­cult but right; and re­ject this dra­co­nian at­tempt to sup­press black dis­sent re­gard­ing our racist mis­treat­ment in this coun­try.

Those of you who choose to step up to this line of scrim­mage will not be without pro­tec­tion and sup­port. There are var­i­ous le­gal the­o­ries and analy­ses which rep­re­sen­ta­tives and coun­sel may ex­plore to sup­port your re­fusal to play or stand dur­ing the an­them, or to raise a fist dur­ing the an­them. Also, the NFLPA has demon­strated a will­ing­ness to stand by you, and pro­tect the ex­er­cise of your rights. Fur­ther, know that we the peo­ple are with you.We the peo­ple who are foot­ball fans that un­flinch­ingly sup­port your de­ci­sion to protest; we the peo­ple who are not foot­ball fans, but who de­test the ex­is­tence of sys­temic racism; and we the peo­ple, your fel­low black broth­ers and sis­ters, who too are in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the scourge of racism, and thus un­der­stand that we are you and you are us. We are one. It’s time to find your courage. This abuse of author­ity by the NFL as re­flected in the pro­mul­ga­tion of this pol­icy is si­mul­ta­ne­ously an act of dom­i­nance and an act of cow­ardice. Dom­i­nance in its in­tent to im­pose the will of 32 own­ers, nearly all of whom are white, onto Black men chal­leng­ing sus­tained, per­sis­tent racism. Cow­ardice in its spine­less ca­pit­u­la­tion to Don­ald Trump’s vac­u­ous crit­i­cisms, and the racist sen­si­bil­i­ties of white fans who ob­ject to play­ers stray­ing from their des­ig­nated role as en­ter­tain­ers who should “shut up and play foot­ball.” This pol­icy, cou­pled with the on­go­ing ex­clu­sion of Kaeper­nick and Reid, while not vi­o­lent like Bull Con­nor’s at­tack dogs and fire hoses, are no less racist and re­pug­nant in their in­ten­tion—to pun­ish Black peo­ple who dare to stand against this coun­try’s un­abated re­fusal to ex­tend to its Black cit­i­zens the full panoply of free­doms guar­an­teed by our found­ing doc­u­ments here in the pur­ported land of the free and home of the brave. It’s time to find your courage. Be­cause if not now, when?

Kaia Wright is an at­tor­ney, ac­tivist, and re­tired U.S.Army of­fi­cer. She is the Founder and Edi­tor of Courage Un­der Fire, the na­tion’s only web­site ded­i­cated to the na­tional an­them protests against racism, at courage­un­der-fire.com. She may be reached via the web­site’s con­tact page or con­tact@courage­un­der-fire.com. Fol­low her and Courage Un­der Fire on Twit­ter @an­themprotest and In­sta­gram @courage.un­der.fire.


The NFL protest be­gun by Colin Kaeper­nick is rem­i­nis­cent of the silent raised fist protest by gold medal­ist Tom­mie Smith and Bronze medal­ist John Car­los dur­ing the Na­tional An­them at the 1968 Sum­mer Olympics in Mex­ico City.

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