Over the past couple of days, we’ve witnessed brothers sitting knee by knee and standing arm in arm alongside White men in an ostensible display of allyship. The outward gestures of the #taketheknee protest alone implied a revolution might be taking place. It was just the kind of unity intertwined with anarchistic defiance our spirits have been longing to see. Sure, the Black power fists were missing in action, but for now, these visuals would do.
It was easy. And the narrative? Seamless.
First, a widely despised President Donald Trump stuck to his usual script when he incited outrage with a harshly worded condemnation of the NFL. But in this particular instance, he came for our own by indirectly attacking Colin Kaepernick. Our wrath was felt in the social media realm with Black NFL athletes and celebrities sticking up for their colleagues’ right to free speech on Twitter. The unity was heartening. It had us open.
Our collective frustrations gave birth to the #taketheknee hashtag and it became clear where the majority stood. Athletes and NFL executives were essentially given a blueprint as to how to appease the public. For NFL owners, it was a golden opportunity: #taketheknee allowed them a one-way ticket away from the controversies surrounding their apathetic treatment of Kaepernick.
But this particular outrage from Black America was different from that which stems from recurring police killings. The antagonist in this scenario was a provocateur abhorred by many White Americans. Mobilizing against a reality-TV-star-turned-president who admitted to being sexually attracted to his child is easy. Opposition toward Trump is socially acceptable because his idiocy and repugnant character aren’t respected by White Americans. It was something any sensible mass of people could get with.
No one was infuriated by Trump’s evident disregard for the racial injustice that initially spurred Kaepernick’s national anthem protest. Their indignation was in the audacity it took in negating someone’s right to protest and free speech.
NFL owners couldn’t have truly been indignant by the president’s belief that “son of a b**ch” players protesting the anthem should be taken “off the field.” Kaepernick was that SOB, and all 32 league owners ensured he wouldn’t be playing on any field their teams were touching down on in the 2017 football season. Rich powerful white men simply don’t take well to being told what to do.
When the Dallas Cowboys, affectionately known as “America’s Team,” kneeled before the national anthem and still honored the actual anthem by standing, the NFL’s intentions with this faux movement became crystal clear.
Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant even affirmed the motive for the team’s protests was indeed, Trump.
“I feel like that’s the true definition of unity,” Bryant said in reference to his team’s decision to kneel before the anthem. “Trump can’t divide this.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett locking arms with the brown-skinned players was nothing more than a cute photo-op. There is a message of intolerance for the justice system that regularly persecutes people of color. Kaepernick certainly enacted that but the Cowboys in particular, demonstrated they didn’t want to take part in that protest. Subsequently, the Cowboys and the rest of the NFL also separated themselves were also able to distance themselves from their image as a racist institution.
The #taketheknee movement is a watered-down version of Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality. For athletes, something got lost in translation. For owners and coaches, it’s an exploitation of Black pain they can gain from.
A movement initially used to protest incessant police brutality translated into an opportunity for the NFL to appear sensitive to the struggles of the Black community while repairing their image. The candy-coated narrative of the#taketheknee movement is insincere, offensive and manipulative. It’s a slap in the face to the pioneers of the protest who risked their livelihoods and didn’t await their employer’s permission to advocate on behalf of the Black community.