President Donald Trump’s condemnation of athletes who don’t stand during the national anthem moved more athletes to take a knee during the pre-game tradition on Sunday than did Colin Kaepernick’s months-long peaceful protests against police brutality last year.
During Sunday’s football games, a number of players took part in a widespread protest of the national anthem.
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) September 25, 2017
Yet, the only update in the yearlong controversy of whether athletes should mix their politics with their profession was that a widely abhorred president chastised it.
Prior to Trump’s strongly worded criticisms of the NFL at an Alabama rally on Friday, NFL players were privy to the suffering police brutality was causing in the Black community. They knew the killings of unarmed Black men were so frighteningly frequent, former fellow player Kaepernick was compelled to risk his career to protest it. They didn’t—or shouldn’t have—needed strongly worded opposition from an unstable president to realize the urgency of the former San Francisco 49er’s game-changing movement.
So did the NFL players know why they were kneeling on Sunday?
The players may have simply been rebelling against Trump to prove their right to free speech after the president verbally attacked the league. Or some players may have collectively decided White supremacy has done too much talking and it was finally time to use their platform as a tool of resistance. A few others (*cough* Ray Lewis *cough*) may have just been fearful that if they opted out of this protest yet again they’d confirm their status as absolute sellouts.
We can’t confirm what any of the players were thinking when they chose to take a knee for the first time. But what we do know is police killings such as those that moved Kaepernick to action in August have yet to have the same effect on the majority of the players.
Last week, former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted for killing Black motorist Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. If anything, Stockley’s freedom should have incited a wave of protests. Yet, by instructing NFL players to “get that son of a b**tch off the field” in reference to national anthem protesters, Trump simply rehashed what the NFL was, in essence, already doing by blackballing Kaepernick.
The hypocrisies of other players left little room for question in their motives. Former Ravens player Ray Lewis and Buffalo Bills’ LeSean McCoy criticized Kaepernick’s act of resistance within the past two months yet still sat out the anthem on Sunday.
Calls for players to #taketheknee that began circulating on social media Saturday—as well as the general offense taken in Trump’s comments—probably made it easier for those who were scared to take a knee prior to the weekend. Not only did NFL bigwigs perform indignation, a fair number of people felt their president’s statements were harsh, unnecessary and insensitive.
Trump’s callous and dog-whistle language forced athletic players to realize the pressing need for unity among one another—which folks such as Lewis and McCoy resisted when they spoke out against Kaepernick. Shows of solidarity among the league are touching and all, but protesting the national anthem is much larger than the league. Taking a knee isn’t about coming together against a hot-headed White supremacist, it’s about calling attention to the lives regularly being lost to these supremacists during traffic stops and while walking home from the store.
Kaepernick’s kneeling was certainly an exercise in freedom of speech, but its purpose was to draw attention to the rampant police killings of Black people. The majority of the movement Sunday was more than likely well-intentioned but it appears the significance of kneeling has either been lost on some of the players or they’re simply worried about the wrong things.
Will NFL players continue to follow in Kaepernick’s footsteps or was Sunday’s opting out just a temporary form of rebellion? We’re interested to see what will happen in the games to come.