Protests by athletes during the national anthem are not going away, not when Donald Trump has found criticizing those athletes as a tactic that energizes his base, and not when basketball season is three weeks away. For what it’s worth, TV ratings for the NFL were up in Week 3, though it remains to be seen whether leagues face any long-term business effects as a result of no longer just sticking to sports.
The protests are not going away, though they are being watered down by owners like Jerry Jones pushing players to kneel before the anthem and lock arms. They should not go away, because why stop protesting when the protests are driving conversation but progress has yet to be made on the issue being protested? But, for a moment, before this week’s NFL games get going, it’s worth talking about what the issue is that’s being protested.
“It’s important to remember why Colin (Kaepernick) decided not to stand,” activist Deray Mckesson said in an appearance on Monday’s episode of Pod Save America. “He decided not to stand because of the deep injustices in the country, and specifically because of police violence. I worry that in the past couple of days, people have been more frustrated with Trump than the actual inequity that caused Colin not to stand. That bothers me a little bit.”
The next day, noted Confederate flag remover (and thus American hero) Bree Newsome took the point a step further in a series of tweets that read: “The entire movement for black lives began during Obama presidency w murder of Trayvon Martin. Folks are just trying to narrow focus to Trump / Because, again, the topic is: SYSTEMIC RACISM & its origins in chattel slavery. This is the unavoidable topic that USA keeps trying to avoid / So lots of folks from the WH to NFL owners will try to find every which way to narrow or change the topic to avoid talking about racism / Instead, they’ll talk about ‘unity’ in way that has no real meaning or what counts as ‘appropriate’. Anything to avoid discussing racism.”
Sure enough, hours later on Tuesday, the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated was released, with the headline: “A NATION DIVIDED / SPORTS UNITED” in front of a collage of relevant sports figures from the news of the past week. Not among them, in an egregious oversight that cannot be explained away, no matter how hard anyone tries: Colin Kaepernick.
Obviously, Kaepernick is not on an NFL team right now, the result of a leaguewide blackballing that’s been evident since the spring. So, while he is the primary figure in this protest, his invisibility serves to further the point made by Mckesson, Newsome, and others that the real point of taking a knee during the national anthem is being obscured or erased, shifting from police brutality and systemic racism to Trump.
But… is that really a problem?
There are a lot of reasons to protest Trump, as seen since his first full day in office, when the Women’s March tripled the size of his inauguration crowd. Immigration, climate, general corruption, nuclear brinksmanship… the list goes on. Nobody, though, is mistaking what is happening in sports as calls for redress on any of those issues.
Every athlete who has followed in Kaepernick’s kneeprints has done so to address racial issues – if not specifically the continued ability of the police to get away with murdering innocents, then at least the general principles that have led to it.
If the protests are spinning into an anti-Trump direction, well, Trump is the face of institutional racism in the United States in 2017. It is Trump who made Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III the attorney general. It is Trump who built his political career on the concept of birtherism, attempting to delegitimize the first black president. It is Trump who called for the execution of the Central Park Five and continued to insist they were guilty years after they were exonerated. It is Trump who called for ESPN to fire Jemele Hill because she called him a white supremacist. And it is Trump who referred to the white supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville as “very fine people” while labeling black athletes who protest as “sons of bitches.”
Trump fanned the flames of the sports protests by going on his days-long Twitter rant and inciting the crowd at that Alabama rally. So, yes, the focus has strayed from Kaepernick’s initial cause and become more about Trump. The fact of that being the way Trump likes it, though, does not matter. At a time when Jim Crow is being talked aboutas more than just history, the scope and urgency of protest should be broadening, and that is just what is happening.
Kaepernick might not be on Sports Illustrated’s cover this week, but he is quite clearly the inspiration for The Nation’s cover art. He’s also the inspiration for those who continue to protest during the anthem, the man who took a knee for what he believed in, and paid for it with his livelihood. While that fact may be drowned out in the moment, it remains present in the minds of all who follow, and will not be forgotten.
COLLEGE OOPS: In other news, “FBI brings Armageddon to college basketball, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.” Oh.
Dan Wetzel wrote the story for Yahoo about the indictment of 10 men, including NCAA assistant coaches and an Adidas executive, and that story has a very important paragraph:
“Top basketball talent is worth more on the open market than the NCAA limit of scholarship, room, board and a small stipend. NCAA limits are an attempt to stop the wheels of capitalism, which like floodwater will simply readjust and go where it wants.”
Hmm. Has anyone considered making it legal to pay the players? That might help deal with the whole “extensive bribery system so that the sport gets taken down by the feds” issue. Just a thought.