I’m a firm believer that Trump’s involvement in what happens (or doesn’t happen) in the NFL is a diversion tactic meant to distract us from other larger, much more urgent issues…
…but since the NFL protest is indeed a thing, I feel the need to address a few things.
There is something, however, that I feel I have to say.
Protest is uncomfortable.
The very nature of protest opens you to all kinds of abuse and scrutiny by those who disagree with you. Protest historically requires sacrifice, and some people who knelt paid the ultimate price for their convictions.
People have lost their lives for the right to stand (and kneel) for what they believe in.
Muhammad Ali lost years of fighting during his prime.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos lost their Olympic medals.
Colin Kaepernick lost his job.
Protest requires you to take a stand. It demands discomfort. It forces you to choose a side, to do something that people aren’t comfortable watching or supporting.
There was certainly a lot to take in yesterday in light of the NFL’s response to the president’s ridiculous comments. I watched two of the people chosen to sing the National Anthem take knees on the field as they sang. I saw players who sat on the bench and didn’t stand at all, and I watched as the ENTIRE offensive line of the Oakland Raiders (the only line that is 100% Black in the NFL) knelt together in solidarity.
I saw players with fists raised high and heads hung. I watched this sacrifice… I watched these men know full well the weight of their actions and still refuse to shy away from them.
I also watched players and coaches and owners lock arms with one another in unity and solidarity as the anthem was happening. And I was fine with that too…
…until I saw Tom Brady doing it. *record scratch*
Listen. Unmistakably and without question, Brady is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. But he is no hero for social justice, and it’s certainly no secret that he and Trump enjoy a personal relationship with one another. There is something profound to be said for a protest in which Brady participates: It’s not really a protest at all.
Watching Brady stand there, arms locked with his teammates, really made me think. And any protest in which Tom Brady is a willing participant should give us ALL pause.
The path of least resistance ain’t protest.
Locking arms shows we aren’t total assholes, but it also doesn’t alienate us or open us up to patriotic scrutiny. It gives the illusion that we care without ruffling too many feathers.
Locking arms ain’t protest. It’s a cop-out. Solidarity isn’t the intended goal of protest. Protest demands awareness and recognition of difference.
I was told on Facebook that I needed to be more concerned about the unity being displayed and less interested into the semantics.
You think semantics don’t matter? Consider this:
Three teams—the Pittsburg Steelers, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Tennessee Titans—did not take the field yesterday until after the national anthem had been sung. I was prematurely excited over the Steelers’ decision to remain in the locker room until I heard what coach Mike Tomlin said about why they didn’t come out for the anthem:
“We’re not going to play politics,” Tomlin said. “We’re football players, we’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today — not to be disrespectful to the anthem but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.
“People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.”
To sum it up: We didn’t participate because we’re athletes, not social champions. Making people choose is uncomfortable, so we made it easy for everyone and stayed in the locker room. The Titans took a similar “just leave us alone and let us play football” stance.
Now look at what the Seahawks said:
“As a team, we have decided we will not participate in the national anthem,” the Seahawks’ statement said. “We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms. We remain committed in continuing to work towards equality and justice for all.”
Synopsis: We chose as a team to take a side. We are exercising our right to that choice by boycotting the national anthem.
One team didn’t show up for the song. The other boycotted it. Semantics, yes. But their reasons for staying behind can’t even be compared to one another. Anybody can hide until the danger passes. But to walk out into the eye of a storm? That’s sacrifice. That’s fear and discomfort. That’s protest.
You can’t tell me that locking arms and staying neutral is protest. It’s not uncomfortable enough. It doesn’t hurt as much.
Show me a person who could suffer as a result of standing up for what they believe in. Show me someone who creates discomfort around him or herself because they refuse to fall quietly into an oppressive system. Show me someone who volunteers to wear a target on his or her back, someone who has decided that living in fear of repercussions on their feet is better than living life of quiet complacency on their knees.
I’m not knocking how anybody for how they feel. My issue is with this lukewarm complacency that we accept as protest. You can’t straddle a fence. Not making a choice IS A CHOICE. A really shitty one, at that.
All protest isn’t created equal. Unless you’ve made a stand for something, you’re just standing, and, to be quite honest, you’re in the way.
(Thank you so much, Mike. This is our article!)