Some pretty unreal news is sweeping the sports world.
NFL owners approved a national anthem policy that requires players to stand on the football field during the national anthem.
The policy requires players to stand on the field, but allows them to remain in the locker room during the anthem if they so choose. Should players kneel during the anthem, their team will be fined.
The law, which is a pretty blatant infringement on the First Amendment right to protest or peacefully assemble, was met with outrage from celebrities, academics, and citizens around the country.
I can tell you how to get NFL players to stop kneeling during the anthem in three words: hear. them. out. This isn’t about disrespecting our flag, it’s about a real race issue they what addressed. Address it. Show them you care, take steps to bring change. They’ll stop kneeling.
— Tamar Q Barbash (@writerTQB) May 23, 2018
This is codifying racism into the game of American football to suppress free speech. The NFL–which receives $ to promote the military– is creating a game rule that specifically penalizes Black athletes’ protest of racism & police violence. NFL athletes are majority Black. https://t.co/zeN0iVbszc
— Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome) May 23, 2018
The decision comes on the heels of months of debate on who gets the right to protest, and where.
When former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 after multiple unarmed black men were shot and killed by police officers, league owners were enraged. His peaceful, silent protest against police brutality spurred outrage from mostly white NFL fans.
In spite of pushback from audiences, the NFL protests continued to gain traction as predominate black players from teams like the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, and Denver Broncos joined in the protest in their own ways. And they weren’t the only ones.
NBA star LeBron James wore an “I Can’t Breathe” back in 2014, and WNBA players have peacefully stood against injustice for years, using their status as prominent athletes to raise awareness on important issues.
NFL leaders attempted to reprimand the players through various tactics — perhaps most notably blackballing Kaepernick — but players have continued to remain true to their rights as American citizens and the root of American values: standing up for what one believes is right. And some NFL leaders, like Jets owner Christopher Johnson, have already pledged to support players who continue to do so.
Yet, overall, the NFL has made it clear that this value is only a privilege of those deemed “worthy” of a right to protest, a reality black protestors across the U.S. are all too familiar with.
When Muhammad Ali protested the Vietnam War by refusing to enlist, his boxing license was suspended in New York the same day, along with his champion title. When Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested America’s treatment of black Americans in the 1960s by raising their fists on the Olympic podium, they were stripped of their medals as white audiences spewed endless hatred. Perhaps most notably, Martin Luther King Jr.’s unwavering commitment to peaceful protest led to endless character attacks from the government, unwarranted stints in jail, and ultimately, his assassination.
Time and time again, black leaders, athletes, celebrities, and other visible faces speak up in the face of injustice, only to be put in a ludicrous box of criminality by white Americans. Decades after they speak up, our country turns them into martyrs, chanting about the grandness of their fearlessness, and framing them as heroes in elementary school classrooms.
But black people deserve that support more so much earlier on.
For years, America has had to relearn the hard lesson of actually living by the laws it claims to uphold, instead of only allowing the freedom of speech and right to protest to apply to people who are deemed “respectable” by those in power. But this nation doesn’t have to be like this.
The NFL can be a a league that abides by our nation’s inherent laws and ethics of freedom of speech and assembly by ensuring that those apply to everyone on the field.
They can listen to what black people are saying when they declare that black lives matter. They can pay attention to the reasons behind football players’ protest, and they can uplift athletes who are using their power for good now instead of making them heroes when it’s too late. And we can help them do it.
We can be better as sports fans, as current events commentators, and as Americans by allowing citizens of color to protest in their own, peaceful ways.
We have to. Our nation’s soul depends on it.