The real reason NFL players are taking a knee
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been unemployed since August 9, 2017. If you ask NFL fans why Kaepernick is still a free agent, the majority will likely tell you it’s not because he lacks talent. Rather, Kaepernick is unemployed, they think, because he disrespected America’s flag by deciding to kneel while the national anthem played before games in protest of racial injustice, namely the string of police killings of unarmed black men, in the United States.
When Kaepernick first knelt on August 26, 2016, an estimated 172 unarmed black people had been killed by white police officers across the country since January of that year alone. Kaepernick defended his choice to kneel at the time by stating, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Kaepernick’s bold choice sparked a movement: More and more NFL players have chosen to follow in Kaepernick’s footsteps and kneel during the anthem in solidarity. In response, the hashtag #TakeAKnee started trending on Twitter on September 23, 2017; many Americans supported these players’ decision to respectfully denounce racism in our country.
Yet with this support has come plenty of opposition. Even the president managed to frame this protest as a mockery of the American flag. “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” Donald Trump tweeted on September 25, 2017. “It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!” He even went so far as to refer to the protesting NFL players as “sons of bitches” during a rally in Alabama, and encouraged NFL owners to fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.
Trump and those who agree with him fail to understand not only the purpose of this protest itself, but also the greater significance of black athletes engaging in this action. Pro football is a hugely profitable sport: An estimated $15.5 billion was spent on the Super Bowl last year, which a total of 111.3 million people watched. Advertisers had to pay $5 million just to play a commercial during the televised event. A quarter of Americans participate in fantasy football, spending $4.6 billion on it every year. 60 percent of Americans watch around five hours of NFL on TV every week. Cable television companies make an extra $100 off of anyone who chooses to upgrade to the expansion packages of sports channels, and those who choose to go to the actual games spend, on average, $209 while at the stadium itself. And the 64 percent of Americans who watch the NFL led the league to make over $13 billion in revenue last year. This profit is generated, of course, by NFL players, 70 percent of whom are black men. These players not only have the power of a national platform, but they have a stake in this protest, too — they also symbolize the way wealthy, white Americans benefit from the labor of black bodies. And what’s more, none of these offended Americans seem to recognize the irony of asking black individuals to honor a song and flag that symbolize a history of being denied equality and freedoms.
#TakeAKnee has been, and continues to be, about protesting racism — not protesting the flag or the anthem. NFL players of all races will continue to take a knee to impart the message that racism affects the black Americans central to America’s favorite pastime as well as those who do not share their platform. As Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas recently said, “As a man, as a father, as an African American man, as somebody in the NFL, as one of those ‘sons of bitches,’ you know, yeah I take it personally. It's bigger than me, I have a daughter. She's going to have to live in this world. And I'm going to do whatever I have to do to make sure that she can look at her dad and be like, ‘You did something. You tried to make a change.’”
Hopefully, #TakeAKnee will be a significant spark in the fight for black lives and force every American to realize that change is on its way.
More articles by Category: Race/Ethnicity, Sports
More articles by Tag: Racism, Activism and advocacy, Black Lives Matter