The decision to change the rules about how NFL players should conduct themselves during the National Anthem occurred at a meeting in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. Miles away from the shiny, new, convertible topped Mercedes Benz stadium, a decision was made that not only affects football but affects the core of American culture. Football is America’s sport and today the culture of America is up for debate. Falcons, what are you going to do about it?
I know that the majority of the athletes and owners did not ask to be thrust into the spotlight on this issue. However, to whom much is given, much is required. In this moment in American history, you are there basking in the benefits and the burdens that the spotlight brings. During the bus boycotts of Montgomery and the counter sit-ins downtown on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, there were many unwilling participants who were thrust into action. Imagine what would America would be today if they sat it out and claimed that the matter had nothing to do with them. What are the NFL players and fans going to do with this opportunity? Will Atlanta take a lead?
Pause before you answer that question. I want to be sure we are talking the same language. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee in protest of excessive force by law enforcement. Not protesting all cops, just bad cops. Not protesting the flag but rather trying to encourage our government to treat everyone who pledges allegiance to that flag with the respect they deserve as Americans.
All law enforcement are agents of the government. Whether it is the FBI spying on a presidential candidate or a beat cop slamming someone to the ground with far more force than is required – we have the right as Americans to expect a level of respect, transparency, and ethics from all levels law enforcement. Most police provide that respect, but the damage done to the soul of America by the few bad cops slows the progress of our country. The NFL has the power to move us forward.
I know, things got lost in the weeds. Somehow this protest stop being about bringing attention to excessive force and became about standing vs. kneeling, the troops, and whether or not the NFL has the right to dictate whether you can kneel or not. As a lawyer that is a great trial tactic called, “muddying the waters.” Making an issue so convoluted you don’t know what you are disagreeing about anymore.
No matter how we got to this state of confusion, the truth is, the NFL now has more power than any entity in this entire country to make a stand against excessive force. Yes. You – have the attention of the world. Imagine the change you could spur if the players stand together. How amazing would it be if a few courageous souls do what is right no matter how inconvenient it may be.
We all can feel the power you have. That power was confirmed in a hotel in Buckhead in May when the owners made a decision about how you must show your allegiance. Why? Because, America will listen to you. Your fans will follow you. Today, NFL players hold more power than any president, police union, or NFL commissioner to bring light to the issue of excessive force.
Your fans are waiting for you. Fans have a point when they argue, “I won’t stop watching NFL and do more than the players are willing to do themselves.” Give them a reason to keep watching while supporting a good cause. Tell them how to stand with you. Lead the way.
In fairness, I understand you have a career to protect. No worries, lawyers to the rescue. The new policy reportedly prevents kneeling or sitting during the anthem. The policy did not prevent other types of actions and protest. Colin first chose to sit, then he chose to kneel after the suggestion of a teammate and former Army veteran suggested it as a sign of respect (go figure.)[i] But kneeling or sitting is not the only way you can show support for this issue.
#WAKANDAFOREVER and various other options exist. Frankly, anything would do if done together and consistently. You see the point is not to show the NFL who is boss- so play by their rules. The point is not to disrespect the flag – so stand when it is presented (if you so choose). The point is to use your platform to force America to talk about the real issue – so show them you have not forgotten and will continue the fight.
Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles said, “This has never been about taking a knee, raising a fist or anyone’s patriotism, but doing what we can to effect real change for real people.” He is right, keep your focus on the real issue and your power to influence change. The Eagles in their refusal to go to the White House recently is an example of this. Today I woke up to this powerful silent protest on my social media time line.
There are about 1,700 players on NFL rosters. Roughly 180 players, a little more than 10%, chose not to stand for the national anthem in Week 3 of the 2017 NFL season. 180 players forced change. Don’t wait on a 100% consensus, it will never happen. Don’t count who is with you. Just move forward boldly. For America. #FortheCulture