Football has never served the black body. This is not revolutionary, but something important to lay bare. The sport’s Day of Reckoning came in autumn. The ghost of Colin Kaepernick meandered the locker rooms and hallways all season. It’s no wonder such a force — conservative and vicious in all its might — would enforce such a performative policy. The rule change forcing players to “show respect for the flag and the anthem” is a compromised piece of patriotism, forced onto black players that’ve entertained white people for decades.
A league-wide mandate on the perversity of free speech and a Trump-induced panic serves no one but those rich off of white supremacy’s pernicious power, those who cannot be condemned. They are too powerful, so much so that writing bylaws into the DNA of America’s Game is nothing but an offseason venture for the wicked.
The NFL has been crushed under presidential pressure and is denying the trueness of constitutional rights to its employees. Its president, swelling from the power white supremacy has afforded him, furthered his assault on the black athletes he’s waged war with for months. Trump told Fox & Friends that players shouldn’t be afforded the the opportunity to stay in locker rooms for America’s song, that they should stand “proudly,” or else “you shouldn’t be playing” and “maybe” you should be deported.
President @realDonaldTrump: “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there, maybe you shouldn't be in the country." https://t.co/syjhxsoPzO @foxandfriends pic.twitter.com/60ai9J0GqH— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 24, 2018
This is fear incarnate. This is cowardice weaved into legislation, in an effort to affront the spirit of protest and belittle those that’ve unraveled the league’s hypocrisy and showed it to be nothing more than an odious rebuke of black freedom.
It does not need re-saying but here it is: this has never been about patriotism or about the flag. None of this moment, this movement, has been about the “Star Spangled Banner.” When the terms of oppression are discussed, there is nothing to compromise. It is heavy. It has been used to defile our humanness, destroy our homes, and keep us separate and unequal for hundreds of years.
The NFL has never cared about black people, its fans or the athletes they employ in anything but a vacuum. The last two years provide enough evidence. The league’s history can dish more. Black athletes wishing to use their platform to highlight continued injustices — the state-sanctioned violence of police murdering our own — is not disrespect. Yet they are viewed as uppity and unworthy, cast aside as a number. Black athletes in protest have disrespected nothing but an illusion — an America that has only ever been available to others.
Thirty-one owners (one abstained) voted for the rule change. Paying the fines of men, as Jets owner Chris Johnson suggested, who wish to protest does not change the wrong they have wrought. This is the continuation of America’s current dystopian hallucination, where the black and powerless are felled with bullets from enforcers, their figureheads push for change on a national stage, their owners remind them of their place, and fans continue to find ways to clap.
It is not worth compelling anyone who does not see this as truth. This has been a two-year battle on the backs of men expelled from this league for standing upright in protest while taking a knee, of a president who wishes to diminish their power, and a nation that would rather spit at them them herald them as heroes. NFL players are as far from glory as they’ve ever been. Football must reign supreme, as a very ideal of America, because if not, there are no field, no stands, no one willing to watch these men run. Even so, hopefully normalcy does not return here and someone takes a stand at a necessary moment, even if defeatism has seeped into many player’s bones.
The NFL has won, yes. Donald Trump’s status has overwhelmed an athletic entity. Fear has destroyed the momentum of one of the largest athletic protests we’ve ever seen. But the war does not need to cease when so many more will be killed while people bicker about who is right or wrong. The day can be taken back. It just needs more actors and more people willing to fight, to cast out the fear that has entered these ranks, and to care about the same black people — killed or suffering — that were the catalyst for action in the first place.