‘It was never about the anthem’: US NFL players in new anti-racism protests

For the past two years, NFL players have been protesting during the national anthem in support of social equality and against and racial injustice.

At the first preseason NFL games on August 9, players continued to protest racial inequity and police violence by kneeling or raising a fist during the US national anthem.

After two years of players patiently explaining that these are not “protests against the anthem”, or “protests against the troops”, or protests against apple pie, many in the mainstream media are being wilfully obtuse in their headlines and reporting — surely to the delight of people who want the players to “shut up and play”.

This isn’t just happening in the confines of Fox News. Even National Public Radio sent a tweet with the headline: “The national anthem protests live on in the NFL.”

The greatest cheerleader of this wilful ignorance is, of course, Donald Trump. The president railed against the players just days later in yet another effort to distract, demonise, and deflect from the numerous scandals engulfing his administration.

It’s his usual shtick, although with the new addition that the players don’t even know what they are protesting against. He hates these players not only because it’s red meat for his base. He hates them because they are using their platform to force a dialogue about racism, criminal justice and police violence.

It is remarkable that, despite this social pressure, a core of players are still stubbornly insistent with their actions and painfully patient explanations.

Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson of the Miami Dolphins took a knee before their preseason game on August 9 and teammate Robert Quinn raised his fist. Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles continued his practice of raising his fist, while teammate Chris Long put his arm on his shoulder.

Other players stayed in the locker room while the anthem played. Some wore T-shirts and tweeted messages about the criminal justice system. They are making it plain that this will continue to be a feature of the most popular sport in the country.

As Stills said after the game: “If you continue to misinterpret what we’re doing, reach out to me. Look at my website. Look at my twitter. Look at all my social media platforms.

“And I think you’ll get a better idea of why we are doing what we are doing.”

Asked what it would take for him to stop kneeling, Stills said: “It would take a lot. But I think a good first step for us as a league would be acknowledging what they’re doing to Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid [African American NFL stars who have been prominent in the protest and currently are without clubs].

“You can’t say as a league that you support the players and the protest and then blackball the players that initially started the protest.”

This shouldn’t be complicated. As Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers star quarterback who has never knelt or raised a fist, said recently: “It was never about the anthem, it was never about the troops, it was about social equality and racial injustice.”

[Abridged from Edge of Sports.]

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