NFL Players Should Change the Protest, Not Abandon It

The NFL season is slowly rolling back around, so that means the National Anthem protest discussion is back too. Earlier this year it was announced that the NFL would be implementing a policy to allow teams to punish players if they choose to kneel or protest during the National Anthem. As you would expect, this news was met with outrage. More people have stated they would be boycotting the NFL this season because they feel by the NFL changing its policy to impede player protest, they (the NFL owners) are showing what they honestly think about police brutality and how it affects Black people. This move can seem deliberate and inherently racist in nature, but what if we are looking at this situation the wrong way? What if without kneeling during the National Anthem players can still protest police brutality? 

First, let us examine the NBA which has had a National Anthem policy that is almost 20 years old, and states that players must stand or face potential fines. 

Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem.

Once the news about the NFL policy was announced, NBA coaches and players spoke out in the media about the plan and what it meant for player free speech and the NFL's overall attitude issues facing Black people. 

They’re just playing to their fan base. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people.
— Steve Kerr

Last year during the NFL season, I stated how disappointed I was in the NFL, and the media for twisting the issue of police brutality to an argument about the flag, and the National Anthem itself. We as viewers all played a big part in the deception as we allowed ourselves to be sidetracked into thinking Colin Kaepernick's protest was about anything else. Now, going into the third season since these discussions began, I believe the same thing is happening. 

People love to praise the NBA for how open and liberal they appear to be when it comes to players expressing their feelings publically. We've seen players like Lebron James speak out against crucial issues within the Black community, like wearing an "I can't breath" shirt, in remembrance to Eric Gardner, an unarmed Black man killed by a police officer in New York City. However, we must remember the point I stated above; players are not allowed to protest during the singing of the National Anthem, so Lebron and other players around the league have adapted and worked around the rules put in place. 

The high school I attended was a strict all-boys school that required all students to sign a contract at the beginning of each year stating that we read and understood the rules as outlined in the rulebook. By the time I reached my senior year the language in the rulebook was slightly changed and tweaked so it could be as airtight as possible because students always found a loop-hole in the system. One year a keen-eyed student saw there were no rules against NOT wearing socks to school and told his entire class. Everyone then proceeded not to wear socks because there were no rules against it. This is the strategy NFL players must follow if they truly want to protest the injustices Black people face when dealing with the police. 

When we begin talking about protesting or boycotting we must deploy our collective superpowers of adapting. Throughout history, Black people have been forced to do without or make a way when there is none. The bus boycott of Montgomery, Alabama is often referenced as a shining example of the power Black people wield when we pull together. However, we must understand that although the people in that community chose not to use the bus for over a year and they were making an important point about segregation and racism; they still had to adapt to not being able to take the bus to work or wherever they had to go. The use of carpools and Black taxis increased. Taxi drivers even began charging 10 cents per ride (equal to the bus fare).

I don't think it is fair for us at home to expect players who've worked their entire lives for the opportunity to play in the NFL to risk their dreams, their livelihoods, the way they support their families, to kneel during the National Anthem if it is against the rules to do so.  Companies have always had some sort of code of conduct policies that employees must follow. The NFL is no different.  We should still encourage players to protest but maybe do so another way. The Black Dot joked and said they should act out a scene where a Black man gets killed by a police officer after a player scores a touchdown. Extream? Yes. Will it make audiences uncomfortable? Yes, but that is the point. It will send the message and continue the original dialogue. Remember, not too long ago Tim Tebow's touchdown celebration where he kneeled in prayer swept the country and gained national attention and even got dubbed "Tebowing." 

It is up to the supporters of the cause to control the narrative, not the NFL owners, Trump, or the conservative media. Up to this point, we have allowed Kaepernick's original protest to be twisted to fit their adgends. Let's force them to actually hear our cries and protest in a way the issue is the main fouclpoint. The NFL players should not abandon the protest; they should simply adapt and change it.


Malcom X. Bowser is a writer, curator, and founder of Urban X.

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