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Mace & Crown | October 23, 2017

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A Nationwide Brotherhood: The NFL Unites Against Social Injustice

It has been over a year since The Kaepernick Effect has taken the nation by storm. Colin Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49er quarterback, began protesting the national anthem in August of 2016. His initial silent protests went unnoticed by many until late August, when his refusal to stand for the national anthem began to gain traction on social media. When finally addressed about his reasons on refusing to stand for the anthem, Kaepernick’s response ignited a national debate on racial equality within the United States.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

In this statement Kaepernick was referring to the racial injustice plaguing African American communities. This bold use of his personal platform gave birth to the Kaepernick Effect as NFL players, celebrities and everyday citizens began to follow suit.

Currently, Kaepernick has been a free agent since March 2017 and is reportedly being blacklisted by NFL coaches, officials and franchise owners. However, a year later public opinion and support have continued to grow around this intrepid movement.

Players have followed in his footsteps sporadically, but after seeing his career come to a screeching halt, some players are fear-stricken. Should his fellow players risk their career and livelihood by mixing sports and politics and showcase their beliefs, or go about their usual routine? Well, it depends on their organization. Numerous team owners were silent in regards to his protest, while others encourage their players to showcase their beliefs as they see fit.

However, many owners, executives and coaches have called his actions distracting and not good for “locker room culture,” as justifications on why Kaepernick would not be a member of their team.
Next stop, Capitol Hill. Some NFL players elected for a more direct to bring about social injustice reform for their communities. In April of 2017, the now-retired Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth, and current players Malcolm Jenkins and Johnson Bademosi embarked on a three-day tour of Washington D.C to speak with legislators and lobbyist groups about their concerns.

However, these men were fighting for social injustice long before The Kaepernick Effect, but his boldness reassured them that the fight was far from over. Bademosi explained that, “The league and the fans need to see us as men, with our own opinions and the freedom to express them.” These individuals hope to use their broad platforms to promote change within the community.

Stallworth is a firm believer in athletes using their platform to unify the community, especially when it comes to inspiring social change. Jenkins is heavily involved in police-community relations reform in Philadelphia and aims to break the barrier between athletes and politics.

Additionally, Boldin is a behind the scenes protester in the NFL who advocated before Congress on numerous issues. Boldin’s cousin was gunned down by a plain-clothed officer making his personal connection to the issue even stronger.

Legislators have recommended that they become liaisons between the police and communities to find common ground. Uniting the police and community is a start but, the players want legislation passed to protect minorities from the widespread injustice.

Current and former players are now looking for the league’s support, and have drafted a letter to the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, calling for his active support for their campaign for racial equality and criminal/social injustice reform.

The memo is endorsed by Malcolm Jenkins, Torrey Smith, Michael Bennett and Anquan Boldin. The group is also requesting that the league make November a month of unity for individual teams to engage in outreach and service event to impact their perspective communities.

The injustice hit home for the NFL when Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks released a statement detailing his unfair run-in with the police following the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight in Las Vegas.

Bennett was singled out of a large crowd after reports of gunfire had be called into the police. In his accounts Bennett claimed an officer pointed a gun at his head and restrained him. Subsequently, Bennet believes he was racially profiled and treated like a wild animal or terrorist, rather than an American citizen. Bennett now protests the anthem and other teammates have rallied around him in support.

The overall uniting factor in this movement occurred on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, when President Donald Trump stated “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” while at a rally in Alabama. His comments offended players, owners, executives and fans.

Roger Goodell called Trump’s commentary divisive and supported the unity being displayed by clubs across the league. Owners such as Robert Kraft, who supported and donated to Trump’s campaign, expressed disappointment in his attempt to use the NFL to divide the nation.

The offensive comments resulted in Sunday, Sept. 24 becoming a day of unity. Teams such as the Jaguars and Ravens either kneeled or locked arms during the national anthem. While others took a different approach, the Steelers, Seahawks and Titans were not present on the field during the national anthem.

It was not only minorities protesting, but players of all races and backgrounds united as one to send a message to the leader of the free world. That message being, he will not use his political power to divide them. They are one team, one league and one brotherhood.

The NFL is using this instance as a chance to bring about social change. The movement is already spilling over into other sports and has for some time now. Players across various leagues are no longer afraid to speak out or demonstrate for what they strongly believe in. NBA and WNBA players have worn social justice warm-up shirts and shirts in support of Kaepernick. Additionally, Bruce Maxwell was the first MLB player to take a knee during the anthem.

More recently the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, spoke out to reiterate that there is indeed a rule standing in the NBA that calls for all players to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines during the national anthem.

Silver also mentions that NBA players and coaches have the same freedoms of expression rights as other Americans. In other words, he cannot physically prevent the protests. He stated the rule and his duty ends there; it is up to the players if they wish to use their platform to showcase their societal views.

The NBA kicked off its preseason on Saturday, Sept. 30, some teams decided to show unity by locking arms during the anthem. Those teams included the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets.

The WNBA has continued there demonstrations as well, the Minnesota Lynx locked arms during the anthem in Game 1, while their opponents the Los Angeles Sparks have remained in the locker room during the anthem for all four games.

The Kaepernick Effect has been a catalyst in opening the nation’s eyes against the once unacknowledged social injustice issues hiding within the shadows. It has given players a platform to act and the community the comfort to speak and ignite a modern day social revolution.