White NFL owners try to stifle Black protest

 Many see new rule as caving in to Trump

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers’ kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, in Houston. AP/David J. Phillip

The National Football League is now the first U.S. major professional league with a national anthem policy. Last week, 30 of the league’s 32 team owners approved a new rule mandating that all team personnel – especially players – must stand while the national anthem is played before games.

Major League Baseball, the NHL, NBA, WNBA, Major League Soccer and the NCAA have no such rules. Only the U.S. Soccer Federation requires its players to stand if they are “representing a Federation national team.”

Since 2016, many pro players have used the pre-game ritual to protest against social issues, including racial injustice and police brutality. In July 2016, the Minnesota Lynx wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts during the national anthem before a game, and other WNBA teams have locked arms before regular-season and playoff games as well.

“I don’t think there is ever an inappropriate place for players to effectively voice their opinions, especially on social and political issues,” Women’s National Basketball Players Association President Nneka Ogwumike told the New Haven Register.

Since last week’s announcement, some saw the new NFL policy as a direct result of Black players kneeling when they protested racial injustices, first sparked when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the anthem at a 2016 preseason game and, later, took a knee. Other players did likewise during that season as well as this past season.

Seventy percent of the NFL players are Black. There are only two people of color (one Asian American, the other Pakistani American) among the principal owners of the NFL’s 32 teams. The rest are White.

“The NFL, like America in so many ways, has shown that it is more interested in silencing the speech of Black players…and rather wanting to make White America comfortable,” said Washington Post Global Opinions Editor Karen Attiah in a published article last week.

“Trump rallied against NFL players… [He] insults and degrades professional athletes, then virtually dictates the new policies,” King stated. “Whiteness is at the root here.”

Jemele Hill, senior correspondent for ESPN and The Undefeated, said, “It’s no secret that the league…[is] scared of President Donald Trump,” and added that the NFL “doesn’t seem to care that it is alienating many of its Black and brown fans.”

NFL players do have the option to stay in the locker room during the national anthem and not be penalized. The league nonetheless “basically caved in to President Trump,” said activist Bree Newsome in a recent MSR phone interview.

The Charlotte, N.C. native became famous for her 2015 civil disobedience when she was arrested after climbing the flagpole and taking down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House. But she was an activist before that event – Newsome was arrested in 2013 during a sit-in at the North Carolina house speaker’s office while protesting the state’s voter ID law. She also co-founded The Tribe, a grassroots organizing collective in Charlotte.

Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions players take a knee during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Detroit on Sept. 24, 2017 AP/Paul Sancya

“I ended up taking a stand because I witnessed the injustice in light of the Trayvon Martin case and the attack on voting rights,” said Newsome, who is also an artist, filmmaker and grassroots organizer. “I recognized that what rights I did have were the product of people who were taking a stand in past generations. I was at risk of losing rights for myself and for my children and future generations.”

Newsome is against the new anthem policy and supports the players, urging them not to stop protesting. “I think it raises more questions about not just the rights of athletes to protest, but in the way the NFL is structured. It’s a majority White-owned league [and] the players are predominately Black,” she points out, adding that the NFL owners’ latest action shows “the imbalance of power” that is in place. “The White ownership is shutting [the Black players] down” in future protests, she stressed.

“The owners can try to prevent kneeling, but they open another can of worms,” University of Kansas African and African-American Studies and History Professor Randal Maurice Jelks said in an Associated Press article. “Imagine if players decide as a team to not come out for the national anthem. Or if one-third of the team decides not to come out.”

Activist DeRay McKesson, in the same article, said he hopes NFL players will fight the new policy.

“If we narrow the conversation to simply being about sit, stand, squat, salute during the anthem, then I think we are really missing the forest for the trees,” Newsome said.

Read more of Bree Newsome’s comments about the NFL anthem policy in the MSR sports section.

3 Comments on “White NFL owners try to stifle Black protest”

  1. I’m done with nfl. Honestly don’t enjoy watching it anymore. I remember my dad was glued to football for over 50yrs. A man that once coached no longer cares about football. The reason is my family is full of military. Even my black military family members feels it’s not the place or time. You should never use anthem as a protest. It’s no different than burning the flag. Our vets stand out in the weather to sing the anthem. Never watch again so do whatever u want. Colin and other kneelers ill not be seen by me.

  2. Well so long Grand Wizard Debbie—and I don’t play Scandinavian, Minnesota Nice games with white supremacists such as yourself, but I’m not from Jim Crow North—since you think a RACIST anthem and flag of HATRED DOMESTICALLY and GLOBALLY—which wasn’t and isn’t the point of the protests—is far more important than the lives of 55 MILLION Afrikan Amerikkan people in this nation such as myself who suffer under the system of global white supremacy. How white of you.


    The next time you want to racially tone police black people, read MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and have a seat.

    Oh, I forgot. You know who else loves to stifle free speech? FASCISTS.

  3. This isn’t accurate. The NBA has had a similar rule for several years now. The rule states:

    “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.”

    The rule was put in place after Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended for not standing for the anthem due to political and religious reasons. It is important to note that he
    was suspended even though the rule did not exist prior to his anthem protest. The instituted the rule after people noticed that he was not standing for the anthem.

    Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was an amazing basketball player. Despite his undeniable ability on the court he was summarily drummed out of the league for his political stance similar to the way Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have been treated by the NFL.

    This is lazy journalism. The NBA rule is not secret. It has been well documented. In 2017 the NBA commissioner issued a memo saying that the rule would be enforced if players kneeled during the anthem.

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