NFL players defy owners and Trump

From the November-December 2017 issue of News & Letters

Colin Kaepernick. Photo: facebook.com/kaepernick

Chicago—A hundred people marched to Soldier Field before the Chicago Bears’ first game on Sept. 10 to “Stand with Kaepernick.” We marched partly to condemn the 32 National Football League teams for keeping Colin Kaepernick out of work in reprisal for his taking a knee during the National Anthem before games of the 2016 season. But this was primarily a Black Lives Matter rally in solidarity with the purpose behind Kaepernick’s actions, to call out the never-ending epidemic of police killings of unarmed young Blacks.

One speaker represented the family of Bettie Jones, who was killed when she opened the door for Chicago cops who were answering her neighbor’s call for help with a mentally ill son, whom they also killed. Another organizer admitted she knew nothing about football, but stood with Kaepernick against police killing unarmed civilians, especially young Blacks, with little fear they would be convicted.

POLICE KILLINGS CONTINUE

Just five days later a St. Louis judge proved Kaepernick’s point by acquitting police officer Jason Stockley, a man who had delivered on his vow to gun down Anthony Lamar Smith, even planting a gun at the scene. Protests raged in the streets day after day in spite of mass arrests and military-style police brutality.

Hundreds of Bears fans passed our rally on the way to Soldier Field, with few negative comments. But Trump decided, after players on team after team began taking a knee or otherwise protesting during the National Anthem, that condemning NFL player protests would play well with his base—while endorsing white supremacists wielding Nazi flags and Confederate flags in Charlottesville, Va., as “fine people.”

PENCE PERFORMANCE ART

Trump later sent Vice President Mike Pence to the NFL game in Indianapolis with orders to stalk out when players took a knee. Trump even demanded that the NFL fire protesting players, behaving like his ally Putin might act in Russia or his frenemy Kim in North Korea. NFL Commissioner Goodell actually responded to Trump’s bluster by directing all players to stand for the National Anthem. When players refused to knuckle under, Goodell had to back down. But the TV networks now keep protests off the screen.

Trump has publicly incited police nationwide to expand extra-judicial punishment of those they arrest, and now counts on attacking NFL players as another wedge issue. Let’s see how many people will gladly stand with Black Lives Matter against police executions and against Trump.

—Bob McGuire

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