A few weeks ago, Donald Trump called protesting NFL players (most of whom are Black) sons of bitches to a group of supporters in Alabama. That one remark led to a problem the NFL, its owners, its players and its fans never wanted. Trump has masterfully made remarks about players “respecting” the flag; all part of his plan to shore up his base. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump remarked that Colin Kaepernick should find another country that works better for him. Earlier this year, Trump remarked that Colin Kaepernick wasn’t signed because owners feared a tweet from him. Just last month, Trump remarked that NFL owners are afraid of their players. Trump trolling and instigating the NFL isn’t anything new. He also has a history with the NFL that is more contentious than complimentary. What is new is that the NFL is paying attention. It is not only new, but it is also dangerous.
In the “SOB” speech, Trump called for team owners to fire players who do not stand for the pledge. After a week of “solidarity” where owners staged the faux protest in the name of “don’t tell me what to do Mr. President,” owners are listening to Trump. Miami Dolphins owner Steven Ross wants players to stand for the playing of the national anthem saying,
“(Trump) has changed that whole paradigm of what protest is. I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, is to stand and salute the flag.”
Dolphins players who’ve kneeled previously decided to remain in the tunnel this past week. The owner of the Washington franchise, Daniel Snyder, who refuses to change his team’s name, a name that is racially insensitive, bans any players who protest the national anthem. But by far the most infamous of all NFL owners is Jerry Jones, who has emphatically stated that Cowboys players and coaches will stand for the anthem. Jones has remarked:
“My job is the Dallas Cowboys. It’s in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL, and the players …to honor the flag.”… the policy is in the best interest of players, who “need consequences” to stand up to peer pressure.
The NFL policy on players on the national anthem is clear. According to the 2014 rule, players must be on the sidelines and should stand at attention – failure to do so would result in disciplinary action from the league office. However, the league has changed the language of consequences for violating this mandate; (1) stating specific disciplinary measures and (2) insinuating that the league office wasn’t the only place where punishment will come from. The NFL and many its owners are listening to Donald Trump. Jerry Jones confirmed as much. However, some are not. For example, Jed York of the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick’s former team (the team with the most player protesters) won’t force players to stand. Just this week, league commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to teams saying that everyone should stand for the anthem and that the owners would discuss how to move past the protest controversy during league meetings next week. However, no amendments will be added to the league’s current policy at those meetings.
Regardless of where this matter goes from here, this is a lesson in systemic oppression. Those in power change the rules to maintain their power to continue oppressing people, who are exerting their own power and influence to create change. This is nothing foreign to the Black experience in America. But what is equally disconcerting is the precedent being set by Donald Trump, the NFL, and its owners. A political official in our nation’s highest office is successfully pressuring a private business entity to punish its employees simply because said employees exhibit a behavior that the political official disagrees with. The impact is spilling off the football field. ESPN has been chastised by Trump for Jemele Hill’s remarks. He’s called for ESPN to fire her and while she remains employed with ESPN, she is currently suspended. Tyler Chancellor of Tennessee lost his job at a kickboxing gym for failing to stand during the national anthem. India Landry of Houston, Texas was expelled for not standing for the pledge of allegiance; Ms. Landry is currently suing the school district. Bossier Parish Schools in Louisiana demands that all students stand for the national anthem. Trump cajoling by fear. We should all be concerned.
Regardless of where you stand, no pun intended, on athletes protesting racial injustice during the playing of the national anthem, you should be concerned that a sitting president is implementing totalitarian tactics in an open and free society. If Rush Limbaugh is “uncomfortable” with Trump dictating to people how they ought to behave, we all should be uncomfortable with what is transpiring nationally. The Black freedom struggle has always been about removing the United States of its hypocrisy so that all people could live freely. The White power structure’s thumb on Black people is a reminder to all groups of people that, “although you enjoy some freedoms, it’s because we allow it and we can take it away.”
Black people are veterans of this fight for freedom while others are beginning to enter the fray (See Chappelle Saturday Night Live Skit). What happens to Black people is a barometer for what can (and may) happen to the nation as a whole. Now, with the election of Donald Trump, other marginalized and oppressed groups feel the sting of oppression. Some members of these groups have failed to find solidarity with Black people. My suggestion to these individuals and groups is to if they haven’t already done so, align in solidarity with Black people and people of color in general; the athletes, public school students and those who fight against White supremacy. Trump has gone after Muslims, Mexicans, and now Puerto Ricans, who are our fellow countrymen. Some of you better recognize that you could be next.