It’s fourth down for athletes taking a knee to protest racial injustice and oppression in America.
Our stand-up-for-Old-Glory millionaire billionaire president, who in his spare time runs the country, was both impetuous and intemperate in his recent spats with the kneel-during-the-anthem millionaires who in their spare time play football.
But Trump was also mostly right.
Sure, NFL players are free to express themselves, as are those who follow their example, such as Doherty High player Mike Oppong, who a year ago took a knee to protest injustice. But that which is permissible is not always wise.
NFL fans and sponsors are rendering judgment by abandoning seats, pulling ads, burning jerseys, and expressing disdain for the protesters. NFL owners are discussing requiring players to stand during the anthem — and two teams, the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, last week instituted team-wide bans on kneeling during “The Star Spangled Banner.” Violators will not be allowed to play.
But leave aside the economics and the emotional responses. Have the protests increased awareness of social justice? No. They have mostly given Americans another topic for circular arguments.
At least former San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the protests at the beginning of the 2016 preseason, is acting. He has started a foundation and pledged up to $1 million for causes related to social justice.
It did, however, take him some time to get there.
While leading his team to the Super Bowl in 2012, Kaepernick had nothing to say about racial oppression. It was only after signing a lucrative six-year contract, pocketing millions, and later sustaining injuries, losing his starting role, and then opting out of his contract, that he found his political voice.
In 2016, Kaepernick told NFL.com: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
One can debate whether Kaepernick is right or wrong about systemic oppression of minorities. It’s clear, however, that he’s not very good at PR, as, for example, when he cited the shootings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott as “perfect examples” of racial oppression.
Crutcher was high on PCP and behaving in a threatening manner when shot by a Tulsa, Oklahoma, officer on Sept. 16, 2016. The officer was found not guilty of manslaughter. Scott, shot four days later in Charlotte, North Carolina, was armed with a .380 semiautomatic handgun that he had purchased illegally online. He ignored repeated police commands to drop the weapon.
These are not “perfect examples” of racial oppression, but perfect examples of the terrible consequences that can result from mixing weapons, poor judgment, and, in Crutcher’s case, a potential brain injury.
And what of Kaepernick’s foundation and the causes he supports, as detailed on his website?
- There’s $25,000 for Appetite for Change, a Minneapolis organization supporting local agriculture and healthier food choices. Ruling: A solid first down.
- There’s $25,000 for New York City’s DREAM, providing 100 kids with sports equipment, trip expenses, and laptops. Ruling: Clean reception for a big gain.
- United We Dream also receives $25,000. Its purpose is to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was created by President Obama. But DACA was an abuse of presidential power. Ruling: Five-yard penalty for illegal procedure.
- The $25,000 going to Assata’s Daughters, a Chicago organization of “radical Black women” will be used, among other things, for “Copwatch,” a program where participants film encounters between police and suspects. Before you donate, consider that the group is named for Assata Shakur, who was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper, was broken out of prison by the Black Liberation Army in 1979, and fled to Cuba. Ruling: Timeout to review that play.
You can explore the rest of the donor list on your own and decide for yourself whether Kaepernick’s causes deserve support. I say it’s a mixed record. Some are worthy, while others are run-of-the-mill left-wing politicking having little to do with social justice. A few are ones I would not choose to be associated with.
No one is arguing that racial bias has disappeared from America. But if you are going to take a knee until the day when America is perfect, you’re going to need knee surgery. Why not work to make the country better while respecting the symbols that unite us? And choosing your causes with care?
As I said during kickoff, it’s fourth down. The kneelers can choose to punt, or they can insist on running straight up the middle for no gain. Their call.
Chris Sinacola is a Worcester Sun columnist. His observations on politics, current events, history and more appear every Sunday.