The National Football League’s flag issue was supposed to disappear with Colin Kaepernick out of the league. The NFL thought wrong. The problem has only picked up steam and is gaining an unforeseen momentum that the league owners didn’t anticipate. The recent detention by members of the Las Vegas Police Department of Seattle Seahawks defensive star Michael Bennett, will only add more logs to an already hot fire.
“Las Vegas police officers singled me out and pointed their guns at me for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Bennett stated on his Twitter account describing the incident.
The combustible mix of race, activism, class, and constitutional overtones is not a particularly good dance for the NFL to tangle with. So far, the league keeps tripping over its own feet as it relates to this particular subject. Last year, as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick was knee-deep in the message he was trying to convey about the flag and his silent protest.
In an overwhelmingly profession made up of African American employees on the football field, the NFL has failed to take up the one social issues near and dear to these men’s hearts: social justice and the constant reminder of the oppressed treatment of black people and people of color. Brutality against black people and people of color at the hands of law enforcement is at the top of that list.
This is why Kaepernick began his peaceful protest a year ago of sitting and kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games. It is why Bennett has taken up that mantle and quietly sits behind his teammates as others stand while the anthem is played out.
It is why a group of Cleveland Browns players felt the need to demonstrate their feelings on the sidelines during a 2017 preseason game.
It is why other players followed Kaepernick’s lead during the 2016 NFL season and used their First Amendment rights as United States citizens to visibly vocalize their take on how black people are treated. The shooting and killing of unarmed black Americans at the hands of law enforcement, and the subsequent exonerations of the officers involved in their deaths, has only turned up the volume for justice to be served.
“We have a lot issues in this country that we need to deal with,” Kaepernick said after a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers in 2016. “We have a lot of people who are oppressed. We have a lot of people that aren’t treated equally, are given equal opportunities. Police brutality is a huge thing that needs to be addressed. There are a lot of issues that need to be talked about and need to be brought to life. We need to fix those things.”
The oppression of black Americans is nothing new. In the era of the millennial, the oppression has become a lot more sophisticated. And, in these players’ eyes, remain systemic. Bennett’s arrest will place a giant magnifying glass on this point.
This is not an NFL problem. It is an American problem. Black athletes realize and fully understand that they are still BWA (Black While in America). That means your fame, your bank account and your social standing means little. It will only get you so far. You will always be reminded, in one way or another, that you are black.
“I have always held a strong conviction that protesting or standing up for justice is just simply, the right thing to do,” Bennett said in an excerpted part of his statement he released about the Las Vegas incident on Twitter. “The fact is, unequivocally, without question why before every game, I sit during the national anthem-because equality doesn’t live in this country and no matter how much money you make, what title you have, or how much you give, when you are seen as a “Nigger,” you will be treated that way. The system failed me. I can only imagine what Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Charleena Lyles felt.”
What happened to Bennett could have happened to a black doctor, a black lawyer or a black scientist. Race in this country remains an unexplainable dynamic that continues to filter black Americans as being less than human. What happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer is a stark reminder of this. This national discussion, however, seem to be routinely condemned whenever the topic is brought up, especially by people of color. The NFL and its owners have been near universally mum when it comes to this matter.
It’s clear that the NFL pick and chooses its battles when it comes to whatever social causes the league feels fit to support, which is their right like any organization.
The NFL is all in when it comes to preaching to the public about taking a hard stance on domestic violence and supporting cancer awareness, yet says next to nothing when it comes to the treatment of black people as a whole. As America’s most popular sport, the NFL can very well use its leverage and bully pulpit to speak up for its black employees.
The NFL’s message has been quite clear through its blanket silence on the protest matter: run, catch, make a tackle, collect your paycheck and shut up. Bennett’s incident proves that just because you are employed by the NFL, whether you’re a player or part of a team’s management or administrative staff, that doesn’t give you immunization from bigotry and festering stereotypes.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement surrounding the trauma that Bennett experienced. Will it be enough to quiet down all this protest and police brutality talk? That remains to be seen. Some people will hail the move by the commissioner as a first step in the right direction for The Shield. Others will simply dismiss it as placating to a general audience. Either way this flag debate won’t be going away no time soon.