I have always been extremely uneasy with the concept that professional sports league “owners” hold “rights,” as in “property rights,” to athletes who play for their franchises. These owners examine said players like slave owners examined the enslaved and cattle at auctions during the nearly 256 years of slavery in the Americas. These owners also “trade,” “barter,” and “sell” the rights to their “property” each year during free agency or the draft.
That said, the NFL’s decision yesterday to ban kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner comes as no surprise, but as I have done before, I would be remiss to not point out that the practice of standing for the National Anthem is a recent tradition. And by recent, I mean really recent. Like, within the last decade. As in, during the Obama administration when the Department of Defense began PAYING the NFL to put on patriotic displays and veteran themed events to help with armed forces recruitment.
So the next time someone says that NFL players like Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Chris Long and others who decided to kneel to protest police killings of unarmed black men, women and children in America are being unpatriotic, remind them that paying for patriotic displays is a First Amendment predilection the same as kneeling to draw attention to how that same flag symbolizes a Constitution that is not close to being equally applied to unarmed blacks who lose their lives to trigger happy cops.
Further, it is crucial to note that in this respect, NFL and yes, even NBA “owners” who insist on such forced patriotic fervor wear the title well; they are of the same mind-set of the owners, overseers and “massas” who forced their whims and will upon enslaved black men a little over a century and a half ago.
Indeed, NFL players make really good money, but knowing that the League is 80 percent black and because of that, filled with players who could be the next police caused fatality or find a member of their family as the next fatality and “justice for” hashtag, is disturbing.
Despite the disturbing chart above that holds only a partial listing of unarmed blacks killed by the police or vigilantes, many (not all) of these wealthy black players will shrug their shoulders and get back to practice like massa ‘nem say, a fact that makes author William Rhoden’s book title, “40 Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete” all the more critical for all of us to read and understand why some will “buck” and use their power to demand change, while others will stay as silent as lambs led to slaughter.