I hadn’t expected Trump to be so dedicated to keeping race on the national agenda. Mostly, white folks want to ignore race and not pay attention to it because it makes them so uncomfortable. Now with Trump stepping into the NFL national anthem controversy, he puts a stick in the hornet’s nest. Every weekend during football games this fall, white people will be confronted with the race issue. Who is going to kneel or sit and who will not? And they will have to think about the issue of race even if they reject what they hear. All I can say is, “Thank you for keeping white attention on racism by magnifying the protest by reacting to it.”
While Trump’s clear lack of impulse control could have very dangerous side effects like starting nuclear war with North Korea, there are positives like this one. He can’t help but make racist statements and claims since he can’t hide his hatred of those who attempt to expose the flaws in the “beautiful” vision of the 1950’s Trump would like to return to in his attempt to make America great(white) again.” Trump reminds me of Archie Bunker from the TV show “All in the Family” who also was predictably reactive. And like Archie, there was no going back once he had made a statement even if it was invalidated. Since he can’t ever admit to being wrong, Trump’s opinions solidify into entrenched policy positions especially if his base shows support.
When Trump impulsively speaks and starts a controversy, things get uncomfortable quickly. The NFL players had to decide whose side they were on. What were they going to do on Sunday? Would they kneel on Sunday’s game? Would they stay in the locker room during the anthem? What would they do? The players were aware of the risks seeing what has happened to Colin Kaepernick. After being a star quarterback for the 49ers taking the team to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season, he began not standing for the anthem in 2016 which created a huge controversy. The 49ers let him go and he remains a free agent. Like other athletes who have protested in the past, Kaepernick is likely to pay a very high price for becoming a protest leader.
This year, the fans have become more involved with some actively boycotting games. As the controversy has spread, it is beginning to take a toll on revenue. And nothing gets American attention like an economic threat. The team owners are right in the middle of a spotlight they would surely prefer to avoid. Trump is demanding the protesters be fired. But many of these players are very popular stars. And the more players who join them in kneeling the bigger this gets. The owners are forced to take a position when I’m sure they would prefer to ignore the whole controversy.
Our theme for October is courage. What Trump is forcing people to do is to think about whether there is active racism happening in our society by looking at police violence as its manifestation. It is hard not to look at the rate of incarceration of people of color and the rate of violence against people of color by police and not see any bias. These statistics are pretty clear and compelling. It is very hard not to see implicit bias in the shooting of unarmed Troy resident Dahmeek McDonald in the middle of August.
The courage part for us is deciding what we want to do about all this. Some of us might want to boycott the NFL this year. There are other reasons besides race to do this given the damage we are discovering football does to the player’s brains due to concussions. But since I’m not much of a football watcher anyway, claiming I’ve given up football watching would be disingenuous.
Let me now challenge every one of us far more significantly. All of us have an opportunity to make a statement when the national anthem is played. All of us can choose to kneel or sit and make a statement by our actions. And by doing so, we will take the risk of offending those around us as we make that statement. If you support the NFL players, you too can make a courageous choice.
What will you do? And why?