White privilege and the NFL: take a knee, Aaron Rodgers

I’m looking at you Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Rob Gronkowski, Luke Kuechly and Matt Ryan.

If you wanna kiss the sky
better learn how to kneel. – U2

I’m going to show you some pictures. Tell me if you notice anything about them (other than “they’re football players and they’re kneeling”).

NFL players kneeling

NFL players kneeling

NFL players kneeling

Okay, now a couple more. Notice anything different?

MLK civil rights march on washington

Civil rights - blacks and whites together

If you haven’t figured it out yet, all the protesters in the NFL pictures are black. In the Civil Rights movement photos, blacks are joined by white protesters.

A couple days ago I talked about the importance of whites accepting the privilege of their race and finding ways of putting it into service for social justice.

There is so much talk on the “left” these days about white privilege, with most of it centered on trying to get … un-woke? … whites to recognize it in their own lives. It is, in some ways, a sort of negative movement, by necessity, in that it’s swimming upstream against centuries of embedded ideology about the blessed virtues of America, where we’re all equal and anybody can grow up to be president and all it takes is hard work to succeed, etc.

Here’s what I don’t hear enough of, and what we need to talk more about: how are we privileged whites investing that privilege? If I have this inherent advantage due to my skin color, in theory that’s actual power I ought to be able to use, right? If not, then white privilege is just a myth.

Here at S&R, the staff has addressed the ongoing NFL protest issue (and related topics) a number of times. For my part, there’s one thing I’ve been thinking but haven’t said yet, and today is the time: shame on the NFL’s white players.

History teaches us minorities with legitimate grievances can do much to raise awareness, but change only happens when they’re joined by members of the privileged majority, men and women of conscience, men and women who place a commitment to justice ahead of a system that unfairly disadvantages those different from them.

You see some of those faces in the two black and white shots above.

Those people understood that racism, discrimination and injustice aren’t black problems. They’re American problems. As Solomon Burke sings, “None of us are free, if one of us are chained.”

In the NFL, how many white players have we seen on their knees? A few, and for that I’m grateful. But not enough, and not enough of those who have the most position, power and privilege.

Various owners, spurred on by a racist president and led by the league’s uber-owner, have talked a tough game about the consequences facing players who don’t toe the line during the playing of our deeply problematic national anthem.

But they only have the power the players give them. If, during week 1, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Rob Gronkowski, Luke Kuechly, Matt Ryan, Travis Kelce (respect – he already has kneeled for the anthem), and every other top white player in the league took a knee along with their black teammates, what could Jerry Jones and the rest of his “hey, it’s just about business” colleagues do? I guess you could cut the players or suspend them, but who’s going to watch the XFL-level talent you have to replace them with? (Since this whole thing wasn’t bargained, it would surely lead to a player strike and federal litigation the league would have a hard time winning.)

As they say, it’s about business.

There may not be a bigger platform in America than the NFL. The whole country is watching. Every damned week. Whatever influence a white player has normally, it’s amplified a millionfold on Sundays.

You can make the world better, white players. The owners have no chance against you. And all those fans who say they’re not going to watch the games anymore? That’s because you’re sitting it out. A disposable black special teams guy in Green Bay may only make the easily manipulated fan angry, but when Aaron Rodgers takes a knee?

To his credit, Rodgers has made clear he’s on the right side of the issue. But the owners have painted a line on the Field Turf, and that’s the line the players will toe while the anthem is being played. That line is the whole battlefield. If you’re standing, you’re following Trump’s orders and the forces of privilege win. The only answer is to take a knee.

When the NFL’s white stars do that, it’s ball game.


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