Colin Kaepernick knelt against racist police violence. Teammates joined. Trump rejected non existent anthem dissing to hijack the protest’s meaning. Team owners curtailed Kaepernick’s career. How can protestors beat Trump, owners, and racist policing?
Some answer that winning requires retaining the tactic of kneeling during the anthem because that was how the protest first captured attention. Yet random fans, media mavens, sports moguls, and Trump virtually all say they only oppose dissing the anthem. So some wonder, why not take the anthem out of it? Others answer, because that would capitulate. Momentum would dissipate. Obedience would resurface.
But what if an NBA, NFL, WNBA, NWSL, or MLB team stood for the anthem and then sat down and refused to play for two minutes? What if enough team members sat so the game couldn’t start? What if those sitting publicly demanded the mayor of their city sponsor meetings convening police and neighborhood organizers to seek programmatic steps to reduce police violence, racial profiling, racial sentencing, and crime, while enlarging community oversight of policing? What if they added that if the meeting they demanded didn’t occur within a week, the pre-game sit-down duration would double to four minutes, and then double again for each new week of inaction? Two minutes, four, eight, sixteen… so after five weeks, maybe six of inaction, there would be no games.
Suppose the sit down didn’t occur as long as meetings were conducted and the protesting players accepted that the meetings were occurring in good faith, but the sit down resumed whenever players felt that progress was insincere or interrupted. Even better, suppose community groups judged progress and then protesting players followed their lead.
Envision groups of fans marching outside games, some merely complaining about the game delays, but others opposing racism. Envision college athletes and then college student bodies giving support, and then high school athletes and then high school students more broadly – and then parents. Envision teams in other countries also sitting down to fight the immense harm of institutional and personal racism.
With any variant on the above, getting rolling would be hard, but once in motion, the patriotism focus would disappear. The cost of ignoring players and communities would be clear. The cost of persistent intransigence would steadily increase. The sit-downs would provoke discussion and real change. Their leadership would increasingly come from those most affected while support and aid would come from all over. Gains would be won regarding policing. Next up, prison, housing, education, health — everything.
We all celebrate the civil rights movement of decades back standing up to dogs, clubs, ropes, and jail. And while the impetus and insight at the core of the civil rights struggle came from Blacks, many whites also fought for justice. Can we conceive similar commitment surfacing in response to the problems of our times? Black athletes are nearing such a stance. Can white athletes see their way forward as well? How long until we see an international echo?
In my town, Boston, the local football hero, Tom Brady, has already said Kaepernick should be employed. If Brady also thinks blacks shouldn’t have to fear police, shouldn’t he say that too? Shouldn’t he stand – perhaps sit – to help make it so? Shouldn’t the players’ unions? Shouldn’t fans?
The power to spark activism is everyone’s to exercise. Some weeks back a group of NYC police held a demo on behalf of Colin Kaepernick being hired. If police can join the campaign, what is the ceiling on actions? Perhaps there is no ceiling. You owners want to stop the sit downs? Propel successful community/police meetings and ensuing changes, and also hire Kaepernick to quarterback. You want to persist in claiming Kaepernick isn’t being blackballed but is, by the oddest coincidence, and against every non-owners’ opinion, simply no longer able to play well enough, okay, hire him as the new commissioner of the NFL.
Hollywood is suddenly in turmoil too. An uprising against sexual predation is growing due to the Harvey Weinstein revelations. Women are coming forward, and many men are outraged as well. Imagine that clear demands emerge. Imagine that strikes pressure studios.
Simultaneously, Puerto Rico is being murdered. Imagine anti racist activism decides that too deserves pressure. And so does stopping anti-immigrant deportations. And imagine woman-led Hollywood movements grow and agree on both those issues. Imagine each campaign supports the other’s demands. Players invite potential deportees to occupy stadium rooms for sanctuary and demand rich corporation owners make their stadium suites available. Actors invite potential deportees to share space in Hollywood mansions and demand studios offer sanctuary as well. Players protest sexual predation. Actors protest racist police violence. Fans become participants. What is the activism ceiling if people refuse to accept an activism ceiling?
No doubt athletes on the field, students in colleges and high schools, women and men in TV, movies, and drama classes, and activists everywhere will have better ideas to elicit sustained creativity and commitment than the above. What’s offered here is, after all, only words on paper. The details and full depth of dissent that can sum to successful campaigns can only emerge from people in motion. The point here is only to suggest there are paths forward and that obstacles may owe more to our own hesitations than to the inane threats and even vicious clubs of the likes of Jerry Jones and Donald Trump.