By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published October 2, 2017
Last Sunday, NFL players and owners protested against US President Donald Trump’s comments while the US national anthem was played at NFL games. The act, though warranted, was unimpressive and too little, too late.
Growing up, Dalfus was one of the elders in my community of Simpson Street. He was someone the young boys from the community would look up to and as long as you were respectful, he would share a word or two of advice. If you were not respectful, he would most certainly put you in line.
To provide for his family, Dalfus would do spearfishing, but naturally he was an artist and sculpturing was his passion. He would sit at his shop just outside his front gate and chisel away at raw and misshapen wood until they became beautiful and amazing statuettes. It was while sitting there with him one evening chiselling away at some deformed wood that I learned the priceless maxim, “Money talks and the faecal matter of cows often walk” or something like that.
The National Football League (NFL) is the highest professional American football league in the world – not to be confused with what is called football or soccer outside the US. Last week Sunday across the NFL, players, owners and coaches interlocked arms, knelt and/or did not leave their locker rooms during the playing of the US national anthem. This was in protest to comments made by US President Donald Trump two days before. Trump declared that a peaceful protest such as kneeling or sitting during the national anthem is disrespectful to the flag. He suggested that fans should walk out of NFL stadiums and that NFL owners should fire athletes who engage in these peaceful protests of kneeling or sitting.
Trump remarked at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, ‘Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a b%#%* off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!”’
Trump further stated, “You know what’s hurting the game more than [anything]? When people like yourselves turn on [the] television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium, I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave.”
Last year August, during preseason games, then San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the playing of the US anthem. This was the birth of the current anthem protests at NFL games. After one of the games then, Kaepernick explained the reason for his stance.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” Kaepernick expressed to NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
“If they take football away [and] my endorsements from me, [at least] I know that I stood up for what is right.”
– Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick was referring to what he described as social injustices including police brutality against African Americans and other minority groups in America. In the weeks that followed, a handful of NFL players from other teams joined Kaepernick by protesting during the playing of the national anthem at their NFL regular season games. However, the numbers never grew exponentially and Kaepernick never got widespread support from his colleagues.
Nevertheless, it sparked a discussion about police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement and race relations in America. Views on Kaepernick’s actions were extremely polarised and shifted from police brutality and social injustices to respecting the military and the flag. Unfortunately, Kaepernick became the face and target of rancour for those who thought he was disrespecting the military, the flag and the country with his protest.
According to multiple reports, at the end of last season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers after 49ers management made it clear that he would be released by the team. Just four years ago, Kaepernick took his team to the Super Bowl. However, since last season ended, Kaepernick has not been able to acquire a starting or backup job as a quarterback in the NFL. Unquestionably, NFL team owners and/or coaches are blackballing Kaepernick – this despite him being among the top-64 quarterbacks in the league statistically.
Last year when he first started protesting, Kaepernick said, “If they take football away [and] my endorsements from me, [at least] I know that I stood up for what is right.”
This reminded me of a quote by Martin Luther King, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Kaepernick has stood tall in these challenging and controversial moments despite the labels and unemployment from the NFL. After last Sunday when the players and the owners protested during the national anthem, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell declared, “The way we reacted today, and this weekend, made me proud […] I’m proud of our league.”
Immediately, I was reminded of Dalfus’s wise words in his sculpturing shop, “Money talks, and cow’s faecal matter walks”. In my opinion, the only reason why the owners, Goodell and the NFL came out in unison against what President Trump said was that his words incited actions that would directly affect the coffers of the NFL owners and in turn the players.
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, two premier quarterbacks in the NFL, echoed words via social media Sunday before the protests such as “strength”, “love”, “brotherhood”, “unity”, “respect” and “loyalty”.
Where were brotherhood and loyalty when Kaepernick basically stood alone all these months protesting injustices and police brutality while being the target of extreme vitriol? Where were unity, outrage and overwhelming support when NFL owners, coaches and past players blackballed Kaepernick for the same actions they all did on Sunday?
I was not impressed by their hypocrisy and never will be. The protests last Sunday only proved only one thing: NFL owners are especially loyal to their money and not societal change. As for the players, I understand their position. Being called sons of dogs would get anyone riled up. However, my disappointed in their lack of overwhelming and voiced support for Kaepernick in all these months still lingers bitterly in the mouth.
As Martin Luther King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I only hope Colin Kaepernick has been taking note.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning freelance sportswriter, who once through a peaceful protest against a draconian policy his school implemented, was threatened by the principal with expulsion from the school. He never wavered in his position or protest. The school eventually changed its policy and he remained a student at that school until the day of his graduation.
This blog article was published in the Western Mirror on October 2, 2017.