The racial-justice movement had an unlikely stage last weekend, at football arenas around the nation.
In the wake of President Donald Trump’s Twitter rants about footballers like Colin Kapernick taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice, scores of other players joined the silent protest. Some knelt, others linked arms like the Eagles and others stayed off field during the song. The more players protested, the more agitated Trump seemed to get on social media.
Giving a big middle finger to the temporary occupant of the Oval Office was surely an aim on the minds of many players. But the effort may have also had some other results.
Like never before, we’ve seen a heightened discourse on the root issues at the heart of the #TakeAKnee movement. There is clearly friction between the crowd blasting the effort as disrespectful and supporters, but that chasm is opening up the opportunity for education — on issues of racial inequality, police brutality and white privilege.
Such lessons surely aren’t best addressed by the NFL, an organization plagued with its own systemic problems and biases. Many have argued that the NFL has willfully overlooked violence and rape committed by players but blacklisted Kapernick when he stood up for people of color. Support for this cause is indeed late, and may ring hollow to many. Time will tell if this is a movement that will be sustained, and validated through tangible action.
But it is support in the right realm. NFL fans don’t have a reputation for being socially progressive or enlightened; this is a crowd stereotyped as all-American working-class folks, brimming with machismo and Miller Lite. It’s a trope that fits many Trump supporters as well, a group of people who desperately need their eyes opened to the reality of what it means to live as a person of color in America. Even if they don’t immediately become card-carrying members of the NAACP and ACLU, at least this conversation is finally happening in an environment in which they exist, as ignorance is often bred by lack of relativity.
The movement also highlighted the stark contrast between what the president does care about and what he should care about. When he sent several-dozen tweets about the NFL and a scant few about the humanitarian crisis ravaging Puerto Rico, his ineptitude comes into shaper focus — for those who may have still been questioning it.