“On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
‘Only a pawn in their game.’ ”
Only a Pawn in Their Game, Bob Dylan 1963
There are a lot of things I like about Keith Ellison. One is that he seems a deeply moral man who hasn’t yet been tainted by political office. That takes strength. I also admire his courage.
Last Sunday, he sent out a tweet saying he would be boycotting the NFL due to the owner’s player-protest ban. I plan to join him and to let owners know. Not because he is my Congressman, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Let’s be clear about a few things:
1) 70% of the players in the NFL are black.
2) The vast majority of football fans are white.
3) Standing for the national anthem is not a necessary component of any sporting event. It was originally intended as a political statement and a kind of loyalty demonstration during times of political turbulence, but has since lost all real significance and is largely ignored by fans.
4) It remains a political statement forced on attendees by owners, even though it has devolved into a sham show of patriotism and a crowd-control measure for stadium management.
5) When NFL owners decree that football players of any color cannot make a political statement in counter-point to a political statement made by owners, they are denying those players their civil rights to freely express themselves. No one can own an exclusive right to free speech, or assume the power to deny others that right, in the public space. A football stadium is a public space.
6) The owners could fire players who protest, but that would garner the wrath of fans. Fining them is the equivalent of suppressing them economically for holding unpopular political beliefs. I would view that as a civil rights violation and a management policy that creates a hostile workplace. At best, if NFL owners want to suppress the free speech of players in the form of peaceful protest in the public space during the national anthem, they should dispense with the national anthem altogether.
7) The NFL earned $14 billion in revenues in 2017. NFL Commissioner Goodell has said he’d like revenues to reach $25 billion annually by 2027. The player-protest ban seems less about expressions of patriotism than it is about making money.
8) By elevating the (presumed) discomfort of some white football fans over the civil rights of some black football players, the ban looks to me like a new form of political suppression and plantation rule.
9) Since most (not all) of the football players who take a knee are black – and do so in protest of police brutality and murder of their fellow citizens of color – the player-protest ban is a form of social and political emasculation of black men in that the ban denies those players their right to think and act as free men. That, too, looks like another form of plantation rule but one that revisits the brutalities of the past.
10) Taken in total, the player-protest ban is another form of institutionalized racism, which must be actively resisted by men and women of good conscience.