After quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem, athlete activism has captured the nation’s attention. Handfuls of other NFL players, all Black, have begun to kneel or raise fists.
It is way beyond time to ask: Where are the voices of white athletes? On the issue of police violence against Black lives, white NFL players remain largely silent.
The sole example from a white NFL player came from a radio interview given by New England Patriots defensive lineman Chris Long. While he did state that he himself would never kneel for the anthem, Long refreshingly supported Kaepernick’s right to protest and admitted there is a difference between the white and Black American experience.
Beyond that? Crickets.
Fans must demand more from our nation’s white athletes.
While crediting Long, Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett told The Seattle Times, “For people to really see social injustices, there must be someone from the other side of the race who recognizes the problem, because a lot of times if just one race says there’s a problem, nobody is realistic about it.”
Sports—especially its leviathan, the NFL— play too big of a societal role for us to pretend they can exist in a magical world of balls, points, sweat and friendly butt pats. Athletes are role models. What they do and say matters. 114.4 million people watched the 2016 Super Bowl; what other figures reach the audience that NFL athletes do?
Fans must demand that white athletes speak out against injustice because the parts of the sports world in opposition seem to have quite a bit to say.
Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney claimed there isn’t a “race problem,” but instead only a “sin problem.” How could there still be a massive problem of racism in America, Swinney offered, when there’s a two-term African-American president, interracial marriages and black quarterbacks at major SEC schools?
Let us not forget the white athletes who have come out strongly on the wrong side of this issue, and whose voices must be countered. Take Seattle Mariners backup catcher Steve Clevenger, who tweeted late last Thursday, “Black people beating whites when a thug got shot holding a gun by a black officer haha shit cracks me up. Keep kneeling for the Anthem!”
If white NFL players wanted to defend their silence with the idea that sports and politics should be kept separate, ignorant and racist takes such as these wrecked that possibility.
Furthermore, Black players who take strong stands risk potential contracts and current endorsement deals. How about white players assume some of that risk? How about they put their endorsements on the line?
Instead, Kaepernick remains virtually alone, left to deal with hordes of reporters and baskets of death threats.
I suppose this column is a call to action. The biggest target might be myself. Since I was a kid, I’ve hungrily consumed professional sports, and in the last few years, the NFL in particular. Football hasn’t made me cry since 2008, but I’ve gotten mighty close. I was embarrassingly angry when Tom Brady was suspended following the Deflategate investigation. But where is my anger when Brady says nothing about Kaepernick or Black lives?
I’m not going to stop watching football or picket Brady’s mansion, but when he returns I hope he use his platform to support Kaepernick in the fight against racial injustice. Only after such famous players get involved will Kaepernick’s efforts truly bring change.