NYT Reporters Demand NFL Fight Injustice of ‘White Conservatives’

September 27th, 2017 5:18 PM

The newly inflamed controversy over National Football League players protesting the National Anthem and American flag in the name of social justice landed New York Times’ sportswriter Juliet Macur on Tuesday’s front-page: “N.F.L. Players Knelt for Justice, But They Need a Lasting Stand.” Taking sides, Macur pushed for the protest to evolve, as evidenced by the story’s text box: “Shifting focus from Trump’s comments to issues of injustice.” And the subhead to colleague Ken Belson's story attacked N.F.L. owners as " a group consisting largely of white, conservative billionaires has done little to address social injustice or head injuries."

First, Macur's front-page social-justice advocacy:

It was undeniably a monumental Sunday for the National Football League. There were teams that were no-shows for the national anthem, and others that linked arms with owners. Players knelt and sat during the anthem, and some raised their fists.

But something was conspicuously missing from Sunday’s stage: a real discussion about the issues Colin Kaepernick wanted to highlight when he started the movement. He knelt during the anthem last season to protest social injustice and police brutality, and since then he has been a pariah no team wants to sign.

President Trump, in picking a fight with the league, reframed the issue as a lack of respect for the country and the flag, which may make it even harder for athletes to extend their one-day revolt into a political dialogue....

But disrespect for the flag was precisely the message Kaepernick was trying to convey. Here’s a Kaepernick quote from August 26, 2016: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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.”

Kenneth Shropshire, who runs the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University, is the author of the book “In Black and White: Race and Sports in America.” He has some interesting thoughts on the effectiveness of protest movements, and he worries that the N.F.L. movement might be fleeting.

To effect real change, Mr. Shropshire told me, the demonstrations can’t disappear in a flash. But their staying power depends on the reason the players and owners were spurred to action.

“At the player level, it really was someone saying on the street, ‘Yo mama,’” he said. “And at the basest level, nobody can talk about your mother without some retribution.

What kind of “retribution” does Shropshire have in mind?

The real problem with players who focus solely on Mr. Trump’s comments is that he will have succeeded in steering attention away from the original issues -- racism and police brutality. On Sunday, everyone seemed to be consumed by a different matter: whether it is appropriate to kneel during the anthem.

Macur, a reporter, continued to try to steer the controversy in her preferred direction, with a focus on racial justice.

Mr. Davis said he would gladly meet with Mr. Trump, but only at “the right time,” which he said would be outside of football season. So Mr. Davis, at least, has put everything on hold until February. By then, the opportunity might be gone. Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said that if a strong core of players would be willing to start -- or continue -- the conversation about racial equality and justice in their communities, the movement could grow quickly.

“Sunday was the most important sports day since Ali decided not to fight in Vietnam,” Mr. Lapchick said. “Yes, I think it was that big. What we don’t do in America is talk about these issues openly, but now we could easily create a forum where athletes and city leaders and front offices and police can discuss racial justice. Right now we don’t have any of that kind of unity in our communities.”

Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said he would be up for that kind of outreach. After Sunday’s game, he stood at his locker long after every other player left the room and talked about President Trump and about freedom and how something in this country has to change.


What about next weekend’s game? For now, Mr. Norman said, he was thinking about how to make things better and exercising his right to be free.

Norman is free to protest however he wants in America, and his team is free to enact consequences.

Naturally, the front of the day’s Sports section had more pro-protest activism, from N.F.L.-beat reporter Ken Belson: “Owners Clutch Their Players But Protect the N.F.L. Shield.” The snarky subhead: “Despite a show of sideline unity, a group consisting largely of white, conservative billionaires has done little to address social injustice or head injuries.” As if combating “social injustice,” whatever that might entail, was in the job description of the owner of a professional football team which must appeal to a right-leaning fan base.

The image was striking -- several owners of N.F.L. teams locking arms with their players on the sidelines Sunday in a dramatic statement of defiance to a president who ridiculed their sport and condemned players for refusing to stand during the national anthem as a protest against racism.

And then on Monday night, the league’s most prominent owner knelt with his entire team.

But that still wasn’t good enough for Belson, who blamed the “white, conservative” owners for not being sufficiently woke.

Beyond the appearance of unity, though, is a far different reality: The owners have done little to support players who protest to fight social injustice. A few owners have told their players that kneeling for the anthem is inappropriate.

The owners by and large are a white, conservative group of billionaires, several of them big-dollar donors to President Trump. They have generally discouraged their players, about three quarters of whom are African-American, from anything that overshadows throwing passes and making tackles.

These are the same owners who allowed junk science produced by league-sponsored doctors to paper over the growing scientific consensus that repeated head hits are linked to long-term brain damage. They have warred repeatedly, aggressively and publicly with players over labor issues.