The conversation quarterback Colin Kaepernick started when he knelt during the national anthem as a protest demonstration against racism and police brutality continues this season with more NFL players sitting or kneeling and a group of African American ministers in Alabama calling for an outright boycott of the League for what many consider collusion among team owners who have declined to hire Kaepernick.
“When you look at the reason he protested, the number of unarmed Black and Brown people killed at the hands of police without any repercussions, there’s a real sense of trauma…especially with the shootings caught on tape. That is very real,” says Pastor Debleaire Snell, the narrator in the video. “When he took that approach, there were a lot of people excited about someone willing to bring attention in such a large venue and not gloss over it.”
Snell and an ecumenical group of Huntsville, Alabama ministers are the faces in a video viewed more than four million times in a matter of days. The other ministers are wearing team jerseys in the video which they remove while simultaneously calling for a “BlackOut.”
The call for a “BlackOut” of the NFL is gaining momentum. “A lot of people were on the verge and needed a point of nexus or unity. I don’t know that we shifted thought, but they needed an outlet to express their frustration, and I think our video did that.”
“This young man should have a right to peacefully protest,” says Reverend T.C. Johnson, another pastor in the video. “He probably won’t be affected by racism like poorer African Americans are affected, but he took that knee for us. And, since they have determined they will punish him for practicing his democratic right, we think we should stand up for him by not participating with the National Football League.”
Boycotts Started in Alabama
Huntsville, Alabama is almost 200 miles from Montgomery, home of one of the most historic and successful boycotts in American history. It was December 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to surrender her bus seat to a white person. With Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr and Ralph Abernathy involved, the boycott began against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system. The boycott was a seminal event in the Civil Rights Movement and ended when the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregated buses were unconstitutional.
Snell is aware of the “powerful” parallel. “This is that flashpoint moment for our generation and will reveal what our values are,” he says. “Of course, the sacrifices made before us were much more significant that what we are calling for. We are asking people to focus their dollars and affect things in that way.”
“Church is where we have launched our attacks against injustices. And to a large degree, many have left that powerhouse,” Johnson says. “They have the education produced by the uniting of churches that stood together in the 60s. But, are now going to church where people won’t speak from the Holy Dais about the injustices they suffer.”
Taking Sides in the League
Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, opposes the anthem protests, calling them “disappointing.” One of the more influential team owners, Jones is on record as saying, “I just feel so strongly that the act of recognizing the flag is a salute to our country and all of the people that have sacrificed so that we can have the liberties we have.”
A retired Command Sergeant in the United States Army, Johnson says, “I pledged my loyalty to fight for my country, but when I did so, it was my anticipation that citizens would be allowed practice democracy.”
Johnson wants the NFL to find a way to address the protests and not “punish the people who make them money.”
More players in the NFL are taking a knee during the national anthem. At Monday night’s game between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants, 12 of the Browns’ players knelt and prayed during the national anthem, including the first white player, Seth DeValve who is married to a Black woman. At half-time the Browns organization released a statement that read:
“As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country’s National Anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad. We feel it’s important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition, at the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country including the freedom of personal expression.”
With the season just getting underway, more organization may find themselves issuing statements addressing what is turning into a Super Bowl-sized protest, assisted by a video produced by another group of men with a powerful Sunday following.