Roughly two years ago this week, NFL team owners approved, unanimously, an embarrassing policy that gave teams the power to fine players for not standing during the playing of the pregame national anthem as a protest to police brutality.
The league froze the policy about two months later after an immense public backlash, but in many ways, the damage was done. By pushing the legislation through in the first place, team owners failed to support the freedom of their players to bring awareness to a worthy cause that meant a great deal to them.
I bring up this piece of history to hold a mirror up to you, the reader, during these times of immense racial strife in our country.
For all the justifiable outrage and anger that the death of George Floyd has provoked among people of all races, it’s important to remember that just two years ago, enough of the general public was so irate about Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality that he and the players who joined him in kneeling during the anthem were cussed at, scorned and told to “stick to sports” by a large segment of the population. There was so much backlash that franchise owners felt compelled to push through an atrocious policy.
That’s still crazy to think about now, given the circumstances surrounding the recent deaths of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. The worthiness of the players’ cause was always valid. But that’s the power of an emotional public, and that's one important lesson to remember now because if racism and police brutality are ever going to be eradicated in this country, it can’t just be minorities who are outraged by such tragedies.
Black Americans need your help. Nothing is going to change until Americans in general are as determined as black Americans are to change things.
I’ve been heartened by the number of white people who have displayed their anger publicly about Floyd’s death in recent days. Among those I do know, the texts and phone calls have been coming into my phone regularly for the past few days, as many of them — all of whom are angry as hell — keep wondering what they can do to help.
One of the correct answers is to speak up, both against racism and police brutality. Do it publicly, on social media, and privately, in your homes and neighborhoods. Do it to family, friends, and anyone else who doesn't seem to be expressing enough empathy about a problem that's very real to people of color.
And keep that same energy, regardless of what happens with the former officer involved with Floyd’s death. That officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter. Black people are counting on you not to let this anger be fleeting. You have a responsibility to keep pushing, much like the white Americans who got behind civil rights in the 1960s.
They were in a similar spot as you. Largely not directly affected by the cause, but moved enough by the sights of atrocities to push for change. In that way, perhaps these gruesome cell phone videos can affect you the same way the black-and-white television reports of protesters, including children, being attacked by police dogs and water hoses did them.
To be black in America is to live in a constant state of complex emotions. There’s frustration at the inequities that are still baked into the system after 400 years in America as evidenced by income, education and wealth gaps. There’s also fear that something bad could one day happen, as many black people have a story about an unfortunate encounter with the police, or know somebody who does.
If any of this is ever going to change, it can’t just be black Americans who refuse to take it anymore. Just as we saw with the progress of the Civil Rights Movement, it will take a non-violent coalition made up of many people to make change. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King, reminded us of this when she recently held a news conference saying: “The only way to get constructive change is through nonviolent means.”
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