The NFL & The Real Price of Protest

Price of Protest

The NFL protest garnered world wide attention with photos of Dallas Cowboy Owner Jerry Jones, taking a knee in protest with the rest of his players. While Kaepernick was the first to commit such an act in protest of black male police shootings, apparently the rest of the NFL is following suit. But the question is why are they following? The truth is that each faction is protesting for different reasons. Kaepernick, no matter what you think about his method, seems to be more on point with the issue on which he takes a knee. But what is the reason that the the NFL is following suit? The NFL is following suit because of Trump’s twitter crusade against them in the name of plastic patriotism. In other words, Trump has began to trespass on the hallow ground that is football. Here we see the old liberal classic & bait switch. Now instead of being about police violence against black Americans (which was the focus of Kaepernick’s protest), it’s now about the first amendment and sticking it to the President. The focus has shifted.

This is not a new phenomenon. In Oct 1967, Black Panther Party Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton, was shot in the stomach by Oakland Police Officers in an encounter that left one officer injured, and one dead. When taken to the hospital, Newton was beaten and tortured by police officers as he lay on the gurney waiting for treatment. The trial was politicized. And the Panthers used it as tool to cast Newton as a political prisoner and victim of police brutality. They also sought to create an environment of acquittal around his upcoming trial. As a result, a rallying cry of “Free Huey” sounded in black communities across the country. It became a cause celebre’ for liberals as they latched onto the Panther’s theatrical flare and colorful style. They also shifted focus from Newton, onto something called the Free Speech Movement. Under this movement, white radicals were giving profanity laden speeches that ostracized and alienated the party from the black working class. Most notably, the conservative element of the black church.
Newton argued:

               “We engaged people in a whole lot of rhetoric when we should have been using more organizing tactics… we used a lot of filthy words and bad language in the black community which wound up alienating us from the black community, especially the black church. So after a while when you go to a black panther rally, all you see is white folks there. I would even go so far as to say we set ourselves up to be murdered.”

This statement was not based on hardcore black nationalist dogma or any form of reverse racism. In his autobiography, Newton explained exactly what he meant. He reasoned that the Free Speech Movement connected the Panthers to those disaffected white sympathizers that had no power or influence in the white community. The profanity attracted the rebellious white youth, but repelled the black church. Newton intuitively understood, that the black church was a key component in any social movement in the black community. Without it (the black church), there is no meaningful movement (sorry pro blacks! it’s true).  But Newton’s statement raises another interesting point. Who’s doing the dying? In his classical essay, The Defection of Eldridge Cleaver & The Defection of the Black Panther Party from the Black Community, Newton placed much of the blame on Eldridge Cleaver’s influence inside the party. He stated that as a result of the alliance with the liberal Free Speech Movement, the party was placed in a vacuum where party members were being slaughtered, while the black community simply watched on. The point here is that while liberals used their cause as a social trend, they (The Panthers) were dying in the streets. They even coined a term for this cultural appropriation of struggle: The Radical Chic. By shifting the focus from black empowerment and liberation to free speech, white liberals had effectively hijacked their movement for some amorphous form of popularity.  All of this occurred with the influx of big contributions from said liberals that amounted to cool points, for being associated with the struggle, even as the rank and file party members were dying on the front line in anonymity.

Fast forward 30 years later, the same liberals who were marching to free him(Huey), were now openly cursing him, and sometimes, for good reason. They founded corporations, cut their hair, donned their grey flannel suits of conformity, and began to call themselves conservatives. They launched a vast ideological war on the black movements of the 60’s and sought to re-interpret its’ objectives. They demonized black martyrs while engaging in hollow flag-waiving patriotism. This mendacious re-interpretation was a slap in the face of those who died for their principles. We must keep this in mind as we examine the reason for the appropriation of Kaepernick’s silent protest. Even more so, we must examine whether the motives and outcomes of such symbolic gestures will in any way contribute to pragmatic solutions. We must also ask what are the sacrifices of such protests? In real protest movements, there is usually a loss of status, livelihood, popularity, and in the most extreme situations, life. I would wager that Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys will not lose one thin dime. I would also wager that there will be an NFL game on TV next Sunday with no loss in sponsors. So I guess it’s safe to say the revolution will be subsidized.

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