In a week filled with news about his administration’s political fails, President Trump seems to have landed a major cultural victory for his base: keeping black America on its knees by forcing football players to their feet during the national anthem.
First and foremost: The decision to kneel for the anthem, beginning with Colin Kaepernick, was always about protesting American racism and police brutality. Sadly, and predictably, instead of engaging with the honest plea for America’s police to stop killing citizens of color, Trump, Vice President Pence and the National Football League have reacted by doing their damnedest to silence these protests, by staging taxpayer-funded walkouts and issuing statements directing players to stand for the national anthem. On Tuesday, weeks after he kneeled with his players for unity and equality before the anthem was played, cantankerous Cowboys owner Jerry Jones issued a statement saying his players would stand for the anthem. Shaun King of the Intercept reported on Twitter that Cowboys players will not test Jones, and will indeed stand for the anthem. Jones admitted that he had spoken with Trump over the phone and that the president had reminded him of the NFL policy of standing for the anthem.
With Pence’s stunt, Trump’s tweets, Jones’s edict and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement saying players should stand, the debate about players standing for the national anthem is no longer about the flag. This is not about the anthem. This is not about supporting the troops. This is about putting outspoken black people back in their place in America — subordinate, and silent about the racism, police brutality and white supremacy that affect our lives everyday. This is about controlling what are considered “acceptable” ways for black people to protest. When black people take to the streets in places such as Ferguson, Mo., to protest police brutality, we are treated as rioters and are teargassed, arrested and painted by the FBI as “Black Identity Extremists” posing a threat to the United States. When we call out Trump for his white supremacist ways on Twitter and suggest boycotts to send a message to people in power, we get suspended from our jobs. And now, when we silently kneel during the anthem, we are blackballed from playing in sports.
The question to white America at this moment in time is: How are we black people supposed to be heard?
This issue goes beyond the NFL: Black children across the country are facing consequences for exercising their rights to free speech and protest. In Houston, 17-year-old India Landry was expelled from her public high school after she says she refused to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, despite the fact that she had declined to stand for 200 days beforehand. (The Post’s story notes that school officials did not return calls seeking comment.) A high school in Louisiana even has reportedly threatened to punish student athletes if they don’t stand for the national anthem. Does this sound like the land of the free and the home of the brave?
The Dallas Cowboys are my hometown team and have always been a part of my life. While I was growing up, it was usually my mother, an immigrant who moved here from Ghana, who kept the Dallas Cowboys spirit alive in the house. She put together Super Bowl watching parties. She still watches most of the games. Thanks to her, I even had a brief stint in Dallas Cowboys cheerleading camp when I was a kid. (Yeah, that didn’t take. Sorry, Mom.)
When I moved to Washington several years ago, I somewhat expected to be an outcast in the town of the Cowboys’ longtime rivals, the Washington Redskins. Instead, I was struck by how many black Washingtonians were longtime Dallas Cowboys fans. I met a number of black people here who proudly fly the team star, who attend games when “The Boys” are playing, and who fly down to Dallas Cowboys stadium every year.
I came to learn that the Cowboys gained a number of black fans in Washington due to the perception that the team was on the right side of civil rights history in the 1960s, when it made visible efforts to integrate the team with black players during the era of segregation, whereas the Redskins did not. Learning about that history gave me extra reason to be proud of my ’Boys.
This week, Jerry Jones and “America’s Team” have decided to put white America first — despite the reality that about 70 percent of the NFL consists of black players who put their bodies and health on the line every week to entertain millions across the country. The players do have power. If every single black player decided to stop playing football, the league would shut down. Maybe there will be some brave Cowboys players who will kneel next Sunday. But as for this Dallas girl, as long as Jones decides to storm down the wrong side of civil rights history, I have no other moral choice but to hang up my Cowboys jersey and find something else to do during Sunday games.