2017-09-25 21:38:02
Sports of The Times: Was It a One-Day Revolt in the N.F.L., or Something More?

21:38, September 25 72 0

LANDOVER, Md. — 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. On Monday, Mr. Trump again addressed the N.F.L. on Twitter, asserting a “tremendous backlash” against the league and its players for “disrespect of our country.” It was his 15th tweet in three days about athletes respecting the flag or the anthem.

Many players who might want to speak out further are in a vulnerable position now. Their contracts are not guaranteed, and their N.F.L. fate is in the hands of the same owners and general managers who have deemed Mr. Kaepernick unfit to play in the league. Some Miami Dolphins players wore #IMWITHKAP T-shirts on Sunday, but they surely weren’t hoping to join him as an N.F.L. castoff.

Consider Oakland Raiders tackle Donald Penn’s plans for moving forward.

Mr. Penn said he didn’t really want to protest on Sunday, because he loves the American flag and he appreciates the military. But he said he felt Mr. Trump had forced him to react when the president called any player who chose to protest a “son of a bitch.” And now Mr. Penn has had his say.

“I’m not going to do it again next week,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it this week. This all had to do with President Trump’s comments. That’s the only reason that we did that.”

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.”

At the owner level, he said, any continued displays of solidarity will depend how much of the protest stemmed from owners’ anger that the president had told them how to run their businesses.

“Their thinking might be, ‘How dare this person get into my business?’” he said. “So it’ll be interesting if some owner signs Kaepernick now, just to show that Trump can’t engage in their business.”

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.

Vernon Davis, a Redskins tight end, said he had an idea for how to get beyond the bickering and properly engage on the real issues: Gather top players from each of the professional leagues and have them meet with Mr. Trump at the White House.

“We have some of the largest platforms there is,” he said. “We’re huge influences when it comes to people.”

He added: “Why not just come together and make it right? Because there is an issue, there is a problem, for sure.”

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.

He said he was so sickened and disturbed by the president’s insults that he couldn’t stop thinking about his place in the world, and that “the game came secondary.”

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.