The Future of NFL National Anthem Protests & Powerful White Men

The silver lining in filtering dialogue about national anthem kneeling and raised fists through a white perspective.

In today’s episode of Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast, host Stefan Fatsis explained the difficulty which modern NFL players find themselves in:

“They’re being asked to figure out a bunch of things — where they stand on racial injustice, freedom of expression, the right to push back against the president, how they feel about the anthem and flag. It puts a lot of unfair pressure on them, and now the way they react is interpreted politically.

If kneeling and raised fists and hands on shoulders diminishes over the subsequent weeks, well, then, people will just say ‘Well the NFL won. These guys are backing down. The players are wrong’ and this… conversation about race and justice gets filtered by how white people think about it.”

The show’s guest, former NFL Films producer Jamil Smith, then points out there’s a silver lining in that.

It’s a good thing, he says, because it means that a conversation about these issues—and the persistent menace of white supremacy in the U.S.—has at least started. The key, Smith says, is to press the issue with powerful white males. It is a minority of such men, after all, who enable white supremacy to fester in the 21st century, after all. And often they will listen to other powerful white males (e.g. NFL owners) more readily than anybody else.

“I think it’s OK it press these guys about the realities that [NFL] teammates have to endure when they leave the locker room. Because when they take those uniforms off, they are big black dudes in big, nice vehicles getting targeted.

And, sorry, it’s not too much to ask those guys to step up, to have an opinion.

You don’t necessarily have to put a hand on a shoulder, to kneel or to speak out. You can say ‘I understand. This is inspiring me to learn more about this issue. I’m trying to become a more educated citizen and I encourage everyone who’s listening to do the same.’

You don’t have to become a freedom fighter—it’s welcome—but you just have to become a more educated citizen. You have to exercise critical thinking and given how smart these guys are—and I know, I’ve interviewed a bunch of them—they can handle that task.