Let’s take it in order. Colin Kaepernick doesn’t get a contract for the 2017 NFL season after kneeling during the national anthem throughout the 2016 NFL season in protest of the injustices suffered by people of color. A few retired NFL players scorned Kaepernick. Then President Trump declared that NFL owners should fire players that refuse to stand during the national anthem. Shortly thereafter, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he would bench any player that did not stand for the national anthem. Other active players join the protest. A recent action, and the one that has forced my hand for this post, is Houston Texans’ owner Bob McNair’s statement that, even if not in reference to the players that have joined Kaepernick’s protest across the league, highlights the divide created by the privilege of those not suffering the injustices at the core of the player protest.
Is McNair a bad guy? Probably not. Does McNair understand the plight of people of color in America? Probably not. Look, McNair has said his comment was an unfortunate figure of speech. Let’s accept that as fact. Let’s accept that he’s a rich man completely enveloped in white privilege. In our acceptance we must also embrace the concept that white privilege exists; that, alone, white privilege isn’t racism and that those who benefit aren’t necessarily racist. Just clueless because of their privilege.
We have to understand that even those who benefit from white privilege may deny that white privilege exists. McNair’s statement is simply representative of how white privilege works. In the deep recesses of his mind it is easy for McNair to make reference to “inmates running the prison” in the midst of discussions regarding protests about the injustices people of color face in American. It’s easy for McNair because his privilege protects him from those injustices. It’s easy for him because it is also fair to say that he doesn’t truly understand that the injustices at the center of the protest by athletes across the NFL includes people of color becoming actual inmates at rates not seen anywhere in the world. He’s protected from the inequities in mass incarceration as well as the loss of life during encounters with police.
Allow me to be a little more pointed and personal. In the early 1970’s I spoke the words “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same . . .”. These words mean exactly what is spoken by each person taking this oath upon entering the armed forces. There’s no statement of commitment or affirmation of allegiance to the President, the country or the flag in that oath. So, when anyone says that not standing for the anthem is directly linked to the military I believe it’s just absurd. It’s an insult to the intelligence of this veteran.
American military men and women swear allegiance to a living, breathing document that is the cornerstone of our existence as a country. When the core principles of the Constitution are not extended to all citizens we, athletes and veterans alike, should not ignore that shortcoming. When any American citizen states that the activities of any individual or group runs counter to the protections of the Constitution, that statement is not now, and never should be, a declaration of disrespect.
All those screaming disrespect, like President Trump, Jerry Jones, Bob McNair and millions of fans calling for firing, benching and boycotts, only see the color of the athletes’ skin. White privilege has a tendency to override empathy. That absence of empathy aids in the denial that Americans of color are barred from making a statement that they are not draped in the protections of the Constitution as their white counterparts.
So why point to disrespect of the flag and veterans? It’s simple, when you don’t like the conversation just change the narrative. America doesn’t want to have a conversation about the underlying injustices. Changing the narrative to point a finger at the American citizen is the true disrespect. We all understand freedom of speech. It’s a guarantee every American, including people of color, should enjoy.
That new narrative has created still another injustice. Despite claims that Kaepernick doesn’t have the talent to garner a spot as a quarterback in the league, it seems apparent that he is being punished for exercising a constitutional right to free speech. Because the San Francisco 49ers were never 0-9 in any season Kaepernick was their quarterback, reasonable people would conclude that he is being punished because he protested. Those same reasonable people will tell you that McNair either has no understanding of how the country treats people that look like a large number of his employees or he simply doesn’t care.
That makes him a prisoner of white privilege. So does that make him one of the “inmates running the prison”?