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Silent Protesting on the Job: An NFL Story

This weekend, multiple NFL teams and players kneeled or stood in solidarity with 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick regarding police brutality and black lives. Kaepernick began his silent protest during the pre-season games by sitting silently during the national anthem. The protest has been picking up momentum as various NFL players silently kneel, stand without putting a hand over their heart, or sit during the national anthem. The entire Seattle Seahawks’ team stood together, arms interlocked, in silent protest to show solidarity for Kaepernick and the cause.

However, the protest has been met with a lot of scrutiny from fans and pundits. People have been burning Kaepernick’s jersey and “life-long” fans of the 49ers have abandoned their team loyalty on social media. Others have wrote scathing pieces about Kaepernick’s ability, intellect, and gratitude. As a black man who was adopted into a white family, a blogger wrote, he should feel grateful for white people. This white savior attitude is disrespectful to the protest and detracts from the issue of police brutality.

Despite the athletic solidarity among the players, administrative professionals have felt differently across sports. In fact, Team USA coach for the World Cup, John Tortorella,  declared that any player of the hockey team that sat during the national anthem would sit for the entire game. This neglects the fact that the NHL players have a vast majority of white players–statistics in 2011 count that 93% of NHL players identify as white. Compare that statistic to the NFL where 68% of its players identify as black. Perhaps that is why Tortorella is taking a radically different stance than Seattle Seahawks’ coach, Pete Carroll, who stood interlocked in solidarity with his team at this past week’s game. These issues are not as glaring for hockey players in comparison to football players.

Protesting tends to be a contentious issue despite that it is constitutionally guaranteed. These athletes are exercising their rights to take a social justice stance regarding black lives and police brutality. However, many people believe that these athletes, privileged by making millions of dollars (even though they take enormous physical risks in their career), do not have the right to take a stance on the job. Does your personal identity cease to exist when you are representing a company or organization? Would a protest like Kaepernick’s be as powerful if it wasn’t in this public arena?

Looking at this silent protest from a macro-prospective, the issue is nuanced and layered. But then when I look at it from a personal perspective, I can’t help but feel like it is simple. When I see injustice, I want to raise awareness about it. He’s doing the same thing in a way he knows how. I support Kaepernick–and not because he was my fantasy football pick last year. This silent protest is nonviolent, raising awareness about oppression, and inspiring others to critically analyze the systems in which they live and operate.

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