By Chris Murray
It took the viral video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin brutally strangling George Floyd to finally get the NFL and the entire country to understand why former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kept taking a knee during the National Anthem back in 2016.
In the last three weeks, millions of Americans, even in cities as mostly White cities like Salt Lake City, have taken to the streets to protest systemic racism and police brutality in America. Local and national lawmakers from both parties are also working to come up with laws designed to reform the nation’s police departments.
Meanwhile, on the NFL front, White players like Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt have expressed their solidarity with the African-American community and those who were protesting.
Even New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, who was a vocal opponent of Kaepernick’s protest during the National Anthem as recently as two weeks ago, has finally concluded that the protest was about fighting racial injustice, not about the flag and has pledged to be an ally in the struggle for social justice in America.
Now that Kaepernick and former Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins --- who now plays with Brees and the Saints and is one of the founders of the Players Coalition --- have the attention of the country, they and other players should continue to raise awareness both through peaceful protest and lobbying Congress and state legislatures to push for an end to systemic racism and equality for all Americans.
Since the time that the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has been effectively blackballed by the NFL, Jenkins has been testifying before Congress and state legislatures pushing for criminal justice reform for issues like bail reform and returning voting rights to convicted felons.
Recently, the Players Coalition, along with 1,400 players, coaches, and executives from other sports signed a letter that asked Congress to pass legislation to eliminate qualified immunity which shields law enforcement officials from personal liability when sued for monetary damages unless the plaintiff can show that the law enforcement officials violated “clearly established” federal law.
“There is a problem. The world witnessed it when Officer [Derek] Chauvin murdered George Floyd, and the world is watching it now, as officers deploy enormous force on peaceful protesters like those who were standing outside of the White House last week”, the letter said. “The time for debate about the unchecked authority of the police is over; it is now the time for a change.”
Among the players who signed this petition were athletes including Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich.
This is an example of how the players should use their voices beyond the symbolic protests of taking a knee. That’s not to say that protest shouldn’t be used, but only as a weapon to raise awareness. The next step is always to push for legislation that makes changes in public policy.
The players, including 30 of the NFL’s quarterbacks, including Wentz have used their social media platforms to stand up for racial justice in America. “Enough is enough, we’ve got to do something about this,” Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said in a recent interview with USA Today. “I’m blessed to have this platform: Why not use it?”
Ultimately, the players have the power of their celebrity and their money to help make a meaningful change in the fight for racial and social justice.
More than a few athletes like Jenkins who was in Philadelphia back on June 6 to participate in a demonstration put together by African-American fraternities and sororities have been walking alongside demonstrators.
Hopefully, the combination of demonstrations and engaging the politicians will help America truly be a place of liberty and justice for all. *