An ESPN writer penned a “memo to white America,” insisting that the NFL players protesting during the national anthem are not being unpatriotic.
In his June 19 editorial for The Guardian, ESPN’s Howard Bryant attempted to “explain” the NFL protests, and rehabilitate the demonstrations from its original anti-American founding under creator Colin Kaepernick, into a mere protest against the inequities in our criminal justice system.
Bryant insisted that the protests have to be understood in the black community’s “historical black grievance of police brutality.” Indeed, as far as Bryant is concerned, white Americans need to “acknowledge that police were not only capable of acting abhorrently but actually did so routinely,” to understand why the protests make such sense to African Americans. The purported “routine” oppression of blacks by police sets the backdrop for the protests, he says.
“For the last four years, the youth have blocked traffic, on freeways and at airports,” Howard explained. “The ballplayers have knelt, worn t-shirts, raised fists, been blackballed, yet the discussion, from the president to NFL owners, is centered not on the latest horrifying YouTube dashcam footage, but on the American flag.”
This, Bryant continued, is a blatant act of “deliberate misdirection away from police and toward the flag.” But, “They aren’t protesting the flag,” he exclaimed.
Bryant then went on to hint that these millionaire players are suffering the newest form of slavery. How? He explained the “hierarchy” this way: “White owners. White coaches. White season ticket buyers. White media. Black players.”
It’s all about white privilege, the PC writer insisted:
This is the structure of American sports. It is the framework through which American sports is packaged, marketed, reported and sold to the public. Each movement of the black player, and especially today’s revival of black player protest, is filtered through the lens of these four entities above him, and none – especially the media in what has been a spectacularly epic journalistic fail – has ever had the courage to filter black protest through the lens of the black player grievance because, like the Simi Valley jury 26 years ago, it would require the white mainstream to relinquish its historical advantages.
Bryant went on to insist that San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick invented the protests to speak about rogue cops violating the rights of black citizens.
This, though, does not comport exactly to what Kaepernick himself said of his protests early in 2016 when he started them. When he first started protesting, he was pretty explicit that he was attacking the whole country and all police, not just the inequities.
Kaepernick outlined his motivations to NFL Media: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” the former Super Bowl starter explained. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Before that, Kaepernick posted a tweet saying that the USA was no different at all from the slave-holding Confederacy of the Civil War. Kaepernick deleted the tweet when criticism of his anthem protest began to grow, but in the message the player posted an image of the U.S. and Confederate flags and captioned the photo, “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.”
In another anti-American outburst, Kaepernick insisted that his protests were meant to “make America great for the first time.” In so many words, the player was saying that America is not now and has never been a great nation.
As to the claim that Kaepernick was not attacking all cops, the fact that he wore socks depicting police as pigs seems to say that he was not just attacking some, out of control cops, but indiscriminately slamming all of them.
It was only later, once sportswriters like Bryant began to re-explain the protests, that the demonstrations were narrowed to merely a comment on rogue cops.
But, Bryant has an agenda. He ignored the genesis of the protests in order to pin the blame on whites.
After repeatedly railing against whites for refusing to believe his account of the protests and for assuming that the NFL anthem protests are about protesting against the country, Bryant ends his piece with this:
Whether the filter is the white owners who create national anthem policies to be obeyed, white coaches who with only few exceptions oversee black men without understanding them and supporting them, white ticket buyers and the white media who reflect and are comforted by the status quo, the majority cannot separate the flag from the police because when it comes to controlling the culture, they are the police.
Still, even as the ESPN writer seems to assume he has the right to speak for all blacks, there have been several black athletes who have spoken out against the NFL anthem protests. Most have said that the appearance of protesting against the country because the demonstrations are being held during the very song that celebrates flag and country hurts the cause the players may think they are highlighting. Many have said that protesting during the anthem is just the wrong time for such a stand.
Legendary college and pro football player Herschel Walker, for instance, has warned players that the protests during the anthem are “upsetting” and mounting protests during the anthem is just the wrong move.
“Guys, let me tell you this. Our flag is very special, and black lives matter, but what we should do is go to Washington after the season and protest there instead,” Walker said last November. “We have young men and women fighting for the flag. And we have to respect the White House.”
Walker is not alone. In August of last year, NFL legend and civil rights activist Jim Brown also slammed the protests during the anthem.
“I’m an American, I don’t desecrate my flag and my national anthem,” Brown said. “I’m not gonna do anything against the flag and the national anthem.”
Finally, only days ago former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali also slammed NFL anthem protests.
In the series of tweets, Hali criticized those who protest during the playing of the national anthem, said he supported America’s military and insisted that just because he stands for the anthem that does not mean he has turned a blind eye to instances of police brutality.
Unfortunatey, it appears that these black voices don’t mean anything to ESPN’s Howard Bryant.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.