NFL Anthem Kneelers Are Ignoring Real Issues

If pro athletes want to get political, there are many other things they can and should do to spread positive cultural messages

Being quasi-rebellious against President Donald Trump last Sunday likely provided brief personal satisfaction to some of the NFL players who refused to stand for America’s national anthem.

Although those actions put the NFL at the top of the news cycle, the actions — and many of the statements since then — also suggest the league will continue to ignore real-world issues in favor of fruitless, headline-grabbing protests.

When free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick started politicizing the NFL and began the kneeling trend last year, he said he did so to protest police brutality in the African-American community. The league could now have hundreds of players kneeling in the weeks ahead simply as an action against the president of the United States (although last night, before their Thursday night game, every player on both the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears stood during the national anthem — and fans cheered.)

Yet if the players who take a knee were truly committed to bettering the African-American community — they might look at issues they could directly impact.

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Real problems such as black-on-black crimes have impacted the African-American community — some 89 percent of black American homicide victims are killed by other black people, for example, according to a piece in U.S. News & World Report, which cited data from Politifact and the FBI. Also, approximately 70 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock in this country, according to a 2015 statistics report by the CDC. Important and concerning Issues such as these cannot be fixed by kneeling while the national anthem plays.

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Pro athletes have the opportunity to take the moral high ground in our culture. Unfortunately, not everyone in society is making a positive impact. There are links between the rise of rap and hip-hop music over the last three decades and the rise in violent crime in certain areas. A study from the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Berkeley, California, for instance, reported that young people who listen to rap music were more likely to abuse alcohol and commit violent acts. That should not surprise anyone, when some rappers talk often about using drugs, objectifying women and killing people, all while using racial slurs.

Young, malleable people listening to such music could be influenced by these types of negative messages.

Recently, a rapper named Young Dolph was shot several times in Hollywood and rushed to the hospital. This is not the first time the rapper has been through such a traumatic event — Young Dolph even attempted to glorify being shot in the past. After he was shot in February, Dolph named his next album “Bulletproof” and included a song on it called “100 Shots” — referring to the fact that 100 shots reportedly were fired at him. Assuming young, malleable people are listening to such music, they could be influenced by these types of negative messages.

Certainly there are upstanding citizens in the NFL. Alas, there have also been women beaters, gang members and drug abusers out there catching passes and making tackles every Sunday. Look up the arrest records of active NFL players, and you’ll find everything from DUIs to assault and battery to domestic violence charges.

Sure, pro athletes are not supposed to be role models — they are just being paid to play a sport — but when they cross a line and try to make a political or cultural or societal point against the elected leader of their country, one cannot help but look at what gives them the authority to speak on such issues.

Related: Football Players Protest America While Taxpayers Help Fund the NFL

Players can make a real difference by being upstanding citizens themselves. They could live crime-free lives, stay away from hardcore drugs, and perhaps volunteer in the communities they say they care so much about — and to be fair, many NFL players no doubt currently do things like these to help.

Yes, players can take advantage of the platform they have, but they shouldn’t alienate millions of fans. They could use their fortune and celebrity to stress hard work and education to young people in areas that need help instead of joining in on a trending protest that has little meaning.

Related: Sports Are Now More About Politics Than Athletics

Children look up to pro athletes and many of these players are multi-millionaires. Since the league is primarily made up of African-Americans, athletes who are dedicated to the cause can use their time, money and voice to better struggling communities without bashing the president.

It might be less convenient and more expensive for them to read to elementary schoolers, or raise money for hurricane relief, but such activities would have a far more positive impact than kneeling during the singing or playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” — the national anthem of the country that has allowed them to earn, in many cases, millions of dollars to play gridiron football.

Your move, NFL players.

Tom Joyce
meet the author

Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.

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