NFL Protests Aren’t a Distraction If You’re a Decent Human Being.

On Monday night, twelve Cleveland Browns football players took a knee in prayer and protest during the national anthem of their preseason game against the New York Giants. A handful of other players joined the protest by placing their hands on their shoulders.

Seth DeValve, who is married to an African-American woman, became one of the first white players to join the protests, which were begun last year by Colin Kaepernick to protest police brutality against African-Americans.

“I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me,” DeValve told reporters. “And I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.”

God forbid someone poison this sacred environment with something so repugnant as kneeling for two minutes during a singing performance paid for by the military industrial complex.

Once again, however, the backlash began almost immediately.

Andrew McCarthy, a writer for the National Review, went on Twitter to announce his oleaginous displeasure with the protesters, proclaiming that he is “the fan the NFL needs to keep. And I will have no problem not watching. Good luck.” He went on to say these protests interfere with NFL games as his “escape from politics” and that “if it not longer is,” he’ll stop watching.

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To which I say, good riddance, Andrew.

McCarthy’s stance isn’t uncommon; in fact, it was probably the most popular defense of people’s rage against Kapernick’s protests last season and their continued enmity toward him personally since. Politics, they all say, doesn’t belong in sports. We’re trying to have a good time and just watch the game.

Hmmm.

For the moment, I’m going to put aside the fact that McCarthy’s series of tweets sounded like a tantrum from a spoiled child, demanding that his parents get the hired help under control so that they can watch the gladiators kill themselves without distraction.

First, let’s address the fact that the NFL is, above all else, a huge corporation whose goal is to make profits. Hey, if the game entertains you, great, but at the end of the day we’re looking for fans to buy a $96 ticket, a couple of $10 beers or $7 sodas, a few $6 hotdogs and spend $75 to park their cars. That these prices exclude more than half of America from being able to attend an NFL game without going without food for two weeks isn’t really a concern for the NFL. Their fans, the ones that go to the games anyway, better bring cash and lots of it.

So, let’s get this notion out of our heads that somehow an NFL game is some sacred distraction given to us by the benign old white guy billionaires who own these obscene wealth creators known as “teams.” Oh, they want you to believe they are, that they’re just as purely athletic endeavors as your high school football squad. Because if you believe that, then you won’t mind when they insist that your taxes be raised to finance their multimillion dollar stadiums and stadium upgrades just to keep the team from relocating to Los Angeles…again.

If you can spend all that money and ignore the multitude of tedious “commercial breaks” and the ubiquitous corporate advertising blaring in flashing lights all throughout the stadiums, then, yeah, I guess that the game is a “distraction from politics.” What it isn’t is a “pure” athletic contest, and it most certainly isn’t a “distraction” from corporate rapaciousness.

God forbid someone poison this sacred environment with something so repugnant as kneeling for two minutes during a singing performance paid for by the military industrial complex.

No, Mr. McCarthy, we will not preserve this sacred space of white privilege by refusing to peacefully protest for two minutes of this bloated four-hour spectacle of violence. Nor will we fail to notice that every single player’s uniform has an American flag sewed onto it.

Because millionaire black men with a national audience of millions aren’t supposed to be political. In McCarthy’s eyes, and definitely in the eyes of the owners, they’ve been bought and paid for.

Let’s get back to that tantrum of McCarthy’s I mentioned earlier. McCarthy, a middle aged white man of some affluence, is saying that if the NFL (not the players protesting, mind you) doesn’t stop these men from protesting during their paid military tribute/corporate-funded display of patriotism (you know, that anthem and that flag that are more indicative of the health of a democracy than actual, umm, democracy), well, he’s going to take his ball and go home. So, NFL, Mr. McCarthy suggests, you best get them boys under control.

This says so much about McCarthy and about how all those revered “owners” (almost always referred to as “Mr. Jones, Mr. Rooney, Mr. Richardson, Mr. Kraft,” etc.) are perceived by fans like him. Sure, these players are millionaires, but boy do fans like McCarthy expect them to cower and quake when white men like him grow displeased with their uppity behavior. Why?

Because millionaire black men with a national audience of millions aren’t supposed to be political. In McCarthy’s eyes, and definitely in the eyes of the owners, they’ve been bought and paid for. It’s a vile metaphor, but it’s true. As repugnant NFL commentator and former mediocre quarterback Trent Dilfer said last year of Kaepernick, his job is to “be quiet and sit in the shadows and get the starter ready to play in Week 1.”

That Kaepernick, who threw 16 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions for a bad 49ers team last year, is still unsigned anywhere in the NFL is testament to the power of this belief among owners. They say it’s about how Kaepernick’s protests might affect their “brand,” but the truth is that the stands and the owners’ booths are filled with people like McCarthy who firmly believe that millions of dollars can buy a man’s soul and prevent him from speaking out about injustice.

Thankfully, NFL players – even a few white ones now – are demonstrating that it just isn’t so.

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