The Seattle Seahawks display of unity was anything but. It was a weak and cowardly response to the very righteous and legitimate protest against racism by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and their own teammate Jeremy Lane. By using the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack as a prop, the Seahawks again sent a message that Black suffering is of little concern to this nation. It was an offensive use of the American flag against the backdrop of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, and the systemic racism that Kaepernick has called attention to.
Black Americans are habitually told our suffering is secondary to national unity, and our anger for the atrocities committed against us is misplaced and that the past is the past. A wholly fictitious narrative of this nation’s founding has perpetuated the lie of the American Revolution and made disappear from the pages of textbooks the elaborate infrastructure of white supremacy that disfranchised, murdered and economically decapitated generations of Blacks, destroyed Black families and made poverty an inheritance. Now, in the 21st century, when there is irrefutable evidence of incidents of police violence against Blacks, the response is not one of unified outrage but deliberately distractive efforts to deny and distort the truth.
The fact that Black members of the Seahawks have taken offense to Kaepernick’s protest does not change the truth behind his refusing to stand for the National Anthem. While they have a right to disagree with their professional colleague, their behavior in no way changes the set of facts that led to Kaepernick taking his stand. No amount of arm locking, flag waving or military jets flying overhead erases a history of state sanctioned violence against Blacks in the United States. If nothing else, their display shows that consciousness is a rare commodity and that some of us are inclined to play the role of loyalist in exchange for a place at the table rather than making it clear that we made the table, and demand nothing less than a full serving of the bounty.
I was pleased to see some athletes, at the professional, college and high school levels, join Kaepernick in protest. It was particularly important that those protests continued on the Sunday when the nation remembered the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As horrific as that day was, there is historical evidence of even greater atrocities inflicted upon Blacks by American citizens – lynchings, the destruction of whole towns, murders and police violence – and predated by the brutal enslavement of Africans. The date 9/11 has taken on an aura of unmatched suffering that even belies the homegrown terrorism of the Oklahoma City federal building, let alone the bloody lynchings and murders of the Jim Crow south.
Whatever the intent of the Seattle Seahawks, it comes across to me as a feeble attempt to diminish the power of Kaepernick’s protest. It was a milquetoast “All Lives Matter” reflex that serves no purpose except to ingratiate team members with ownership and league management. Is this team suggesting that patriotism trumps justice, trumps truth? What does this team have to say to Blacks in Seattle who have had their rights violated, are trapped in poverty or have had family members dispensed to correctional institutions due to the lack of competent defense counsel, tainted evidence or trumped up charges?
The Seahawks, in particular the Black members of the team, betrayed the heroic spirit of Jackie Robinson, Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Curt Flood and Muhammad Ali. They chose to identify with patriotism rather than act as patriots. The setting of the day does not override history and does not vacate the 400-year record of Blacks seeking justice in America. A singular day of tragedy, even as horrific as 9/11, should not be used to throw shade at a legitimate expression of outrage over racial injustice in America. We cannot continue to play this charade and act as if all the atrocities of the past and present affecting Blacks are some footnote to history. It is America history and continues in present day.
What the Seattle Seahawks did was certainly within their constitutional rights, as is the protest of those who choose to sit or kneel during the playing of the National Anthem but the former Super Bowl champions missed the extra point on justice wide right.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.