When Colin Kaepernick began to protest during the national anthem at NFL games last year, he made his intent very clear. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media.
“To me, this is bigger than football,” he explained, “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.”
Kaepernick made the brave decision to do this mostly alone — and of course faced the backlash and took the heat on his own. That was until President Trump decided to attack black sports players who raised awareness about racial injustice.
At a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump called out NFL players that chose to take a knee or sit during the anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that (bleep) off the field right now’?” Trump asked.
The following Sunday, a far greater number of NFL players stood up for those who protest inequity during the national anthem — and were joined, surprisingly, by many of the team owners Trump called out to.
While this was a good show of solidarity, it led some to wonder whether the NFL actually cares about black lives, or whether team owners were just looking to distance themselves from Trump’s problematic and divisive comments.
African-American males are only 6 percent of the United States population, but comprise nearly 70 percent of NFL players. It’s no wonder that issues around race are making their way into the NFL spotlight.
Black issues have never been a concern for NFL officials when it came to causes worthy of their monetary support. Instead, many NFL officials have donated millions to causes that were openly hostile to the Black Lives Matter movement — such as the Trump campaign.
CNN Money reports that “at least $7.75 million of the $106 million raised for Trump’s inaugural committee came from NFL owners and the league.” Several owners, many of whom supported Trump — and seven of whom had donated at least $1 million to him — released statements denouncing Trump’s comments.
Yet none have used their economic power to actually address the problem that brought the protest on in the first place.
Now would be a fine time to take the next step. While there are a number of ways the league can contribute to this movement, there’s one obvious way: supporting the Colin Kaepernick Foundation.
After Kaepernick began to raise awareness on the field, he put his money where his mouth is and created a foundation aimed at fighting oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism. Through this foundation, he made a pledge to “donate one million dollars plus all the proceeds of my jersey sales from the 2016 season to organizations working in oppressed communities.”
Imagine what could really transpire if NFL officials decided to make this same commitment.
We need to hold the NFL accountable, just as we do for other powerful American organizations. Taking a knee, banding arms, and releasing statements of support is easy compared to what the league can actually do to help fight racial injustice.
It’s time for the NFL to stand up for black lives and the rights of all Americans.
Jessicah Pierre is the inequality media specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.