NFL Player Protests Are Not Unpatriotic

Reggie Fullwood
Reggie Fullwood
Reggie Fullwood

by Reggie Fullwood

Here is the reality of the NFL player protest from last weekend – regardless of what I write or say it is extremely hard to persuade either side from their position.

Almost every NFL team decided to show “unity” during the national anthem last weekend. Some teams locked arms while players stood and some players decided to kneel.

There were boos at each stadium from those who opposed the demonstrations.

Most already know that this all started last year when Colin Kaepernick – formerly with the San Francisco 49ers, started taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of the inequalities and police brutality that minorities have faced in the country.

Then over the weekend, President Trump spoke at a rally in Alabama and proclaimed that NFL team owners should fire players for taking a knee during the national anthem. He actually said that owners should “Fire the sons of Bs.” Yes, a sitting U.S. President actually used that type of language in public – unbelievable.

He then added that if fans would “leave the stadium” when players kneel in protest during the national anthem, “I guarantee, things will stop.”

Player after player has said that the protest has nothing to do with disrespect and more to do with President Trump’s comments and making a statement about racial inequalities and police brutality.

So why the boos in stadiums and disdain for those that have decided to exercise their constitutional right to kneel during the national anthem? Many feel that when you kneel or don’t properly acknowledge the U.S. flag you are disrespecting the military and everything that our soldiers fight for.

Some have even said that those who “disrespect” the flag should simply leave the country. Others feel that while there are inequalities that exist, protesting during the national anthem or the American flag is an inappropriate way to express yourself.

What I find interesting about some of these views is the fact that so many people are appalled by the peaceful protest of black NFL players, but not so bothered by Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists marching through the streets of Charlottesville with their message of separation, hate and violence.

Just a reminder – someone actually died from the White Supremacist protests in Charlottesville.

I spoke with a really good friend of mine on Monday about this issue. He was extremely upset about the protests and decided not to watch the Jaguar game because he was so bothered. Let me give some background and clarify a couple of things. This friend is a white male, and is certainly not a racist or bigot.

In fact, he is an exceptional man who gives back to this community with his money and time on a regular basis. He also has an incredible spiritual foundation, and has helped me through the toughest period of my life. So again, he is one of the finest people I know and certainly does not lack morals – just the opposite.

But talking to my friend made me realize that the fundamental problem with this debate is perspective. For blacks and other minorities our experiences as Americans are so different from many whites.

As a black father, I am constantly concerned about my son and his interactions with police officers. From Emmitt Teal to Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, African Americans have seen time and time again unarmed black kids murdered by people of authority and often times not convicted in a U.S. justice system full of inequality. Some will say just teach your kid not to commit a crime – only if it was that simple.
And I certainly do not have time to talk about the discrimination that still exists in housing, college admissions and corporate America.
But after Donald Trump made his comments, many people who would have never kneeled before were empowered to take a stand. Let me be frank. Trump’s comments had tones of a plantation owner’s mindset. NFL owners should better control their players or their property.

The President criticized owners and the NFL as a whole. Those who turned off their TVs, walked out of stadiums or continue to be upset about the demonstrations certainly have that right. And I understand how some would feel that these demonstrations are disrespectful.
Lost in the debate of what is or is not patriotic is the fact that inequalities and racism still exist in America and these protests began in response to those conditions.

Race relations in America continue to be a major problem for some and an ignorable issue for others. Studies have shown that the vast majority of blacks in America feel that race relations is still a major issue while the majority of white Americans disagree.
Here is a fact that some might find interesting. A Gallup poll taken in 1964, after the 1963 March on Washington, found that 74 percent of Americans believed that “mass demonstrations by Negroes” would “hurt the Negro’s cause for racial equality.”
A 1966 Harris poll of white Americans found that 85 percent believed “demonstrations by Negroes on civil rights” hurt “the advancement of Negro rights.”

So history tells us that friction, conflict and civil disobedience are often times necessary for progress.
There is a reason why black folks have a conflicting relationship with America. We love the country and the opportunities that it has provided, but we resent the struggles to simply reach equality – just to reach equilibrium.
Honestly, I think that it is time for players to move pass the national anthem protest and look for real solutions. But and there is always a but, every American citizen has the right to peacefully protest and for those players that decide to continue to demonstrate they have that right and shouldn’t be prosecuted for it.

Unfortunately, the NFL protests have become a political tool for people like Donald Trump and others to fire up his base. LeBron James said, “The thing that frustrated me and pissed me off is the fact that he used a sports platform to try and divide us.”
While I know that I can’t convince my friend to change his mind and it is really not my goal, but I hope to give him some prospective on the frustrations, fears and ambivalent feelings that many blacks and other minorities face.

Burning flags and crosses and promoting violence against others is unpatriotic and wrong. Taking a knee while the national anthem is being played is a peaceful protest and appeal for the nation to live up to its promise of freedom and equality for all.

Signing off from Jacksonville, FL.,
Reggie Fullwood

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