By Brando Simeo Starkey July 31, 2018
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott told reporters during a July 27 training camp news conference that he opposed protesting racial injustice during the national anthem. He staked out this territory after Stephen Jones, the team’s executive vice president and the son of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, said players must stand “if they want to be a Dallas Cowboy.”
After Prescott delivered his remarks, some who support the protest movement excoriated him as a sellout.
This criticism reeks of unfairness.
For one, assailing another black person based on how a racist might use that person’s words has long struck me as slimy. Racial treachery does exist, but we find it by examining the words of the supposed turncoat on their own merit. If racism is a fundamentally immoral practice, then why wield the words of immorality to put another person down?
Although I disagree with Prescott, he simply voiced the opinion that many black football players likely have. At the news conference, Prescott gave a few reasons for not protesting, including the notion that the field was the wrong place for political agitation: “For me, I believe in doing something, action. It’s not about taking a knee. It’s not necessarily about standing. We can find a different place to make our country better.”
Prescott, in other words, believes these sorts of actions are best reserved for outside of the football stadium. Just a slim minority of players protested racial injustice during the anthem. Many of those who didn’t likely agree with Prescott, and that’s why they opted against participating. And that’s not treasonous. That’s a difference of opinion.
Using the feelings of bigots to tear down another black person must be shunned by well-meaning black folk.
Prescott also hinged his personal opposition to the protests on his belief that protesting “takes away from the joy and the love that football brings a lot of people.” This idea, that the NFL protests should be discouraged because the league provides a happy distraction from society’s ills, has been repeated by many detractors of the kneeling players. This criticism, however, fails to grapple with an obvious question: Who needs the distraction more than black people?
The notion that NFL football provides a unique sporting event that sends joy across the land like few other cultural practices rings true. Americans bask in the bliss of football Sundays, a time when people crowd into stadiums, sports bars and living rooms across the country to share jubilation in victory or sadness in defeat. Those 17 weeks in the fall and winter assume a profound part of our culture that identifies us as a people. Football offers us a respite from the world’s issues. Sporting events have long served this purpose in human history, since gladiator battles in the Colosseum. They certainly did so in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, most memorably.
But if the NFL holds such a place in American culture, the place of happy distraction, we must ask ourselves the key question: Who needs this distraction more?
Colin Kaepernick ignited the protest movement in the wake of police shootings of black men and part of a culture that would rather avert its eyes from injustice than stare it down and fix it. Racism remains a social scourge, and Kaepernick, who dreamed about playing football since childhood, decided the joy he got from inside the stadium should be sacrificed to heal the pain outside of it. Other football players agreed, as dozens either kneeled during the anthem, raised their fists in solidarity with the struggle, or otherwise demonstrated that they too agreed with his mission.
Many black fans supported Kaepernick’s movement, even though football provided a major distraction from the racism pervading our culture. If racism is America’s most long-lasting problem, the victims of that are in most need of the distraction. Nearly 75 percent of black people support the protests; that shows that whatever is to be gained by football being a distraction is worth sacrificing to spur a conversation about how to rid society of white supremacy.
Prescott isn’t a sellout, but he does lack the imagination to use sports as a tool for cultural reformation. But by saying that he prefers to do his work outside of the field of play, he is putting the onus on himself to show that through deeds. He hasn’t done that yet, but the 25-year-old has time.
Otherwise, people will rightly conclude that he’s toeing the Jones family company line and trying to secure the big bag of money that might soon come his way.