Michael Bennett has issued a call for both black and white players to join him in protesting racial injustice by kneeling during pregame national anthems. He correctly posits that a protest bridging color lines would change the conversation. A white player willingly opening himself up for criticism would make the issue harder to ignore and advance it to the doorsteps of those who have already shut the door of consideration. From there it could grow and knock before rattling the door frame.
The deadly attack in Charlottesville last weekend, combined with the controversial responses from the president, has moved tensions closer to a boiling point than they were a few short days ago. This rising crescendo coincided with the one-year anniversary of Colin Kaepernick first kneeling. A careful consideration of what’s changed — and what hasn’t — since that first act of defiance suggests the protests will continue and perhaps intensify this season.
Racial issues are more at the forefront of white America’s mind today than they were one year ago. Kaepernick’s protests have raised awareness even without acceptance. Fierce debate over statues honoring the Confederacy is currently burning. While society is perhaps further from harmony, it’s my belief it’s more likely than not that Bennett’s wishes are fulfilled and a white NFL player kneels in solidarity.
I’m under no illusion that there are scores of players champing at the bit to take this risk. But surely there are some mulling the idea, weighing the cost-benefit analysis or, at the very least, are open to being talked into it.
And it only takes one. Ask yourselves this: of the hundreds of white NFL players that will take to the gridiron this fall, will just one of them muster up the courage?
Even the most cynical person must admit it would take courage for a white player to kneel. We’ve seen what has happened to Kaepernick, both vocationally and in the court of public opinion. But there are two serious factors to consider that could motivate a player to make that leap.
First, there are many who are supportive of the cause. They believe it’s worth standing up for equality, regardless of race. History teaches us that the fight for civil rights has always had its allies from a broad spectrum.
Secondly, history also teaches us that those willing to stand in solidarity are often seen favorably. First Take’s Max Kellerman correctly pointed out that the role of Pee Wee Reese is waiting to be played in the NFL. Reese, who famously placed his arm around Jackie Robinson in front of a hostile crowd, has been celebrated for that act.
The choice to kneel or stand during the national anthem is a personal choice for players of all races. They will act on their own conscience. Taking values completely out of the equation but still looking into the crystal ball, I’m betting on one conscience to compel an action that will change the conversation as Bennett wishes.