The uproar surrounding professional athletes not standing for the National Anthem is a perfectly connived sham. This charade attempts to divert attention from the two main issues that the protest represents. First, the reason for the protest, police brutality, especially the killing of unarmed black men and boys, has been lost in the uproar caused by certain whites. Second, and most important, what underlies this denouncement of the protest is the denial of the full rights of citizenship – which protects that right to protest -- to black men. This denunciation is against black athletes only because they are expressing their rights as men and citizens.
Today’s black professional athletes, though paid handsomely in the millions of dollars, play the same role of servant/entertainer as their enslaved forefathers. Blacks were brought to these shores to serve and to be subservient while serving. The entertainment of whites was one of the servant roles that blacks performed. They were required to entertain by singing, dancing the jig, boxing, and jockeying.
Enslaved African were used as competitive boxers; bouts were set with wagers to earn money for owners. During the early years of the 1800s, Tom Molineaux earned his freedom from enslavement by winning large sums of money for his owner. Bill Richard was an African American boxer born enslaved in Virginia, who earned the moniker “The Black Terror.”
Enslaved African Americans were the first jockeys and trainers in horse racing. Horse racing was entertainment for white planters. African American participation in the sport goes back to the colonial period. Both Presidents Washington and Jefferson were racing fans. When President Andrew Jackson moved into the White House in 1829, he brought his black jockeys. African Americans dominated the world of racing until the early 20th century ,when they were pushed out by whites.
When Black Athletes Demonstrate Principled Manhood
As long as black athletes are winning on the field or the court, they are no threat to white supremacy. When black athletes demonstrate that they are principled and passionate men who care about the equal treatment of their people, they are demonized and punished.
Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the anthem at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. For this non-violent protest, they paid a huge price. Gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos were suspended from the U.S. Olympic team, stripped of their medals, and subjected to death threats for years. The raising of the fists took precedence over their courageous and principled act demonstrating against the racial discrimination of black people in the United States. The reason for the fist-raising was lost in condemnation of the athletes; even after their winning medals for the United States in their servant/entertainer roles in the Olympics, they were denied the right to express their black manhood in protest of the conditions under which other blacks were forced to live.
When Muhammed Ali refused military induction to fight in Vietnam, he was vilified and accused of being unpatriotic. Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison (later appealed), fined $10 thousand and banned from boxing for three years. Muhammed Ali did not choose to be merely a servant/entertainer but a man who stood firm on his religious principles , like any other conscientious objector.
Young black athletes are learning early that they can win football games for their teams but that they cannot demonstrate their emerging manhood through protest. Cedric Ingram-Lewis and Larry McCullough’s protest against the inhumane treatment of blacks cost them their spots on a Texas high school football team.
Despite Fame and Fortune
What a critically thinking and politically conscious black athlete recognizes is that, despite his wealth, when he is not on the field or the court, he is just another black man who might fall victim to racial terrorism. The vilification of Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who joined in protest in 2016 and 2017, clearly demonstrates that winning and entertaining do not earn black men the rights of full American citizenship. Sixty-seven percent of NFL players are African American and 74 percent of NBA players. It is unfortunate that these men who play their hearts out to give pleasure to the American public are denied the basic and fundamental right to protest in the way that is most meaningful to them.
It is important to those who question the loyalty and patriotism of black men that these racially motivated individuals consider the demonstration of black manhood in any form is a threat. Those who rant about the protest being disrespectful of veterans could spend as much time memorializing the black veterans who put their lives at risk when they fought for freedom during WWII and returned home only to find that a black man in uniform was an anathema to the racial status quo. In a wave of anti-black violence after the end of WWII, 56 African American men, the majority of those murdered during that reign of terror against blacks, were returning veterans.
It appears that no matter how much they give, how much they play by the rules, how loyal and patriotic they are, how much they serve/entertain, black manhood inspires fear in the hearts and minds of many white Americans. Protest of any sort by black men immediately brings to mind the image of the Brute. How many generations will it take for black men to enjoy the humanity they aspire to and deserve? How many generations until black men are granted the rights of full American citizenship, including the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment?