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  • In light of neo-Nazis and confederates assembling in Charlottesville, and the decisions of Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett sitting during the national anthem before their preseason games, revisiting why athletes are protesting
By Robert Klemko
August 14, 2017

If you have more outrage in your heart over Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bennett and Colin Kaepernick protesting the national anthem than you do the occasion of American neo-Nazis and confederates assembling in an American city—and the President failing to explicitly condemn those groups—you should stop reading. These words are not for you.

These words are for the middle, the people on the fence. They're for the people Michael Bennett refers to when he says, “I’m challenging you . . . to be uncomfortable. Everybody’s in their comfort zone right now. Become uncomfortable, and go out and see what it’s like in society right now.”

But you’re not just uncomfortable. You’re annoyed. You’re mad, even. You’ve stood for the anthem at every sporting event you’ve ever attended, as I have, and on occasion you’ve been moved to tears by it, as I have. Big, juicy, Knowshon Moreno tears, because we live in the best country in the world, damn it. And you don’t understand why someone would draw attention to themselves or their causes during such a sanctified tradition. You have questions. I have answers.

Doesn’t protesting the anthem disrespect our troops who have fought and died for the flag?

Despite what emotions you may have personally attached to it, the flag does not represent fallen soldiers, or police officers, or your great granddad who fought in the Pacific theater (though I thank him for his service). The flag very literally represents 50 states and 13 colonies, each founded on the principle that all men are created equal—principles this nation has dutifully betrayed in every year of its existence, culminating recently in the political ascension of a man whose rise to prominence is owed to the false assertion that the first African-American president of the United States was not born in the United States.

But sports are supposed to be a relaxing escape, not a political exercise.

Sorry, but these men are not your proxies, your idols, your memes or your childhood fantasies fulfilled. They do not exist solely for your entertainment. Go get an Xbox if you want to play with animated man-toys on Sundays. NFL players are men, and U.S. citizens. They come from every locale in the United States and they have seen more of this country and met more people from a diversity of backgrounds than most of us ever will. And some of them have decided they cannot stand for the celebration of ideals stated, lionized, monumented, and left unfulfilled.

But America made Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett millionaires. What exactly are they protesting?

Supremacy is a vehicle for disenfranchisement, no matter your income. It exists without alternative because it is composed of aggressions large and small, of indignities sweeping and minuscule. It’s why black children are born, live and die in poverty at disproportionate rates. And it’s why police forces are overwhelmingly white, and why the people they pull over, stop and frisk and castigate without cause are overwhelmingly black. From these routine insults, there is no reprieve, no exemption because you are wealthy. (Moreover, if your political ideology and your ability to empathize are dependent solely on your station in life, I pity you.)

But what about black-on-black violence? African-Americans kill each other at higher rates than police kill African-Americans.

This is true. It’s also true that from the end of the Civil War to the middle of the 20th century, African-Americans were driven from their homes by hostile forces in former slave states and forced through housing discrimination practices to concentrate in the urban centers of Oakland and Chicago and New York and Baltimore and dozens of other American cities. This created an American brand of cyclical poverty and the violence that comes with it, bolstered by failing schools, inadequate infrastructure, job scarcity and disenfranchisement with law enforcement entities intrinsically suspicious of blacks and inclined to investigate and incarcerate them at higher rates than their white counterparts. The problems of violence among African-Americans and violence against African-Americans are not two separate issues. They are interwoven, stitched into the fabric of post-Civil War reconstruction, the consequences of which Bennett and Lynch and those of us who applaud their actions are tired of ignoring.

Well I’m still done with the NFL.

K bye.

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