When the 2020 NFL season begins, a lot of players are going to be kneeling during the anthem, likely at an unprecedented level. The protests against police brutality that have swept the nation have evolved into the full-on beginnings of a long-overdue sociopolitical revolution. Football players aren’t going to just let the opportunity to be a part of that pass them by.
We’re going to continue to see statements and protests and action from players across every team in the league — from not only those we expect, but those who will be among the last we would assume to have woken up to the reality burning just outside their bubbles. That’s the power of a generation of athletes speaking up together instead of silently watching from the sidelines.
This all, of course, will not and already is not sitting well with certain swaths of football fans. These are the fans across social media who beg and plead athletes to “stick to sports” and bemoan the loss of their “distraction” from politics whenever a sports figure says or does something that strays even a fraction of a hair to the left of complete cult-like fetishization of hollow patriotic symbolism.
Sorry, kiddos. The sport is not yours. You’re just a spectator. Sports have always been and always will be political, no matter how much you want to reframe politics as some box with defined lines you can freely step in and out of. In reality, everything is politics. Including silence.
Power and status informs and influences legitimately every facet of our lives. People like to think of politics exclusively as capital-P Politics. But the further you pull back from the rigid structures and affectations of governance, the nebulous blob of (not-so-capital-P) politics seeps into everything we say and do. We don’t each live in our own vacuums.
But this is a Chiefs site, so let's focus there. Patrick Mahomes and Tyrann Mathieu have already been front-and-center among NFL players taking action, from the superstar-filled Black Lives Matter video to sparking the Chiefs to start a voter registration initiative. Both with the full public support of Andy Reid.
Initial responses to both of these have been mostly positive among Chiefs fans. Mathieu is a top-tier safety and a fan favorite. Mahomes is the single best player in the entire league. Andy Reid is now perhaps the most revered coach in the franchise’s history. It’s much more difficult for fans to reject the three of them, fresh off a Super Bowl victory, than it was for them to turn on Marcus Peters (or, nationally, Colin Kaepernick) three years ago.
Once again, this is the impact of power and status in action. While Peters was a fan favorite, he did not have the power among Chiefs fans that Mahomes and Mathieu do. So once Peters began kneeling during the anthem, it was pretty much over for him in KC. A single player is easy to ostracize. It’s not so easy when it’s two of the team’s unquestioned on-field leaders being backed up by their beloved head coach. It becomes completely disarming for those who would be rooted in the (at best willfully ignorant, at worst blatantly bigoted) ideologies opposed to their movement.
Professional sports teams are important cultural icons in their communities. They have some small power to unite and heal. They play out tribalistic rivalries that amount to athletic soap opera, with no writers and no set ending. That sort of loyalty to a team allows for a healthy expression of pride. Team colors painted across fans' faces can be taken off when they leave the stadium.
To expect athletes to keep their mouths shut about anything going on outside of the walls of their arena is obviously ridiculous. If you want and expect them to unite their community, it's hypocrisy to then attempt to preclude them from bringing attention to failures within the structures of their communities.
Which brings us to the 2020 season. Odds are fairly good that there will be public displays in support of Black Lives Matter made by Chiefs players throughout the year. There will inevitably be those who will start filling Twitter and Facebook and local radio with grandiose statements of boycott, fantasizing about taking the NFL down by removing their butts from seats.
If you are among those Chiefs fans who would “boycott” and you’ve somehow made it this far without closing the window, please go through with it. The odds you’d bail on the Chiefs as they head towards a dynasty are slim to none, but I know you can beat those odds. Abandon the sport you love so you can watch the seat you left behind quickly filled by someone else’s butt. A little dose of the realization of your cosmic unimportance can only do you some good.
Athletes using the power of their status to attempt to sway the social and political viewpoints of their fans is nothing new. But if you really want a distraction, sit silently alone in a corner and pick up knitting. You can make yourself some cute earmuffs and a blindfold so you can stay comfy and willingly unaware in your fake little apolitical world.