Lockhart's solution to NFL's anthem issue worse than Brees' tone-deaf statements
Drew Brees’ tone deaf statement explaining why he still opposes NFL players taking a knee to express the need for social justice and significant change in American policing in minority communities has raised the temperature of proponents of the movement Colin Kaepernick started by taking a knee during the national anthem. But as bad as Brees’ comments were, those of former NFL and White House spokesman Joe Lockhart were far more revealing of the underlying reason why nothing has changed since Kaepernick lost his livelihood four years ago for the simple act of weary protest in a country literally built by protest.
In a column Lockhart penned for CNN.com, he claimed Kaepernick was blackballed not because the NFL wanted to punish him but because “signing Kaepernick, (owners) thought, was bad for business.’’ He claimed the league office repeatedly urged owners to sign him, but “an executive from one team that considered signing Kaepernick told me the team projected losing 20 percent of their season ticket holders if they did.”
The reasoning behind blackballing Kaepernick is bad but hardly a news bulletin. Why else did you think the former Super Bowl quarterback of the 49ers couldn’t find a job while proven NFL failures at quarterback could? His Oscar Gamble afro?
The real problem, though, is Lockhart’s suggestion that the Minnesota Vikings now run out and sign Kaepernick to back up Kirk Cousins. The very thought that this would be some form of ‘doing the right thing,’ even if belatedly, is the kind of Pontius Pilate-like hand-washing reaction to riots in the street that allowed the problems of inequality in American justice to fester until a man once again had the life choked out of him in the custody of a Minneapolis policeman for allegedly trying to pass a phony $20 bill.
Lockhart now claims he felt the NFL was doing the “righteous’’ thing by throwing millions of dollars at the problem of social justice in America while choking the work life out of Kaepernick but now sees he was wrong.
It took a televised alleged murder and a week of rioting to understand that? That seems the very definition of systemic racism because you don’t even realize the effect of what you’re doing.
What Brees had to say about being unwilling to “disrespect the flag’’ by kneeling in protest because his grandfathers both fought to preserve what it stands for during World War II completely missed the point of Kaepernick’s act. It doesn’t make him a racist by any stretch. It just makes him blind to what’s really going on here.
But Lockhart’s position cuts to the real problem itself.
Window dressing and a phony job offer are not going to change the fact that many NFL owners, like Dallas’ Jerry Jones, threatened their players with being fired if they continued to exercise one of the elemental rights the flag represents: The right to peacefully voice your displeasure with how things have been going for the past, say, 400 years and counting. A second phony act doesn’t negate the first.
Worse, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement of the league’s opposition to such protests during the anthem and threatened disciplinary action if they continued. No personnel was to take a knee during the anthem going forward. And so most did not. But the real problem didn’t go away. It festered until its societal virus rose up again in Minneapolis and poisoned our society and, to a lesser degree, the NFL.
Basically, the majority of league management adopted a point of view that taking a knee to protest a wrong made again obvious by the recent death of George Floyd was a workplace issue, not a civil-rights issue. For all intents and purposes, it was a business problem to them, not a social one, and it had to be quelled. But such things are not quelled so easily by forcing angry and frustrated people of color to stand or lose their jobs.
Four years after Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in silent protest, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin took one, too, and America exploded. He took a knee and pinned it to the throat of George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds, literally choking the life out of him as phone cameras captured it on video. As he did, three other officers stood by and watched.
On Wednesday those three were finally arrested as accessories to murder. Those arrests came far too late and will not be easy to prosecute despite video evidence of Chauvin’s vile act of choking a man to death while casually keeping one hand in his pocket as if he was watering the lawn.
Chauvin’s face is the face of evil but so, too, is the idea that the NFL’s complicity in all this can be expunged by the team that represents Minnesota hiring a quarterback it never wanted simply because his silent protest made some folks uncomfortable. Chauvin’s heinous act was a symptom of a far deeper systemic problem in American society. Lockhart’s suggestion that the NFL blackballed Kaepernick because his action was bad for business and should now hire him to change that perception gets more to the root problem.
As for Brees, his statement opposing those who take a knee because he perceives it as disrespectful to the flag misses the entire point. Kaepernick’s message was co-opted by President Trump almost immediately after it began. Trump twisted taking a knee into a show of disrespect for the military and the country when it was neither.
Taking a knee didn’t have a damn thing to do with what the flag symbolizes. In fact, it WAS what the flag symbolizes. Or at least what it should symbolize. It’s the very reason Brees’ grandfathers fought. They weren’t fighting to defend a piece of cloth. They were fighting to defend an ideal.
That Brees remains blind to that speaks to a lack of understanding on his part. Many others still feel the same way. It is a false equivalent that Brees is now being vilified for ... and understandably will have to deal with among his peers of color. Good luck with that. Brees seems to be a good man who made an ill-informed statement. If that’s all it takes to be branded a racist then we better all get ready to face the same change.
The real culprit here is the suggestion by Joe Lockhart that the league justified blackballing Colin Kaepernick because of a fear he was bad for business and now should sign him because it would be good for business. Could there be a more cynical approach to what we’ve seen and heard from the day Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in silent protest until Officer Derek Chauvin took one across the neck of poor George Floyd?
This is no time for false equivalencies like Brees was making, but, more importantly, no time for empty gestures designed to save face. It is time to take a knee … and then stand for something more than just the anthem.