According to an article published by ESPN on Friday, meetings between NFL executives, owners and player representatives were going well. The two-day meetings which began on Oct. 17 aimed to find a solution to issues surrounding national anthem protests. However, things took a sharp turn for the worse when Houston Texans’ owner Bob McNair used a racially insensitive analogy. “We can’t have the inmate running the prison,” McNair said.
Although McNair issued a public apology, and extended personal apologies to NFL Player Representatives that attended the meeting, his actions shine a light on a larger issue; an issue surrounding personal rights and the freedom of expression. It also shows spectators that the disconnect between players and executives could be larger than imagined.
Making racially insensitive comments at meetings surrounding social equality shows that McNair doesn’t understand the gravity of the issue, and he isn’t alone in that category.
Many fans feel players need to be standing for the two-minute song, but I doubt they understand the importance of this issue either.
For some the issues of racial inequality and police brutality hit extremely close to home. Anquan Boldin, a retired 14-season NFL wide receiver and Superbowl champion, was one those present at the recent meetings. Boldin has been one of the most outspoken players regarding police brutality and social justice. Only two weeks after signing a contract with the Buffalo Bills this season, he announced his plans to retire and focus on social justice reform.
In the NFL meetings Boldin explained his experience with social injustice. His cousin, Corey Jones, was shot and killed by a Florida police officer in October 2015. Over two years later, the officer has yet to go to trial.
Boldin recently wrote an article for TIME outlining his choice to pursue social justice and activism instead of football. He explained that the anthem protests reflect “player frustration with legislative inaction.” For Boldin the choice to kneel is personal and, without a doubt, warranted.
According to the ESPN article, defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Gerald McCoy stressed the importance of respecting constitutional freedoms.
“I think it’s gonna be an uproar if that is to happen, because you’re basically taking away a constitutional right to freedom of speech,” McCoy said.
In 1969 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that non-disruptive, passive, symbolic speech is protected by the First Amendment and can’t be censored simply because it makes other people uncomfortable. By limiting player’s expression and their symbolic speech the NFL would be infringing on their constitutional rights.
As a direct result of McNair’s comments, over 30 players on his own team kneeled during the anthem on Sunday. And if fans of the NFL didn’t have reason enough to protest their Sunday tradition before, they sure do now. The comments made by McNair prompted some fans to avoid watching any Sunday games.
For NFL players this isn’t a protest of the national anthem, but of racial inequality in America. A fact that was made clear by players who were present in the meetings. If NFL owners want to deny the existence of inequality in American society, they can guarantee less viewers next Sunday too.