The Ravens players and staff must be perplexed at fans still booing them. Not only because they’re losing — which they did again on Sunday — but because they’ve tried to compromise in their protests, kneeling before the national anthem and then standing for it. Yet fans are still angry. There seems to be no way to win, beyond going back to the way things were before Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee.
That’s the real issue with the booing fans here; they’re angry that things haven’t gone back to the way they used to be. That the players haven’t shut up and fallen in line. That an illusion has been shattered. There can’t be any compromise with the protests because the only acceptable solution for those who are angry about them is for all of this to be forgotten. It’s not the form of protest that’s antagonizing; it’s that Kaepernick dared to point out a deep flaw in the country.
Kaepernick’s protest wasn’t inherently a political stance on its own; it was a moral one. He couldn’t stand and perform a certain gesture while people were being mistreated in the country. He was compelled to help those abused people as much as he could. Kaepernick noticed that something was very wrong and refused to act like that he couldn’t see it. He was doing it for his own conscience; it just gained a national audience after the media asked him about it.
It became a political issue because of the environment around it. Because the society that we live in doesn’t like a thing like police brutality being pointed out, let alone actually addressed. It treats any attempt to discuss or combat the problem like a virus, converging on it from all sides in an attempt to wipe it out. The reactions to the protest weren’t to fix police brutality, they were to quiet the conversation. Each component of the system then does what’s within its capability in order to quell the threat. All in the service of returning things to the way they were before.
So with individuals, you get people that purposely distort the point of the original protest and pretend that Kaepernick was disrespecting the military or the country itself. Others pretend to be mad about the intersection of sports and politics, though they have no complaints about the national anthem playing, the flag covering up the field or fighter jets flying over before a game. You get some who dog-whistle about black-on-black crime. Some cry out that athletes who bring up social injustices are spoiled and ungrateful. Those who don’t even care for the pretense of intelligent conversation just boo in response.
After the individuals, you get media entities who write and talk about the protests without actually saying what the protests are about. A stand against police brutality becomes an “anthem protest.” It becomes a stand against Donald Trump. The discussion shifts from “police shouldn’t kill harmless black people and get away with it” to a lot of talking about nothing on the division within the country. Some magazines even create a cover about the issue that purposely doesn’t have Kaepernick on it … but has Roger Goodell front and center.
Then of course you have the league that pushes Kaepernick out and keeps him away. Calls him a distraction. Says that the true problem is that he doesn’t fit any offensive schemes. That he’s not a starter in the league, and when that fails, that he’s not a capable backup. That he wants too much money. That he hasn’t shown that he really wants to play football. And when the virus doesn’t go away, and Kaepernick’s sentiment attracts other players to protest — which brings on an attack by Trump — the league uses the opportunity to try its best to shift the focus away from police brutality and towards a muddled message of “unity.”
The point is that all of those arguments and efforts are not to honestly engage the issue of police brutality, but to make sure that nothing changes. To distort the conversation so much that the point of them is forgotten. It’s to preserve the lie that all is perfect and as it should be.
Kaepernick was confronted with a moral problem on whether it was right or wrong that black people are disproportionately profiled, abused and killed by police officers who then escape punishment, and decided that, to him, it was wrong. He then acted from that stance as he thought appropriate. That’s all there was to it. The opposite reaction has been to make sure that not only is the issue not confronted, but that the awareness of it goes away completely. Even if it means booing those who are trying to distract from it as well.