There is a cottage industry of political journalists whose take on the state of Trump-America is simply, “Don’t talk about racism or it will anger ‘Middle America’ and lead to Donald Trump’s reelection.” This political take has long had a safe haven in centrist politics. Their answer to why Nixon, then Reagan, then the Bushes, and now Trump were elected boils down to movement activists’ wanting too much, too soon. Activists are responsible for scaring the American “middle” into the arms of reactionaries. These journalists never diagnose their defeats as a result of their own politics’ failure to offer a compelling agenda. Instead, we get scapegoating to muzzle and control people who dare to offer a compelling message of change outside the control of smoky back rooms.
This toxic analysis is now being used to attack NFL players—people whom no one a year ago would have confused with “movement activists”—for protesting during the anthem.
In USA Today, an editorial writer named Robert Robb has already staked out the ground, as if racing to secure a patent on the position that if this president wins reelection in 2020, you can blame these NFL players. Forget that by 2020 Trump might be impeached, in prison, or in a large hollowed-out volcano holding the world ransom with a giant laser. Instead, three years in advance of the election, Robb wants to plant the idea that it will be the players’ fault.
To understand the mendacity required to make this argument, read this one tortuous sentence: “You don’t have to be a racist to find galling the spectacle of pampered athletics, making millions of dollars playing a game, hosted in taxpayer-subsidized stadiums, benefiting from an antitrust exemption, ostentatiously exempting themselves from the traditional display of fidelity to our country.”
Let’s start with the strawman bullshit. Find me one NFL player who has called those who disagree with the protests “racist.” What they have said time and again is that they want this country to confront structural racism in the criminal-justice system and policing. They are protesting during the anthem to speak about the gap between what the flag means and what it represents. We have certainly seen some of these players call online trolls racists. Is that OK? Should they get written approval from Robb before they come back on people who call them “n——-“? Or would that just shove “Middle America” into Trump’s arms?
Then there is this idea that they are ”pampered”—a little class bait to justify the racial animus. There is nothing “pampered” about what they are doing. These players are using their platform to raise the profile of a critical issue that has long been ignored. Far from being selfish or “pampered,” they are sacrificing anonymity, endorsements, and personal peace to be a voice for those whose voices are often marginalized or altogether silenced. They also have been subjected to racist hate speech and death threats. Robb also ignores that, while these men are professional athletes, many of them are also black men who have dealt with police violence or racial profiling in their own lives.