Last night before the start of Monday Night Football, the entire Dallas Cowboys team, led by team owner and Trump donor Jerry Jones, took a knee and then quickly rose before the National Anthem.
Afterwards, Jones said:
Our players wanted to make a statement about unity and we wanted to make a statement about equality. They were very much aware that statement, when made or when attempted to be made in and a part of the recognition of our flag, cannot only lead to criticism but also controversy. It was real easy for everybody in our organization to see that the message of unity, the message of equality was getting, if you will, pushed aside or diminished by the controversy. We even had the circumstances that it was being made into a controversy.
This incomprehensible word salad aside, there is something valuable, something we should not casually dismiss, about a how of “unity” from people in the NFL in the face of Donald Trump’s grotesque bullying and transparent racism. But Jones’s Hallmark-card blather as well as the NFL’s incoherent “unity” commercial that aired during the Sunday-night game are a stark reminder that these league-backed protests had nothing to do with the original intent of anthem protests.
People like Jerry Jones and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and all the owners, linking arms with their players, are as complicit in obscuring the actual meaning of taking a knee as Donald Trump himself. It’s a case of competing narcissisms. We absolutely cannot allow this debate to become one of “unity” vs. “the flag” or a liberal brand of bumper-sticker patriotism (“Protest Is Patriotic”) vs. the Trumpian brand (“Stand or Die!”).
In contrast to these vulgar Caligulas, we have the proud silence of Colin Kaepernick: the person who first took that knee, whose continual unemployment stands as a stark reminder of the kinds of ideas too dangerous for the NFL to touch—ideas that Trump is too racist to engage in.
One is reminded of the chant that always rises during Pride marches, “Stonewall was a riot.” This celebratory, now-corporatized parade started with LGBTQ people, led by trans women, standing up to police violence. The roots of “taking a knee” are, of course, quite similar. While Kaepernick is silent, his teammate on last year’s 49ers, Eric Reid, wrote a tremendous op-ed for The New York Times about why he chose to take that knee with his quarterback. The opening paragraph cuts through all the obfuscation and cooptation we’ve seen and makes it devastatingly plain: