Friday, May 25, 2018

Now Or Never

Put up or shut up.

That was Donald Trump's message to NFL players on September 22, 2017 when he responded to prayers who knelt while the national anthem was played (while concessions continued patriotically to sell food and beer). He declared  "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you'd say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired."  He also predicted "for a week, (that owner would) be the most popular person in this country."

Alas- this being Donald Trump's first term- he cannot fire players. But he can get owners to follow his advice, or at least his cue, as they did when

On Wednesday, NFL owners made it clear they’d taken enough heat. The league voted in a new anthem policy, which requires players and league personnel on the sidelines to stand. Anyone who doesn’t wish to stand has the option of remaining in the locker room during the anthem, but if someone takes the field and protests, the league will fine that player’s team an undisclosed amount. Teams also have been given the option of enacting their own additional anthem policies, and can issue fines to players.

Recognizing the owners and the commissioner were following his lead, the President on Thursday morning told his besties on "Fox and Friends"

"Well, I think that's good, I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it's good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, and the NFL owners did the right thing if that's what they've done.

Vice President Pence also realized what was at stake when he tweeted one word: "winning."

A New York civil rights activist tweeted "Telling black NFL players to leave the country. Calling undocumented immigrants 'animals.' Banning Muslims from the US. Attacking Chicago for gun violence. He knows that fear and division feeds his base of white voters."

"Perception is reality," some say. Perception is not reality- but in some cases, is almost as important.  There never has been a black NFL owner, though one is Pakistani-American and one co-owner is Korean-American, which is to say: none is black.  Meanwhile, most NFL players are black, most protesting NFL players are black, and they and supportive white players are trying to draw attention to injustice- especially racial disparity- in law enforcement and criminal justice. 

Those facts escape no one's attention.It turns out that Donald Trump's "no need to apply" applies not only to immigrants from Mexico and refugees from Guatemala, but also to strong black men performing for our entertainment.  

Yet, this is part of a culture war that goes beyond race.  If you don't "stand proudly for the national anthem" then "maybe you shouldn't be in the country," Trump proposes. It is a nod toward the Vietnam War-era slogan of "love it or leave it" (The first song below is from 1965; the second, and much better, is from 1970, before the artist underwent an epiphany.)

That was back when black people worked exclusively for white people and expected to shut up, sit down and never, ever complain. Trump knows it. Pence knows it. The NFL knows it. They've challenged the players, who are the best in the world at what they do,and are not replaceable, lest league revenues collapse as fans (even conservative ones) ignore a third-rate product.

The white men in charge have thrown down the gauntlet upon the players and the NFL Players Association. The employees and the union are expected to buckle to President Trump as the league has. The challenge to the players is clear and they hold the cards. It's time for them to put up or shut up.

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