How to take a stand against kneeling

Boycotting the NFL won’t have the desired response, but this will.

How much do you care about players kneeling during the National Anthem? Are you outraged by it? Ambivalent about it? What’s your position on it?

This weekend saw teams across the NFL take knees during the Star-Spangled Banner. Other teams locked arms in solidarity. Some did both. One team just didn’t come out of the locker room for the Anthem. What started as a simple protest last year by Colin Kaepernick against something he perceived to be racist spread to the entire league after it was amplified last week by the President’s remarks that protesters should be fired. What started as a team issue was now a league and national issue.

There’s a significant segment of NFL fans who consider themselves patriotic and who are deeply disturbed by kneeling and the perceived disrespect it displays during the Star-Spangled Banner. There’s been talk of boycotting the NFL on the week of Veterans Day in order to show displeasure about the protests, but that’s misguided. Boycotts only work if they hurt the boycotted organization financially. From tickets to merchandise to ad buys to broadcast rights, in many cases the money’s already been collected. The NFL is already well on their way to another revenue amount that’s eleven figures long (estimates for 2017 are around $14B). The only thing a boycott will achieve is make you anxious about how your team is doing since you won’t be watching them.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s main concern is the league’s image. Goodell is commissioner for one reason: to protect the league in order to make his owners money. Anything that damages the NFL’s image or embarrasses them is anathema to them because it could potentially cost them money. It’s why players aren’t allowed to celebrate too garishly. It’s why it’s fought so hard on the concussion front to deny that football has been linked to lasting harm to the brain. It’s why they’re cracking down on players involved in domestic violence, and it’s why the NFL does things like Play 60 and Breast Cancer Awareness and a host of other programs. Everything centers around its image and protecting the revenue it helps generate.

If you want change to happen, you have to embarrass the league. Think about how Ray Rice’s domestic abuse case was handled initially. He was suspended two games on July 24th, 2014, and the NFL was excoriated daily in the media for it. Only two games for beating a woman? He was suspended indefinitely a month and a half later on September 8th and a new domestic violence policy was put into place, but the damage had been done. The Shield was embarrassed and they made changes to try to save face. If everyone had been okay with a two-game suspension, nothing would have changed. Change was forced by embarrassing the league.

In order to truly convey displeasure with players kneeling for the National Anthem, any movement or effort must embarrass the league, and so, the best way to fight this protest is to organize visible counter-protests inside and outside of stadiums on game day.

Protests shine where boycotts fail. Protests force change when none is coming. Protests convey their point using the same national television platform the players use. Boycotts can be ignored as “out of sight, out of mind”. Protests are visible and in your face. Protests challenge people and make them think about what they believe. Protests make people take a side. Think protesting won’t get covered? CBS said their pregame show last week had the highest rating in seven years. The media would run better coverage than Champ Bailey in his prime. The platform is there for the taking. All you need is organization.

It’s easy to organize protests with social media. You already know the names of people who are outraged by this because they’ve been posting about it. See if they’ll go the next step, if they’ll protest outside of an NFL stadium on game day. See if they’ll buy a ticket to the game, go in wearing something patriotic, and leave as part of an organized walkout after the anthem is played. It doesn’t matter how you protest as long as it’s visible, but you have to do something, in public, where other people will see it and be challenged to take a side.

You may argue (and you wouldn’t be the only one) that the players kneeling is embarrassing the league. It’s different when the league embraces it, though. It’s one thing for the Commissioner Goodell to come out and support the players and teams of the league for protesting when the perceived risk of embarrassment is so small. (He may be hoping this quietly goes away after a week or two if he doesn’t fight it, but that’s another article). Just as this protest started small and grew into a league-wide thing though, so can counter-protests. It would be embarrassing to the league if you couldn’t watch an NFL game without seeing counter-protests. It might lead to owners applying pressure to Goodell to do something to make it stop. As it stands now, though, nothing is happening. Again, if you want a change, you have to force it to happen.

It has to be you, the civilian, that does it too. I spoke with sources in law enforcement, emergency response personnel, and the military for this article, and they all said the same thing: we can’t do anything. The very people you perceive to be the most disrespected by kneeling during the Anthem can’t protest about it due to their uniform codes of conduct. This falls to you, or no one at all.

Change isn’t free, though. There are always costs to taking an actual stand, to being more than just a keyboard warrior on social media. This cost may be the fee for game day parking. It may be the cost of a ticket to a game you’re going to walk out of after the Anthem. Or the cost may be less material and more personal; you may be recognized by people you know, either from work or in your personal life. You may be confronted about your views. In some cases, protests have cost people their jobs, or friends, or even their freedom. Such is the price of standing for something. Change does not come easily.

The questions remains: how much do you care? Colin Kaepernick risked his job and his reputation to take a stand for what he believed. Do you care as strongly? What are you willing to risk for what you believe? Only you know the answer. I can tell you this, though: whatever happens going forward will be the result of what fans like you do or don’t do.

Now it’s up to you.