The NFL’s New Policy Tells Black People Their Lives Do Not Matter

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee before the anthem

By Deveney Marshall 

It’s no secret that police brutality disproportionately affects the lives of people of color, specifically African-American people. I can remember being a little girl and seeing police officers hanging around in high-risk crimes areas, I used to believe they were doing their jobs and protecting us from the bad people. Then I grew up, and realized just how oppressing this country is to all of its’ non-white citizens. I noticed police officers were not hanging in high crimes areas, but in areas that were highly populated with Black residents and they were looking for excuses to turn those people into yet another statistic.

For a very long time most people turned a blind-eye to this type of oppression. Then social media took over and people began to record the mishandlings done by police officers and upload them. After awhile it became difficult for non-believers to deny police brutality was a real problem in this country and the differences in how Black people were treated by the police compared to their racial counterparts.

Following the numerous killings of black people by the hands of police officers and no real justice being served for their murders, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was coined. People all around the world began to chant the phrase when yet another black person’s life was taken due to police brutality. However, the hashtag was not well met by everyone.

Once the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter became very popular due to social media and college activists, it was plagued with some heavy scrutiny. Ill-informed individuals felt as if the hashtag was anti-white and prioritized the lives of black people over everyone else. They critiqued the hashtag as creating more of a division than being the political statement against police brutality it was. Some even went as far as replacing the black in the hashtag with blue to show their support for officers, further proving they missed the entire point of the protest or just didn’t care.

After the countless displays of disrespect for Black people’s lives, on September 1st, 2016 Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, decided to take a knee during the national anthem to silently protest the police brutality taking place around the country. Although Kaepernick acted within his constitutional and civil right to protest as an American citizen, he was met with criticism that sparked a national debate about the right way to protest. Following the scrutiny Kaepernick’s received, he publicly spoke on why he felt the protest was necessary stating:

"I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right."

Still, after giving this concise statement, he was continuously met with negative remarks. Instead of the focus being on why he was kneeling in the the first place, the conversation became more centered around Kaepernick’s disrespect towards the flag and people in service. Criticizers made it their missions to misunderstand his protest, just as they did with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.

However, Kaepernick didn’t allow the criticism of his protest to stop him. He continued to kneel at every game for the entire 16/17 season. His political stance to stand-up to the wrong-doings of this country, sparked something in others that viewed this country the same way that he did. Other athletes began to take a knee, and after awhile the dialogue finally became about the real problem.

Following the 16/17 season, Kaepernick was released from the 49ers, and another team refused to sign him as a quarterback for the upcoming 17/18 season, which lead to an uproar of people everywhere deciding it was officially time to take a stand against not only this country’s mistreatment, but the inner-workings of it as well, like the NFL. Finally, NFL players made the collective decision to take a knee and join Kaepernick’s protest.

For the entire 17/18 season footballs players across the league participated in taking a knee, and some were even joined by their team owners as well. However, once again, the conversation steered away from why people were protesting and became more about the act of protesting itself. Critics of the #TakeAKnee movement argued football players had to no right to involve themselves in politics and to just “stick to football.” Some even went as far as to say football players weren’t intellectual enough to partake in such a layered conversation. Undermining the fact that many of these men are college educated and face adversities such as police brutality.

Once the 17/18 season was completed, and the NFL was gearing up for the upcoming 18/19 season, the league came to the agreement to put a policy in place to fine all football players who decided to take a knee on the field during the national anthem.

When the news broke that the NFL was putting this policy in place, I remember feeling so unbelievably upset. Taking a knee is probably one of the most peaceful ways a person could protest, yet it being chastised as if it was a violent act. The implementing of this policy spoke volumes about how the league viewed not only black lives, but the livelihoods of its’ many black players.

Colin Kaepernick raises fist after a game

As I dissected why the NFL would enforce this policy, nothing truly substantial came to mind. All I could think about was how 1. This was a way for the league to capitalize on the pain of black people; 2. This was the league’s very coy way of saying “shut up, and just play ball; and 3. How all the above was just another way to reiterate to black people everywhere that our lives did not matter.

Often, this country tells black people in every way that our lives are not as valued as the lives of other races. Whether it’s subliminally with policies like this one that penalizes us for questioning our oppression or us being blatantly taunted and killed and never receiving justice for it, america makes it very clear where it stands. At this point as a black American I am downright “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Our existence as black people is not a burden. However, that is not how the NFL or the world sees it. Sadly enough, Black lives only matter if they are not compromising profits and the comforts of non-black people.

*Deveney Marshall is a New Orleans-based filmmaker, actress, and freelance writer. She runs the lifestyle & beauty website . Follow her thoughts & life on twitter and IG: @devandthecity