NFL Protest Debates Distract from Purpose

To the Editors:

Last week, America paid tribute to Aretha Franklin and John McCain, who both strove to make America greater than ever by unceasingly underscoring the need for us to embrace differences and engage with those whose views differ from our own. We are one people, one nation, and one world, in spite of the fights we may have on any given day.

This Thursday, a new National Football League season starts. Many players want to bring an end to police brutality against blacks, and last year many did not stand for our National Anthem as a sign of protesting this violence.

They have a right to do as they please, but there are consequences. One has been that their action has taken most of the attention off their goal. One suggestion, among many, is that they should stand and place one hand over their hearts and one over their lungs. The point is that all the focus must be on the problem, not on the question of the flag or love for America.

This is because the problem is a difficult one to solve. Most Americans who love what the flag stands for favor the law being applied fairly and those officers found guilty punished appropriately. Virtually all our officers are great Americans and deserve so much more support. Sorting this all out and finding solutions that unite us requires a lot of hard work, a shrewd strategy averting entanglements of specious arguments that inflame our passions and fuel our worst instincts. McCain and Franklin left us lights to guide us across this landscape of fog, anger, and traps.

And so did Ron Dellums, who passed away just a few days before them. He was a black congressman, former mayor of Oakland, CA, and one of the leading Democrats who succeeded in getting Newt Gingrich and most of the Republicans to override President Reagan’s veto of the anti-Apartheid Bill in 1986 aimed at liberating 80 percent of the blacks held in bondage by a very tiny minority of white South Africans.

We do not know the actual views of all three above. But we do know that they would encourage us to talk openly and honestly about the matter and bring the highest level of respect, sensitivity, and civility to the discussions. Before there are more deaths, the country must find solutions to the problems. There will be time afterward for a debate about what the flag means.

To some, it means we should stand and be proud, support all those who served and are serving, protect our police, firefighters, and just be thankful for all the good men and women who ensure our peace and tranquility here at home. To others, it means that as well as the constitutional right to kneel protesting against the injustices whirling around us.

Blacks’ pride in and support of America is and will remain unsurpassed despite the racism, sexism, etc. woven into the country’s fabric and soul. All Americans have certain rights. But just because we enjoy these rights does not mean that we should exercise any particular one under all circumstances. Each brings with it good or bad consequences; we must exercise each with discretion and forethought.

I have strong feelings that a reduction of deaths will occur much faster if players stand and place their hands over their hearts and lungs so as to take the club away from those now using it to beat us across the head, leaving no room for a discussion about the importance of black lives and focusing instead on the flag and the country — a wholly irrelevant, time-consuming, and useless debate, effectively choking to death screams for solutions and a safer country for all.

Booker C. Peek
Emeritus Associate Professor of Africana Studies