PLANTATION POLITICS: NFL Seeks to Silence Player Protests

At a recent press conference held in front of the Dallas police headquarters, Pastor Frederick Haynes III of the Friendship-West Baptist Church condemned Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ for remarks he made and accused him of “plantation politics” in his handling of the Black athletes on his team who want to protest police brutality and racism in this country.

“Mr. Jones doesn’t mind cheering for those Black players while they’re on the field, but he’s not concerned about the hell their communities are catching off the field,” said Haynes.

A meeting took place this week with NFL players, owners, executives, and the NFL Players Association in New York, where NFL owners and executives wanted to have a discussion about how to stop player protests and gain more control over the things their players can and cannot do. According to reports, many NFL players were extremely angry that the primary catalyst behind the protests, Colin Kaepernick, was not even formally invited to attend the meetings. Kaepernick, who remains unsigned to any NFL team, has filed a collusion grievance against the NFL owners.

Prior to the NFL meetings in New York this week, a copy of a memo was released from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that was sent to all 32 team owners about possible changes to the policy regarding NFL players and the buzz that has been created because of protests being displayed during the national anthem.

“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” wrote Goodell in the memo. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us…..the controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones went from taking a knee alongside multiple Cowboys players a little over a week prior, to going on a radio show on KRLD-FM (105.3 The Fan) and saying:

“If you do not honor and stand for the flag in the way that a lot of our fans feel that you should then you won’t play.”

Jones’ remarks came after the extremely divisive remarks by President Donald J. Trump, who recently called NFL players who protest by taking a knee “sons of b*tches” at a rally in Alabama, and told NFL owners that they should fire any NFL player who chooses to protest during the national anthem in that way.

Trump went on to say, in one of his usual Twitter rants, on Sept. 23, that:

“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

Since the statements and threats by the NFL, Trump and Jones, fewer teams had mass protests this past week than before, but their threats did not stop some players from taking a knee or some other form of protest. The issue remains and people refuse to allow these forces to shy away from the initial intent behind the protests.

Using positions of power and influence is nothing new in this country, as an attempt to silence and punish Black people who choose to speak up against injustice, oppression and racism.

Many may remember in 2015, when the courageous young student-athletes at the University of Missouri threatened not to play football until Tim Wolfe, who was the University of Missouri system president at the time, resigned or was forcibly removed from his duties as president. Wolfe was the subject of criticism from a variety of groups on campus over his perceived failure to address a series of racist incidents which included students openly using racial slurs towards minority students and an incident where feces was used to draw a swastika on school grounds.

Those courageous young student-athletes decided to take a stand by choosing not to participate in any team activities and stand in solidarity with fellow student, Jonathan Butler, who refused to eat until Wolfe stepped down. Wolfe resigned shortly thereafter, just before the university was going to get hit with a financial blow that would have cost them roughly $1 million. Not only did Wolfe resign, but the chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, also resigned.

Many people across the country, including the student-athletes, celebrated the outcome, but most everyone went back to business as usual. Sadly, after the smoke cleared, Rep. Rick Brattin (R), a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, along with his co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Kurt Bahr (R), proposed a bill that would have revoked the scholarships of any student-athlete who decided they wanted to protest and/or refused to play football at a state institution. The bill was set to strip scholarships from any student-athlete who “calls, incites, supports or participates in any strike.”

Rep. Bahr said that they “expect the leadership of this state institution to actually lead and not allow the students to call the shots,” and went on to say that “the issue really is, they (the student-athletes) can have freedom of speech…but if they’re going to receive state money, there are going to be ramifications.”

Rep. Bahr was seemingly saying that the state and university should never allow Black people to have a voice, because they were giving away scholarships to these student-athletes, and as a result, they get to control the narrative; as well as the overall actions of every student-athlete, regardless of what happens to them, or what they stand for.

Or to go further, they wanted to continue controlling these student-athletes, while making millions of dollars off their talent and ability, yet silencing their voices. Play and shut up.

The bill was pulled, but the fact that the lawmakers even introduced the bill is troubling.

That is akin to modern-day slavery, where the plantation is the football field, in the case of the University of Missouri football team. These lawmakers, with the ability to shape policy, were seeking to use their political influence to negatively impact the lives of student-athletes who were simply fed up with being discriminated against and treated unfairly.

The same thing is happening in the NFL.

Black people must wake up and quickly recognize their collective strength. Unity is the only key to progress as a people.

Using politics and positions of power to enforce their will over Black people has been a customary tactic used by many people. This is reminiscent of an emotionally-charged scene involving the character Kunta Kinte from the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries from Alex Haley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, called Roots.

During the powerful scene, the White overseer has just brought Kunta back from his most recent attempt to escape and has him tied up to be whipped in front of the other slaves. The White overseer begins his discourse with Kunta, saying:

“When the master gives you something, you take it. He gave you a name. It’s a nice name. It’s Toby. And it’s going to be yours ‘til the day you die.”

After being whipped into submission, while the other slaves looked on, Kunta finally succumbs to the severe beating by saying that his name is “Toby” to which the White overseer approves and then responds:

“That’s a good n*gger!”

While Roots was a moving re-enactment of the conditions in which people of African descent had to deal with and overcome, it was a depiction versus reality. They used actors and actresses to depict a horrible and tragic reality that has forever left a dark stain on this country.

And while the legalized system of slavery may have seemingly been abolished in this country as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation and a few amendments to the Constitution, many of the recent actions and statements by select people holding positions of power have caused people to scratch their heads and wonder if there is a shared paradigm that regards African Americans as pieces of property who should be grateful for what the master has given them; as if Blacks are living on plantations during the dark days of slavery in America.

As we look at the current plight, condition and treatment of African Americans in this country, specifically with the NFL athletes, it seems as if we have managed to catapult ourselves back in time, to a place that we seemingly told ourselves we had left behind.

In the book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, published by Carter G. Woodson in 1933, he stated, “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions.”

Many NFL players seemed to have recognized the power of collective strength, and are refusing to have NFL owners and executives control their thinking and what they consider important.

If there is to be a change in this country, it will take Black people – and in the case of dealing with NFL owners who seemingly act like they are running a plantation – Black athletes coming together to exhibit a more unified power and control over their brand, talent, ability and assets.