NBC has mustered the courage to show national anthem kneelers, if there are any, at the Feb. 4 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
The knee-planters’ silent protests that drew so much attention through much of the regular season tapered off toward the end. Some networks stopped showing the national anthem ceremony altogether.
Long before that, President Trump asked this of a cheering crowd in Alabama: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now?’ “
Now, with well over 100 million people expected to be watching, Super Bowl knee-takers will really rile me as well as Mr. Trump. Not because I think knee-takers set out to show disrespect. I don’t think they do. Rather they’re saying America still hasn’t given its black citizens their full due. To me, saying that is worse in a country that, over time, has given black Americans the rights they deserve — and then some. Think education and employment preferences and a general acceptance that it’s OK to resist arrest, even violently, and not fear getting shot.
That’s why regular season NFL protesting players never had the impact of the civil rights protesters of 1960s and ‘70s.
The protesting athletes were too far from the world they thought they still knew. There was no impact to be had.
I remember a white bartender in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh who, in the early 1960s, would sullenly serve a black customer and then smash the glass to pieces as a message. A white bartender in that bar would still be doing that in 2018, I suspect, but for serious demonstrator chants like “What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!”
The protests, the chanting, sit-ins, nonviolent civil disobedience worked. The NFL players sort of understood that but not something else.
It’s not surprising that “these black football players would don the mantle of protest. The surprise was that it didn’t work,” Hoover Institution’s Shelby Steele writes in the Wall St. Journal. “They had misread the historic moment. They were not speaking truth to power. Rather, they were figures of pathos, mindlessly loyal to a black identity that had run its course.”
The kneelers didn’t notice that the prize the freedom riders, lunch-counter sit-ins, Selma marchers sought is won: a two-term black president of the United States, four black U.S. attorneys general, two black U.S. secretaries of state, 153 black members of Congress, five state governors and 61 black mayors of major cities.
The fall of oppression and the rise of opportunity are what the last half-century have been about.
Educational attainment, for example, has improved nearly five-fold.
In 1965, 10 percent of whites and only 5 percent of blacks had four or more years of college. Asians and Hispanics weren’t numerous enough to be counted.
As of 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau says, 56 percent of Asians in America had at least a bachelor’s degree. Ditto for 38 percent of whites, 23 percent of blacks (nearly five times the 1965 proportion) and 16 percent of Hispanics.
Equal opportunity in education and employment is one achievement but hasn’t solved everything.
The frequency of crime among blacks is statistically far, far higher proportionally than among whites and Asians. You’re average cop of any race has reason to be scared feces-less in checking out possible lawbreakers and attempting to make arrests.
At the same time, your average cop is probably no more racist than anyone else in any line of work anywhere else.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, although blacks make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they committed eight times more homicides than whites, who were 75 percent of the population. The U.S. prison population is 39 percent white and 59 percent black and Hispanic.
Not squarely facing and working to improve this situation is racist.
Most Americans of all races and ethnicity understand this. So the police brutality and racism that the NFL kneelers were protesting didn’t seem like much of a reality to most people, including the looters and burners, who we’ve watched on TV get away with everything short of murder — and maybe even that.
So what the NFL kneelers miss is the simple truth that the “oppression of black people is over with,” Mr. Steele says. “This is politically incorrect news, but it is true nonetheless. We blacks are, today, a free people. It is as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise.”
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