Edinboro professors discuss NFL ‘Take a Knee’ controversy

Category:  News
Wednesday, November 8th, 2017 at 5:20 PM

Every seat in Pogue MPRB was filled on Nov. 1, while students lined the walls and even sat on the floor. They packed the room to hear Edinboro faculty Dr. James Fisher, Dr. Rhonda Matthews, Professor Umeme Sababu (all from the politics, history, language, and culture department) and Dr. Andrew Smith (of the communications, journalism and media department) discuss the cultural effects of and the American reaction to the controversial “Take a Knee” movement that has recently shaken the NFL. 

Moderated by Frederick Douglas Scholar Lewis Brownlee, the lecturers gave 10-minute presentations outlining the NFL protest that began with quarterback Colin Kaepernick: why he felt compelled to kneel, why some Americans found his protest disrespectful and the nature of police violence and race relations in modern America. 

Sababu was first to speak, focusing on famous African-Americans throughout history who used their platforms to protest prejudice in the United States: Louis Armstrong, who claimed to have the right to “get sore” about the discrimination he faced; Muhammad Ali, who refused to fight in the Vietnam War for a country so marred by racism, saying of enemy soldiers, “they never called me n****r”; and Chris Jackson, a Muslim NBA player who refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games because he believed it to be a symbol of oppression. Sababu asserted that like these athletes, Kaepernick used his position as a successful black man to shed light on the injustices of racism today, namely police brutality towards African-American men. 

Trump’s America, according to Sababu, was a perfect place for Kapernick’s crucifixion by NFL fans and right-leaning media outlets. Urging students to “be watchful of the narrative,” he stressed the importance of perspective when viewing stories like Kaepernick’s, because it is not the first of its type. 

Presenting after Sababu, Smith outlined the relationship between the militarization of American police forces and the NFL, as well as determining whether players do in fact have the right to protest on the NFL’s dime. He highlighted how, as of 2009, NFL policy states that players “must” be on the field during the national anthem, and “should” stand for its duration. Though individual players’ contracts may have stricter regulations, generally the NFL has no official rule against kneeling during the anthem. Still, the NFL’s best interest is to appease the Department of Defense (DOD), not protest the actions of its militarized police forces, explained Smith. As stated, the United States government pays the NFL millions of dollars for “military recruitment,” but a gasp rose in the lecture hall as Smith informed the audience that the DOD “cannot accurately account for how much has been spent,” though they do know it’s at least $10 million, and “does not uniformly measure” whether the taxpayer’s money is used for recruiting. 

Post-9/11, entry level police officers have gradually been more heavily armed with military-grade uniforms and weaponry. Smith quoted the ACLU, saying, “armed officers escalate normal situations,” listing the riots in Ferguson, Missouri as one such instance. In the 1970s, SWAT teams were used an average of 400 times a year, he explained. Today, there are around 40,000 SWAT raids done every year, many to indict nonviolent drug offenders, said Smith. During the Q&A post-lecture, a young woman in a “Salute the Flag” T-shirt asked Smith if he “honestly” believes armed police officers create violent situations every time. To this, he responded with a sound “No,” but said such armor “polarizes police and people,” leading to unnecessary violence in some instances. 

Naysayers of the Take a Knee movement call for a separation of sports and politics, but Matthews used her 10 minutes to enthusiastically discredit that notion, asserting that sports have always been highly political. She argued that organized sports reflect the value structure of the players and spectators; since the inception of the Olympic Games, they have symbolized peace among nations. Furthermore, Matthews argued, “Sports are inherently racial in this country.” Calling back the legacy of black athletes mentioned by Sababu, Matthews talked American runner Jesse Owens — when asked if he was offended that Hitler refused to shake his hand at the 1936 Olympic Games, Owens responded, “neither would the president.” 

Fisher was the last to speak, reaching for the inner depths of the psychosocial battlefield surrounding the Take a Knee movement. He argued that the NFL controversy masks a larger cultural conflict; those who are so easily offended by a peaceful protest during NFL games, times they consider a “safe space,” truly believe the protesters have nothing to protest. To a viewer who thinks such wealthy men have no reason to insert their political opinions into an American game, such a display translates into an irritating and disrespectful attempt at “political correctness,” explained Fisher. 

Americans who don’t see any disparity in the way citizens are treated based on race, Fisher argued, believe “NFL players are using their platform for illegitimate reasons.” In that case, the controversy over Kaepernick’s decision to kneel detracts from the real disagreement: the answer to the question “What is the extent of racism in America today?” Fisher urged the audience to always look for the root of political conflict, because “surface arguments distract from the real issue.” In Kaepernick’s instance, the true problem is, as Fisher explained, the disparity of American opinions about modern-day race relations and opportunity in the U.S. 

Zeila Hobson can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: nfl

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