The Party for Socialism and Liberation stands with the professional athletes, coaches and staff who are demonstrating against the racist oppression and police terror faced by Black people in the United States.
We are seeing unionized workers carrying out a workplace protest – against racism and against the head of state. This protest is backed up by a considerable consumer boycott, the result of the movement begun last year by quarterback Colin Kaepernick to protest the racist oppression and brutality faced by Black people and people of color.
And the protest – the movement – was lifted to the international arena Sunday morning when almost every member of the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars knelt and locked hands in solidarity during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. The two teams were playing in one of four NFL London games this season – designed to raise awareness of the League overseas. The players and coaches ensured that awareness included their solidarity with the Black community in the United states.
Professional athletes are taking up the struggle on an unprecedented scale, standing against racist oppression, and encouraging others to do the same. While they are not the first, (we can recall Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, and the players across the WNBA protesting the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in 2016,) the ability of these Black players and coaches to not only raise Black national consciousness across all social classes, but draw on the solidarity of their anti-racist teammates and coaches – and in society at large – signals the emergence of an untapped power. Amidst a flurry of merciless attacks from the right wing, they are standing up to reach into millions of living rooms and impact millions of opinions. And they are doing so en masse.
As Donald Trump, President of the United States, repeatedly calls for players to be “fired,” more and more are joining the ranks of a movement launched last year by Colin Kaepernick. NFL stars Davante Adams and Martellus Bennett were among the athletes who publicly countered Trump’s attacks – calling out his racist hypocrisy. Adams and Bennett both play for the Green Bay Packers, the only nonprofit, community-owned professional sports team in the United States. The movement is helping to draw such clear lines and reveal such overt racism that even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Trump supporter Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, condemned Trump’s attacks.
This powerful tactic is building a movement across professional sports. When Trump heard star point guard Stephen Curry of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors did not want to accompany his team on the traditional visit to the White House due to disagreements with Trump’s policies, Trump Tweeted a “disinvitation.” The Warriors promptly issued a statement saying they wouldn’t visit the White House, but rather would use their time in Washington, D.C. for community service. This is not the first time players have skipped a visit. Earlier this year, some players from the New England Patriots did not attend the traditional visit to the White House, although many did not state an official reason. But the Warriors’ position shows a new level of solidarity.
And the movement is growing. Saturday night, Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell knelt, as teammate Mark Canha placed a hand on Maxwell’s shoulder in solidarity. Maxwell, whose father is a veteran of the U.S. Army, became the first Major League Baseball player to do so. NFL players and coaches are expected to continue to take a knee throughout Sunday and Monday. And today’s Sunday Night Football Game will see perhaps an almost poetic matchup between Oakland and Washington. Oakland has the only all-Black offensive line in the league, which is expected to kneel in its entirety. Their opponent, Washington, has a history of being one of, if not the most racist team in the league (Washington was the last NFL team to desegregate and continues its racist legacy in the refusal to change the team’s name and mascot).
This movement and these players have shown clearly and unequivocally how speaking up and standing up can raise consciousness. In living rooms and at water coolers across the country, there are debates about police violence, patriotism, and how a head of state defends the free speech rights of white nationalists – Nazis – but condemns the free speech of Black athletes. In consciousness there is solidarity and strength to fight back. On Sunday, legendary entertainer Stevie Wonder also knelt before performing at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. We are hopeful that the number of prominent people speaking up and acting will continue to grow.