The NFL Protests Are a Perfect Study of How White Supremacy Works

Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos takes a knee during the national anthem before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High in Denver  on Sept. 18, 2016. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos takes a knee during the national anthem before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High in Denver on Sept. 18, 2016. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Y’all’s president is tweeting about the National Football League again. Shortly after that guy who lives in the White House woke up, submerged himself in a vat of Cheetos dust and ate his leftover KFC thigh and wing (Original Recipe, of course—not those newfangled crispy or spicy concoctions made after America stopped being great), Donald Trump tweeted this:


Make no mistake about it: Trump has won this fight. Even though he has no legislative, political or policy victories during his presidency, Trump has proved himself a master of the one thing he does better than anyone else:


Sometimes the terms “white supremacy” and “systematic oppression” can seem hyperbolic, while a word like “prejudice” is wholly inadequate. Yet if one truly wants to understand structural racism, the current controversy in the NFL is a microcosm of how white supremacy manifests itself into policy and action.

While the demonstrations during the national anthem are the biggest story in football this year, let’s be clear: The number of NFL players actually participating in the protests is infinitesimally small. On any given game day in the league, there are 1,472 active players. The Undefeated reports that roughly 80 percent of the NFL’s players are black, meaning that 1,177 pro football players are African American, give or take.

Aside from the two weeks after Trump’s “son of a bitch” comments prompted mass demonstrations, there have never been more than 20 players kneeling for the anthem this season. But if one watches television or reads the news reports, one might believe that the black players in the NFL are in open revolt.

Even though 98 percent of the NFL’s black players have always stood for the flag.


On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, “There is no question the league is suffering negative effects from these protests.” The billionaire’s declaration came after he announced that he would bench any player on his team who knelt during the anthem.


Even though he is a 75-year-old white man from Arkansas, there probably aren’t many people who personally know Jones who would call him a racist. He’s not the white Malcolm X, either. He is a billionaire oil tycoon who happens to own one of the most popular sports franchises in the world.

When Trump made his initial statement on the symbolic act of resistance started by Colin Kaepernick, Jones decided to show support for his black players with a toothless display of unity by kneeling before the anthem. Again, Jones wasn’t being an activist; he was being a capitalist by supporting his employees—the lifeblood of his billion-dollar business.


But after Trump’s racially charged comments started affecting the league’s bottom line, Jones had no problem throwing his players under the bus by declaring an ultimatum that his black players must obey. He wasn’t necessarily being racist, but his response was most definitely a response to racism.

That’s how white supremacy works.

Jones may not have a smidgen of hate or animus toward people of color, but he did not hesitate to institute rules that made his players look like chattel, even though not one Dallas Cowboys player has knelt during the national anthem this season. Or ever. He has dictated a fugitive-slave protest policy for a plantation from which no one was trying to escape.


Jones is like the white people who are boycotting the league because of all the players “disrespecting the flag,” even though the players have continually said that their actions were not a reflection of how they felt about the flag or the anthem.

Conservatives have bought into the hype about belligerent black men ruining the NFL game in much the same way that white America buys into the myth of black criminality, even though 99 percent of African Americans have never committed a violent crime.


White supremacy has never been about racism. Racism is a belief. Racism is a way of thinking. This is why the distinction between racism and white supremacy is important. One can hold no ill will toward African Americans and still be guilty of racism. It is also possible to hate black people with every fiber of one’s being and still treat them equally in practice and policy. I have never given a damn about racism.


White supremacy is the problem.

White supremacy is a cop being afraid for his life when he encounters an unarmed black man, even though 99 percent of black people are as nonviolent and law-abiding as any other citizen. White supremacy is reading a black-sounding name atop a résumé and suspecting that the person is unqualified or graduated because of affirmative action. White supremacy is buying into the belief that the black family moving in next door will ruin a neighborhood even though they have the same investment in their property as everyone else.


White supremacy is not racism, but it is the result of racism. White people participate in white supremacy every day, often unknowingly. It has nothing to do with hate or willful malice. It is accepting the premise of prejudice for one’s own self-interest.

It is the privilege of valuing the symbols of patriotism over actual lives because the results of injustice or inequality do not affect you. It is feeling annoyed because players used their platform to attempt to save the lives of their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. White supremacy is believing that the innocuous three minutes before a game “is neither the time nor the place.” White supremacy is believing that there is a time or a place. White supremacy is not hostility or hatred. White supremacy is apathy.


White supremacy is pathetic.

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.


Prostate of Dorian Gray

As I was reading all the backlash in the greys to your Walking Dead article, I am struck by a few things.

-Michael, is it weird to have your intelligence repeatedly questioned by people who either can’t spell or finish sentences with 3 periods? (Why the fuck is that a thing?!). Like does it make you sad, make you laugh, make you disappointed in humanity?

-Does anyone else laugh insanely hard when you see the greys blame the racial divide in America on the Root? It’s not redlining, for profit prisons, or the legacy of Reagan that’s destroying race relations, it’s Michael Harriot and they’re serious. That’s hysterical to me.