Members of the Houston Texans stand and kneel before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on Oct. 29, 2017, in Seattle.
Photo: Otto Greule (Getty Images)

The National Football League’s annual trade carousel has officially reached top speed, and with it, the owners and general managers of America’s most watched sporting league are quietly instituting a new directive to its black players:

“Shut the fuck up.”

Across the NFL, teams are purging from their rosters black players considered to be extremely talented but too outspoken under the guise of ... well ... because the teams can. The franchises don’t even feel the need to offer explanations for why they are collectively stiff-arming the athletes who are considered to be rebellious, except to invoke their rights to do so because of finances or reasons of “team chemistry.”

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In Republican stronghold Texas, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones didn’t even wait until the end of the season to cut Damontre Moore, who raised his fist at the end of the national anthem. Houston Chronicle reporter Jerome Solomon reported on Saturday that he spoke with two separate agents who relayed that the Houston Texans wouldn’t sign any player who knelt during the pregame national anthem to protest inequality and injustice.

Texans owner Bob McNair denied the Chronicle’s reporting, even after he made his feelings on the controversy known last season when he said that NFL owners shouldn’t “let the inmates run the prison.” In his article, Solomon noted that the franchise isn’t necessarily a racist organization but added, “There are many who believe if McNair could field a team with all-white, all-conforming all-pro talent, he would.”

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I’d love to see him try that shit.

Of the three Miami Dolphins players who protested during last season—receiver Kenny Stills, safety Michael Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas—only Stills is likely to remain with the team this season. The Dolphins declined to re-sign free agent Michael Thomas, a special teams captain. He is one of the players who opted out of the Players Coalition after the group accepted an offer from NFL owners, calling it “not significant enough.”

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Dolphins majority owner Stephen Ross told the New York Daily News on Monday that “all of our players will be standing.”

“Initially, I totally supported the players in what they were doing. It’s America and people should be able to really speak about their choices,” said Ross before adding:

When that message changed, and everybody was interpreting it as that was the reason, then I was against kneeling, like Donald (Trump). I don’t support everything that he says. Overall, I think he was trying to make a point, and his message became what kneeling was all about. From that standpoint, that is the way the public is interpreting it. So I think that’s really incumbent upon us to adopt that. That’s how, I think, the country now is interpreting the kneeling issue.

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Even the Seattle Seahawks, considered to be the league’s most liberal and player-friendly franchise, kicked two of their most talented but outspoken players to the curb this week when they ousted Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman.

Bennett has had a long history of activism during his career, even lobbying his team to sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2017 offseason. The defensive lineman became a critic of police brutality after an incident in Las Vegas in which, he claims, a police officer used excessive force and put a gun to his head. Bennett’s brother, current free agent Martellus Bennett, was one of the first pro athletes in any sport to refuse to visit the White House last year after he passed on the opportunity to meet Donald Trump following the New England Patriots’ 2017 Super Bowl win.

“The NFL doesn’t want us to be individuals,” Michael Bennett told the Bleacher Report in January 2017. “The NFL is all about the shield, the shield, the shield. I could go on all day about the hypocrisy of that.”

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Richard Sherman, meanwhile, has often criticized the NFL about its treatment of players, often chiding league Commissioner Roger Goodell on player safety and the perceived blackballing of Kaepernick.

“The funny thing about it, when you’re not being blackballed, you don’t have to say he’s not being blackballed,” Sherman told USA Today. “What is it about? It’s not about football or color. It’s about, ‘Boy, stay in your place.’”

To be clear, none of the aforementioned players are ancillary athletes with flagging careers. Bennett and Sherman are two of the top defensive players in the league, according to NFL statistics.

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It is, of course, the right of the owners and general managers to decide whom they want to have on their teams. No one disputes that fact. What is also not in dispute is the fact that many of the high-profile players who dared to speak out against injustice have been put on notice that even the perception of belligerence will not be tolerated by the NFL’s gatekeepers.

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To be fair, none of these players have been whiteballed the same way the league did Kaepernick, who jump-started the entire controversy by disrespecting the troops speaking out against social injustice. At least they are employed. They are expected to be grateful that they are still allowed to break their bones for a paycheck.

But even among these stars, the status of the two biggest names who protested is still undetermined. Eric Reid, the former teammate and a friend of Kaepernick’s, becomes a free agent on March 17. “I am aware that my involvement in this movement means that my career may face the same outcome as Colin’s,” Reid told the New York Times in September. “But to quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ‘A time comes when silence is betrayal.’ And I choose not to betray those who are being oppressed.”

Marshawn Lynch’s future with the Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders is still up in the air. Projections are split on whether the franchise will retain his services for the upcoming season.

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Whatever the case may be, the National Football League has made its position clear. It is willing to tolerate football players who are willing to shut up and get in line because athleticism and big black bodies are a commodity in this highly competitive arena.

The NFL wants the black bodies, not whole black people. They only value the players as livestock, meant to be mute and compliant or traded on the new-millennium auction block. Rebellion will not be tolerated, even if it the players are rebelling in the face of injustice for the very lives of their people.

And for the billionaires in the luxury suites counting their dollar bills while watching their black livestock smash into one another on the field, their desires and lives are inconsequential. But, as Frederick Douglass said:

“The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes the rebellion.”

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