Give the players credit. The first two teams to take the field for the 2020 NFL season—the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans— knew a lot of eyes would be on them Thursday night. After a summer of athlete protests, including postponed NBA, MLB and NHL games, they could have refused to play. They could have all taken a knee during the national anthem. But instead they played, and played it cool.
The Texans stayed in their locker room during the playing of both the national anthem and “Lift Every Voice”—also known as the Black national anthem. Only one player on the Chiefs, defensive end Alex Okafor, took a knee. Then all players joined arms—standing—for a “moment of unity.” From the league’s perspective, it could not have gone much better.
Will the President of the United States return this favor of restraint? It’s unlikely. His anthem protests engage his base and give him a chance to cover himself in the flag as only a faux patriot can. As more games take place, many more players will protest. His tweets have probably already been written. So the NFL will find itself in an impossible situation between now and election day. If NFL owners are going to support their majority of Black players, they have no choice but to stand against a president whom many of them personally support. The league—despite its best efforts to avoid it—is about to get very political. The choice for the league and its owners should be clear: Stand up to the president by standing behind your players. Even if they’re kneeling.
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