A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece on the NFL protests and with less than a week away from Super Bowl LI, I thought it’d be appropriate to revisit the topic.
In my initial post, I mentioned that it would go down as one of the most powerful acts of activism by professional athletes this country has ever seen.
And to a certain degree, I was right.
I stated that it was working and would continue to work, and for the most part, that notion has proven to be true.
During the span of the 2016-2017 NFL season, 48 players ― according to various reports by ESPN and Deadspin ― joined in on the protest. Most joined with their knees to the ground while others joined with their fists raised high. Some even opted to use their pre-game attire to make their stance known.
And it was powerful.
The protest trickled onto professional soccer fields and basketball courts. It made its way into the hearts and minds of high school and Pop Warner football teams. Marching bands made it their war cry, and talented singers belted the national anthem with a newfound conviction.
The protest caused unrest and many, many discussions.
It led to Kaepernick hosting a camp aptly named “Know Your Rights” for underprivileged children in the Bay Area. Players like Brandon Marshall had peaceful, constructive discussions with their local police departments.
However, it also led to the revealing of the nasty underbelly of America.
Pro players were stripped of their endorsements for speaking out. The national anthem was rescheduled during a soccer game so Megan Rapinoe wouldn’t be able to protest. It even went as far as the suspension and cancellation of a youth football team’s season.
And not to mention the ironically insensitive statements from executives of companies and anchors of sports shows who happen to be so wrapped up in the flag, convinced of false narratives that are taught throughout their bubble of comfort and privilege, that it blinds them to the realities of many minority groups.
In essence, I believe the NFL protest did much more good than harm, but something was lacking. There was a glaring and rather disturbing absence in the midst of all the beautiful chaos: Not a single white NFL player joined in on the protests.
There are 32 NFL teams in the league, and every team is allowed to have a total of 53 players on their roster. That gives you a grand total of 1,696 athletes who are signed onto a NFL team. Of those 1,696 players, nearly 70 percent are black. That means that there are roughly around 509 players ― give or take the few who are neither black nor white ― in the NFL who are of Caucasian descent.
It’s mind-boggling that in a professional sport where nearly 70 percent of its athletes are black, not a single white player thought it’d be a good idea to take a knee or raise a fist with their fellow teammates. The fact that these white players spend the majority of their year surrounded by black folk and their families and their struggles but deem it unnecessary to kneel beside the people they go to war with every weekend is appalling and all the more disheartening.
It’s mind-boggling that in a professional sport where nearly 70 percent of its athletes are black, not a single white player thought it’d be a good idea to take a knee or raise a fist with their fellow teammates.
Now, some of you may argue that certain teams opted to link arms with each other before games in a show of “solidarity” and that there were plenty of white players on those teams. But frankly, I don’t buy that sentiment. The gesture, while well-intentioned, seemed more like an attempt to ease the anger and frustration amongst owners who were more worried about their TV ratings than the livelihood of a large group of human beings. These teams missed the central point of what Kaepernick and Co. were doing entirely. It felt like the end goal of coming together and linking arms ― which can offend absolutely nobody, by the way ― was compromise when, in reality, there has never been any middle ground to stand on in the first place.
Police brutality is a national problem. This is not an opinion. It is a fact.
Can you imagine the kind of impact just one high-profile white NFL player could have made if he had taken a knee or raised a fist? Imagine the kind of permission that visual would have given to other white folk who were on the fence about the whole thing.
It would have been a field day for the media. The player’s fan base would have been on board and there might have even been a change of hearts in others. The possibilities are endless and it’s a shame that at such a critical time in the history of the NFL, white players decided to be bystanders.
At a time when our nation continues to throw so many minority groups under the bus, day after day, for the sake of the majority, it is becoming ever apparent that white people will be the deciding factor that tips progress in the right direction.
If there’s one takeaway from this NFL season, it’s that no matter how loudly minority groups protest, no matter how peacefully we take a knee for injustice, it is still frighteningly difficult to gain major ground in equality without the help of the white population. Just look at the sheer difference in numbers between the Women’s March that lasted a couple of hours and the many Black Lives Matter protests that have been going on for years.
I’m not saying that white folk will be the ones to save America. That just isn’t true and never will be, because it’s too great of a burden to put on any one group of people.
My real hope is that white folk will come to the realization that their voices are louder and clearer than most and that we need them dearly in this desperate fight for equality and justice.
A version of this post originally appeared on Opinions of Gu.