“You can’t stand on the sidelines,” said local NAACP activist KL Shannon after the Seahawks and other NFL teams said they couldn’t stand for racial injustice in protests during national anthem Sunday and Monday.
The images — and the presidential tweets that inspired them — of NFL players protesting in various ways during the national anthem this past weekend commanded much of the nation’s attention.
But how are those protests affecting the groups and activists who ignited the movement by marching or speaking against racial inequality and police violence?
It depends on which protests you’re talking about.
The Seahawks stated they didn’t take the field during the anthem before last Sunday’s game because “they will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country.”
That was a pretty clear message.
Then there’s Washington franchise owner Dan Snyder, who gave $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inauguration — as did several other NFL owners — and has resisted calls to change his team’s racist name. What did it mean when he and other owners locked arms with players? These were called displays of unity. But unity with whom? About what?
And what to make of Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, who knelt with players before the anthem on Monday night — avoiding complaints that taking a knee during the anthem is disrespectful — and then locked arms with players during “The Star-Spangled Banner”?
To some, the Seahawks were saying “Black Lives Matter.” And that’s been reassuring, inspiring and confidence-boosting for activists.
NFL protests have “brought awareness of deep-seated racism in our country, it’s brought dark to light,” said Pamela Banks, CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. “It confirms the reason I’m doing this work.”
Banks said she is mad, like her 33-year old son, that NFL owners appear to have blacklisted former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who initiated the protests last year and doesn’t have an NFL job this year.
She and her son have quit watching games and canceled their NFL TV packages, she said. “I’m not going to continue to support an institution that is inherently racist.”
Others see the owners locking arms with players as a self-interested business decision.
Owners “feel if they don’t step forward it will hurt them financially,” said Jesse Hagopian, a Garfield High School teacher and human-rights activist. “Their actions are a sign of how much unity and strength there is in a growing social movement the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations.”
But it’s hard to quantify impacts of the protests at this juncture.
Trump had muddied the picture with his attacks on players in recent days, calling any who kneel a “son of a bitch” who should be fired. That shifted some of the focus from the original police accountability protests to players’ free speech rights.
The ACLU of Washington, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, and Seattle King County NAACP haven’t seen a surge in donations or membership, according to representatives of the organizations.
“It’s really too early to see what impact this will have,” said ACLU spokesman Doug Honig of this year’s protests.
But the protests have elevated key issues. “It just raises the visibility of racial justice and deepens the conversation here in Washington,” Honig said.
Hagopian said Michael Bennett’s handcuffing in Las Vegas, which raised allegations by Bennett of excessive force and racial profiling, brought the debate closer to home and returned its focus to police accountability. (Bennett has been one of the most outspoken Seahawks players and had been sitting during the national anthem this season, usually with teammate Justin Britt standing next to him with his hand on Bennett’s shoulder.)
That’s fortified students and faculty at Garfield, where the boys’ football, girls’ volleyball and girls’ soccer teams, along with the band and cheerleaders have taken a knee before contests, Hagopian said.
“It’s reinforcing they were right. They got death threats but they’ve been so brave and strong. Now to see NFL teams following their lead has to be validating,” Hagopian said.
As for the NFL itself, television ratings send mixed signals. Fox, CBS and NBC games were down a little on Sunday, but after a lift from Monday night’s game on ESPN, overall ratings were up 3 percent over the same period last year, according to Fox Sports and the NFL.
Polling is equivocal as well. A J.D. Power study in August found that 12 percent of respondents said they watched less NFL than in previous years. Among those who watched less, 26 percent said national anthem protests are to blame, “however those respondents reflect only 3 percent of the full, nationwide sample,” according to J.D. Power.
A less scientific Twitter poll by Seattle radio sports-talk host Brock Huard had 21 percent of 7,649 respondents saying they would not watch the Seahawks this Sunday because of the protests.
KL Shannon, the local NAACP’s police accountability chair, noted that NBA and WNBA players and coaches have also sided with the NFL protests, along with one Major League Baseball player. “The message is clear,” Shannon said. “You can’t stand on the sidelines on what’s going on in this country right now.”