Op-ed: Media coverage of the NFL protests

by Bryce Johnson and Pat Seavey
edited by Trent Dunn

There are hundreds of professional athletes who have taken a knee across sports, most notably in the NFL. However, most people have lost sight of the initial purpose of the protest. Starting in 2016, Colin Kaepernick took a knee to express his beliefs. The initial focus of the players taking the knee was for them to stand up for what they believed is right.

The media is to blame for this because of the way that they have covered the whole ordeal. They have focused more on  the reactions from those in power, most notably President Donald Trump, and more recently Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.

(Photo: USA Today)

When Colin Kaepernick began protesting last fall, he said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way…”

Wesley Lowery said in a video with CNN, “The owners as well as the league, by and large, with the assistance of the president have been able to pivot this to a conversation that is no longer about the things Colin Kaepernick was talking about. So, we have seen conversations about unity and team and sports… when frankly that has nothing to do with what Colin Kaepernick was talking about, or many of the players who kneeled in response.”

The American media has covered Trump’s statements about how the players who kneel are “disrespecting the flag” and how he believes that the owners should “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.” They have covered the recent comments by McNair who said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” They covered the fact that entire football teams kneeled, linked arms, or stayed in their clubhouse for the National Anthem one week. The media has even covered the fact that Kaepernick has yet be signed by an NFL team and they have theorized why. It seems as though the only part of the protests that the media has not covered is why they even happened and what kind of impact they have had on the American society.

Has anything changed? Who has taken Kaepernick’s message and worked to spread it? What is Kaepernick doing to spread his message while he is unsigned by an NFL team? All of these are compelling questions that are not being asked by the media.

Lowery said, “I do think it’s our responsibility. It’s incumbent upon us to continue having conversations, to continue doing journalism about issues of racial disparity in policing, issues within the criminal justice system.”

So why not discuss the real issues surrounding the protests? Because the discussions of racial injustice and police brutality are uncomfortable and hard to talk about.

Technically the NFL can “fire” an employee for not standing for the anthem. An article by Paul Callan for CNN said, “ The fact is, these athletes do not have the ‘right’ to protest at football games unless their employers consent to the conduct. Their private employers have a legal right under the US Constitution to fire or suspend players who engage in acts of protest on the field during the playing of the National Anthem and the display of Old Glory.”

While the NFL has the right to get rid of players who are protesting, the fact that they are allowing it to continue shows that they respect their players’ rights of free speech and assembly. This is what the media fails to recognize.

So, the protests will likely continue and when people in power such as Trump and McNair lash out at the protests they will once again gain traction and support.

For as long as the media covers the protests the way that they are, then the protests and the reactions will continue to grab headlines and overshadow their original message about the need for equality and change, and will continue to fuel these false accusations of players disrespecting our country.

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