Stand, Kneel, or Sit: What Today’s Seahawk Action Means For Black Lives Matter

by Marissa Jenae Johnson

It’s the beginning of a new football season for the NFL and, like almost every other facet of American life, the movement for Black lives has left its mark. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines weeks ago when he sat for the national anthem during their pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers. When reporters asked why he chose not to stand for the anthem, Kaepernick 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.”

His action quickly became a new platform for conversations around the movement for Black lives. Kaepernick’s stance (or lack thereof) has inspired others, including Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane and Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, to join him. As the Seattle Seahawks prepare for their first game of the season today against the Miami Dolphins on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, talk has been swirling about a possible team-wide protest.

Earlier this week, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin spoke with reporters about his support of Kaepernick and admitted he’d thought about taking similar action, stressing that “anything we want to do, it’s not going to be individual”. Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner seemed to confirm the idea of a team-wide action.

Doug Baldwin during the Super Bowl pregame, 2014.  Image from Flickr:Super Bowl XLVII (48) New York New Jersey, Author: Anthony Quintano

Media outlets ran with this news and U.S. Uncut even went so far as to publish an article titled “The Entire Seattle Seahawks Team Will Protest The National Anthem At Opening Game.” The backlash was swift and, within hours, fans were outraged by the potential protest. A local mayor even cancelled his city’s Seahawk’s rally in light of the news. By Saturday afternoon, though, Baldwin had clarified his previous statements saying the team would “stand and interlock arms in unity,” along with a promotional video via his twitter.

Some who were cheering the Seahawks earlier this week denounced the newly released plans and others who had condemned the idea of a Black lives matter protest now cheered. But bigger than the question of what will happen today is our larger understanding around why these protests matter and what purpose they serve politically.

If the Seahawks do indeed stand up and link arms for the national anthem in today’s game their actions will not only be a failure in aiding the movement for Black lives, but they will undermine the very work of active resistance that first inspired them. Far from helping to liberate Black people, their show of colorblind complacency would be worse than if they had never said anything at all.

To be fair, the parameters around what makes an athlete’s symbolic action “pro-Black” were already blurred very quickly after Kaepernick’s first protest. By his own words, he intended for the protest to amplify the efforts of those fighting against police terrorism against Black people in America. But when the backlash began, Kaepernick’s action was very intentionally framed as an attack on veterans. Almost instantly the conversation shifted from police brutality to veteran support – a conversation where Black lives lose on either side.

It is a common move, historically, to get Black people to be complicit in America’s genocidal imperialism by promising to make them citizens. It is a trade off. Get Black folks to internalize their nationalism and they won’t help Natives reclaim their land. Offer Black people, often already economically exploited, money and resources to join the military and they won’t have a problem killing and terrorizing ‘the foreigner’ oversees. It’s what Muhammad Ali was talking about when he spoke about refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War: “They never called me ‘nigger’, never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.”

But most people, and likewise Black people, are not aware of how interconnected our oppression is with other POC groups. And it is for this reason many Black people, being raised like all Americans in deep and illogical nationalism, feel inspired by the movement for Black lives only to become trapped by their almost subconscious commitment to a country that has never been for them.

Which is why, when faced with the notion of “disrespecting veterans”, Kaepernick changed his stance from a sit to a kneel as, in his words, a gesture towards honoring veterans. And just like that, an action that was supposed to highlight the plight of Black Americans instead came to symbolize Black support of white supremacist, imperialistic, American nationalism. What began as a freedom call, ended up flexing to the respectability politics around US military and gave “support” to a military that has been used to exterminate and exploit brown and Black people across the globe.

Nonetheless, Kaepernick is trying to push forward to a pro-Black stand. He did not back down from his protest amidst death threats and harassment and he seems to be taking strides to support the movement. But as others begin to join him, his message can either get strengthened or whitewashed. The Seahawks plan for today threatens to do the latter.

With the Seahawks proposed “protest” not only do they reinforce anti-Black American nationalism, but the language around the fight for Black lives has been dropped altogether. Instead of a call to address the specific oppression of Black people in America, their messaging has come to mirror #alllivesmatter rhetoric.

What’s worse is that with their linked arms, players like Lane who would have already sat down in protest will now be physically forced to stand for the status quo. Symbolic protest is nothing if it is not messaging, and the Seahawk’s latest plan shows that the pro-Black messaging that started with Kaepernick’s first sit has now been completely bought out in a superficial show of patriotism.

It’s not as though the NFL needs any more acts of patriotism. In fact, they get paid millions by the US government to hold those grand ceremonies. It is more likely that they are protecting their interests. Indeed, the NFL and the US government are quite similar in that they both exploit Black bodies for profit and will do anything to maintain that power. Lure in vulnerable Black bodies, beat and exploit them while paying them a relative penance, all the while make them believe they truly are a part of your “tribe” then discard and forget about them after they have served their usefulness. It should come as no surprise that both major institutions would be aligned in changing the narrative around a possible player revolt.

So whether you support the Seattle Seahawks and their action today depends not only on what they do, but on what you believe politically. If you “support our troops” and believe that all our nations racial ills can be solved with #alllivesmatter and a kumbaya, their standing and linking arms during the anthem will make you proud. If you recognize the hypocrisy of standing for the anthem while Black people continue to be oppressed, but haven’t connected our oppression to US imperialism, then you would prefer they take a knee. If you understand both the evilness of US nationalism and the importance of the fight for Black lives, then you probably would like to see the players sit, symbolizing their divestment from the hypocritical show altogether.

And if you are like me, one who understands the brainwashing of US nationalism and who is dedicated to active and militant resistance in the fight for Black lives, you might prefer an even stronger stance: that players remain standing in a posture of power, but turn their backs to a flag that represents the global oppression of Black and brown people.

But, more likely, today’s action will be decided by the thing that informs all of American politics and life: money. Stand, kneel, sit or otherwise we will know the players’ politics. And as we witness time and time again in Black liberation movements, we will learn among our skin folk whose resistance can be bought if the price is white.


19 thoughts on “Stand, Kneel, or Sit: What Today’s Seahawk Action Means For Black Lives Matter”

  1. One of the things that makes this country strong is the First Amendment, and we are lucky to live in a country where people can express their views during the national anthem. However, I believe it goes too far to suggest that standing for the national anthem somehow undermines the principles of equality and freedom from oppression that our nation is founded upon. If we don’t take ownership of the flag as a unifying force then we are just as divisive and destructive as a presidential candidate that would seek to fan the flames of racism and bigotry That’s my belief.

  2. I do not understand why the protest of black lives matter & Collin Kapernick are directing their protest at the US flag, anthem, constitution,,& it’s citizens. First and foremost the US goverment is not responsible for the hiring ,training or salaries of local police officers. The cities and mayors & citizens of them show disrespect and contempt for this nation it’s flag,anthem,,constitution,,and it’s citizens, ,who have sworn to defend it with their lives,,so you can have the right to protest,,is naive, ,ignorant, & delusional, ,if you don’t want to be a citizen of the US,,denounce your citizenship, ,give up your 114 million dollar contract and move to north korea, I’m sure you will be treated well when you protest their flag

  3. This is dumb the Seahawks, Colin kaepernick or any of the others have even mentioned black lives matter I think it highly sad and unethical to make such an assumption with no factual evidence to back it up please let these men define their own protest

  4. I wholeheartedly disagree with paragraph 6.
    What they displayed today by not sitting/kneeling out the national anthem, is that no matter what happens, we will do this together. I love my Seahawks, and even though I rarely get to see them because I live in Cleveland (Where Tamir Rice was murdered by police…), I root for them on and off the field. They have a classiness about them that few other teams do. If this is what they felt was necessary, then I support their decision. No matter what adversity plagues them, they’ve got each other’s back.
    It’s time we rise up off our keyboards as a nation and take our country back and make the police force realize, they work for US, and if they have an issue with the members in the community they work in, whether it be a black, white, Hispanic, Asian, or any other community, they need to look for work elsewhere in a community of their choosing. And we all need to stand arm in arm to make this happen!!!

  5. I have a different opinion of Black Lives Matter. As far as “affecting every facet of American life”, the only effect it has had in my life, is to put a negative impact on my view of the participants in the BLM movement. Labeling the US as being complicit racism against “people of color”, is pure Bullshit. And US Nationalism is Evil? Really? You have the freedom to spew this shit, don’t you? Nobody kills you because you are gay. Or black. Or hispanic. Which is another point. The illegal aliens here are thriving. Smuggled across a border. Living under the radar. Living on the fringe of society. Yet, they are getting it done. Having kids (that they actually take care of), working 2 or 3 jobs just to get by, I’d say American Society is more biased against those guys than they are against blacks. So, what is the excuse now? “Everybody hates us?” Maybe, if they didn’t burn down their own cities, after a cop killed someone that attacked him, or actively call for cops to be killed, and maybe take a page from the illegal aliens playbook, and just work hard and move your life forward IN SPITE of everyone being against them, things might change. As it sits right now, race relations are worse now than at anytime in my lifetime. Rioting and demanding shit is going to make it better. Being disrepectful and insulting the country that ALLOWS YOU TO MAKE $19 MILLION PER YEAR, isn’t going to hurt anyone but Kaepernick, nor is it going to help anything, either. Remember, without his fans, he is nobody.

    I guess you’ll label me as a racist. I would also call you one, since apparently, everyone that is white, is your enemy.

    Have a good day, brother.

  6. NFL players making millions of $$$ in our great USA. Leave & see what you get. Don’t come back either. Let’s start a movement to deport these disgruntled people & take away their citizenship & rights. It’s the very least we can do for treason.

  7. I’m no longer surprised with the hypocrisy of “Americans”…always boasting of how free we are, then speak of deporting citizens for doing what they want…wow! And I see alot are angry because a man makes millions playing sports and still wants to do what he wants. I was wrong…I AM surprised!

  8. I cannot take this racist crap anymore…No one is keeping the black man down besides the hate in their own hearts and them holding onto the past…Ummm as far as I can remember blacks sold blacks…why aren’t they hating each other. Oh and the media whom forgets to report the fact that more blacks are killed by other blacks than any white police officer killing a black. Yes there are probably some bad cops, just like bad teachers and poor sport players…but the Police are doing a job and they put their lives on the line every day. I’m sorry but most of the black men that people keep protesting about are committing or have committed crimes during the time they were killed. I have friends of all races, criminal backgrounds and genders…NEVER in any of the time has any of them, when they were being arrested, been beaten or shot at because when the cop says stop, they stop. When a cop says show me your hands or any other request they do it. When stopped for a traffic violation, why does a cop have to listen and take abuse from mouthy, inconsiderate people. Would you listen or let people talk to you in this way at your job everyday? NO YOU WOULD NOT!!! Since Obama came into office he has fueled the fire of racism and it’s as if we are back in the dark ages but this time the racism is reversed. It is now blacks being racist against all whites. Why, on another note, is THAT acceptable? It is not the American Flag or this entire country that is responsible…Go protest Obama and the liberals for telling you that SOMEONE owes you. No one owes you and honestly, if we could speak to our ancestors, they would also tell you no one owed them or gave them a hand. They worked for what they needed and didn’t always get what they wanted. We are such a spoiled rotten generation that we feel the people whom have made money and worked hard for their money somehow owe us!!! NO THEY DO NOT…Yes, some people live in the ghetto and unthinkable areas that none of us would want to live. But I didn’t put you their. My parents worked hard, disciplined us, and made sure we stayed out of trouble and worked for everything we have. Believe me, I work hard every day and I don’t have a lot of money but I don’t hate the rich because they do!!! I am tired of all this…why don’t these players in protest get together and put their millions where their mouths are and spend some money in the poor areas of this country…help them develop programs and get them out their working? You know why all these actors and high-profile people don’t do it? Because they aren’t going to give up their hard earned money…I read a lot of these posts and it makes me sick on how everybody blames the rich and whites and so on and so forth. They protest and burn their own communities and steal from their own people…Ya that’s going to get you a ton of respect and help!!! We have money for all the welfare people but yet our elderly who worked their entire lives and worked hard, we have no money for…I want ONE person here to tell me how you can justify that!!! Well I wish I could sit here all day and continue with real facts and issues but yes I have to get back to WORK!!!

  9. With all due respect to those who believe the National Anthem represents freedom and respect for the sacrifices of veterans, that’s what the anthem represents 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘺𝘰𝘶. For black decedents of slaves, the third stanza of the anthem (see below), celebrating the lack of refuge for “hireling and slave” (referring to escaped black slaves who fought on the side of the British during the War of 1812), might represent something else altogether:

    𝘈𝘯𝘥 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘣𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘴𝘰 𝘷𝘢𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘭𝘺 𝘴𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘦,
    𝘛𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘰𝘤 𝘰𝘧 𝘸𝘢𝘳 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦’𝘴 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘧𝘶𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯
    𝘈 𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘢 𝘊𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘺 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘶𝘴 𝘯𝘰 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦?
    𝘛𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘣𝘭𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘸𝘢𝘴𝘩’𝘥 𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘧𝘰𝘶𝘭 𝘧𝘰𝘰𝘵𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘱’𝘴 𝘱𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯.
    𝘕𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘧𝘶𝘨𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘴𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘪𝘳𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘭𝘢𝘷𝘦
    𝘍𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘳𝘰𝘳 𝘰𝘧 𝘧𝘭𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘨𝘭𝘰𝘰𝘮 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘷𝘦,
    𝘈𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘳-𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘦𝘳 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘳𝘪𝘶𝘮𝘱𝘩 𝘥𝘰𝘵𝘩 𝘸𝘢𝘷𝘦
    𝘖’𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘳𝘦𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘳𝘢𝘷𝘦.

    From Snopes covering both The Intercept article and other sources on this topic:

    There are historians (notably Robin Blackburn, author of The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848, and Alan Taylor, author of 𝘈𝘮𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘉𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘬𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘞𝘢𝘳 𝘰𝘧 1812), who have indeed read the stanza as glorying in the Americans’ defeat of the Corps of Colonial Marines, one of two units of black slaves recruited between 1808 and 1816 to fight for the British on the promise of gaining their freedom. Like so many of his compatriots, Francis Scott Key, the wealthy American lawyer who wrote 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘵𝘢𝘳 𝘚𝘱𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘉𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘦𝘳 in the wake of the Battle of Fort McHenry on 14 September 1814, was a slaveholder who believed blacks to be “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” It goes without saying that Key did not have the enslaved black population of America in mind when he penned the words “land of the free.” It would be logical to assume, as well, that he might have harbored a special resentment toward African Americans who fought against the United States on behalf of the King.

    “With that in mind,” writes Jon Schwartz on the web site The Intercept, “think again about the next two lines: “𝘈𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘳-𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘦𝘳 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘳𝘪𝘶𝘮𝘱𝘩 𝘥𝘰𝘵𝘩 𝘸𝘢𝘷𝘦 / 𝘖’𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘳𝘦𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘳𝘢𝘷𝘦’ ”

    The reality is that there were human beings fighting for freedom with incredible bravery during the War of 1812. However, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘵𝘢𝘳 𝘚𝘱𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘉𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘦𝘳 glorifies America’s “triumph” over them — and then turns that reality completely upside down, transforming their killers into the courageous freedom fighters.

    1. And that part of the Anthem is not sung anymore…African Americans are not the only people that had to struggle through hatred…The Indians, the Irish, the Italians and almost every religion/nationality has had to struggle…Just like a white family moving into an all black neighborhood would struggle! It’s the hanging on to the past as if YOU were the ones that suffered…You and I didn’t suffer our ancestors did. It’s this hatred that keeps racism alive…It’s more blacks against whites trying to stir the pot. It’s not about black lives mattering it’s about UNITY….Stop stirring the POT and start to teach our kids that everyone bleeds the same color!!

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