Has ‘Taking A Knee’ Outlived Its Usefulness?

At Vox, a history professor named Louis Moore writes despairingly about the most recent round of NFL anthem protests:

Last Sunday, in the largest single-day athlete protest in American sports history, players across the league linked arms and took a knee during the national anthem. But it was a toothless gesture.

… Billionaire team owners who had donated to Trump’s campaign joined in. The symbol of taking a knee came to mean something else — unity, anger toward Trump, free speech. Kaepernick’s bold statement against systemic racism had been co-opted….

The beauty and brilliance of Kaepernick’s protest the previous season is that it put all athletes and fans on notice. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told reporters. He did not mince words.

… The desire to appease adversaries has overshadowed the meaning of a protest against systemic racism.

I agree with Moore that these protests have been watered down in response to anger from the president, right-wing commentators, and football fans. It’s clear that they mean less when they’re gestures of team solidarity (or solidarity among players) and not signs of opposition to racism and police brutality.

What’s happening now reminds me of what happened to Occupy Wall Street six years ago. As the Zuccotti Park occupation continued and met with official resistance, the focus of Occupy seemed to change. At first, the occupiers took to the park to protest inequality and the greed of the rich; as weeks passed, the protesters seemed more interested in defending the occupation itself. They fought to stay in the park as the weather got colder, and as the right-wing media fixated on problems with the occupation. The point of the protest got lost.

In the long run, Occupy did succeed in changing the way we talk about the global economy — but the occupiers lost the momentum of the early fall of 2011. Post-Trump, the NFL protests seem to be heading the same way.


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The protesters rose to his bait and spent last Sunday protesting attempts to stop them from protesting. Celebrities and ordinary citizens on social media began taking a knee themselves, in solidarity with the players, and, it seemed, only secondarily in solidarity with victims of police violence. The message was diluted. The spread of the gesture outside football stadiums made taking a knee seem as toothless as planking or the ice bucket challenge.

I don’t think we’ll see anthem protests for much longer — this year, yes, but probably by next year they’ll be a memory. Taking a knee has has lost its potency. New responses will be necessary.

crossposted from No More Mister Nice Blog.

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