NFL #BlackOut and the importance of Action Items (DO Something)

A group of African American Pastors and community members in Madison County, Alabama, have created a video (that has gone viral) and an action campaign called NFL Blackout. It includes a Mancott (boycott for men who believe in liberty and want to make a difference), mentorship for boys and girls in local communities, and prayer. They are taking seriously the call to not just “not watch” NFL games but to DO something. And I like it – because it has a platform not only for a message but a thought out action plan that can change lives. Pastor Debleaire Snell explains and challenges others in doing so, “There comes a point in time where I have to prioritize my convictions more than my entertainment value.”

As of now, Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been signed for the 2017 NFL season. Kapernick made headlines when he took a knee during the National Anthem, during the 2016 NFL season. “I find that strange seeing that the NFL has employed individuals of sexual assault, domestic violence, cruelty to animals and driving under the influence,” Snell said.

While I (the author) believe strongly in Kaepernick’s (and everyone’s) right to freedom of speech and self-expression, and do not believe he did anything illegal or Anti-American per se, I do think his mistake was to do this the first time at a game dedicated to military appreciation. It took away from his desired message. Pastor Snell explains in the video below. “”He did this to kind of raise awareness, to the number of brown and black individuals that have been beaten or killed at the hands of law enforcement across this country.” Though I believe Kaepernick’s original explanation was much broader – “racial injustice and minority oppression”.

Focus became stuck on a perceived disrespect for people who have served in the military, which was not Kaepernick’s intention at all. Several people I know who served in the military were upset. When I mentioned that even if people don’t agree with him, we need to retain and support the right to non-violent protest and freedom of speech, they answered that they were expressing THEIR views. They found his actions to be offensive and disrespectful to those who put their lives on the line. “Fair enough,” I noted, “and you fought for EXACTLY this right (among other rights) – for BOTH of you.”

As you listen to the video, you may jump to the conclusion that the NFL is worried about alienating their “white audience.” Yet it helps to be aware of our own potential biases, then consider alternative explanations. I would like to suggest that it is the “military audience,” and in particular veterans…of any race, especially since the underlying concern is the loss of sponsors and advertising money.

Before I make my next point let me clarify a few things. I believe that racism exists and is a large problem, that there are SOME racist police and even some entire FORCES that have a culture of racism. But by no means do I think that all, or even most, police officers act out of hate or racism in their jobs on a day to day basis. I would guess that Black Out members are in agreement, perhaps even at varying levels. Each person’s individual beliefs are largely informed by our personal experiences. I also acknowledge and want to point out that fear and emotionally and physically stressful situations can cause mistakes to happen. Yet young (and some not so young) brown and black men ARE being beaten and killed by police officers.

The more that people are aware of problems and injustices, the more the issues can be addressed – whether by punitive measures or by training and education or other interventions. And yes, as some point out, many young brown and black men and women are being hurt by each other. I don’t think anyone denies that is also an issue. But that is a separate problem, and should be treated as such…not used as an excuse not to address the first. Yet, interestingly, this Black Out campaign DOES address both, even if indirectly, by their Call to Action. (I encourage you to watch the whole thing before reacting to the campaign.)

In my conversations, another disturbing point of view from those who actually did understand Kaep’s point was, “How would he know anyway, he is rich and a celebrity.” This sentiment concerns me because:
1) How would any of us really know his personal experiences with discrimination, oppression or the police, especially growing up? As a society we have this weird fantasy that we actually KNOW the people we idolize or see on the screen. We don’t. We know a persona.
2) It implies that only poor or disenfranchised people of color face discrimination, or that discrimination it is rare. Many people face discrimination for many reasons. No one group is privy to experiencing, or meting out, racism or oppression, though it is true some are more likely.

Black Out Call to Action Poster - BATB_HTC-280x280

Colin Kaepernick is a pro-football player who used the very visible platform that such a status gave him for something he believes strongly in. And he is paying a huge price for it. The organizers of NFL Black Out are mostly Pastors and they are using the platform they were given. Perhaps more of us should follow their lead and plant seeds of awareness and CHANGE for what matters to us, right where we are planted.

What can you do? Follow the Action Items provided below by #NFLBlackOut, mentor a kid in your own sphere of influence, or take a stand or a knee for something you believe strongly in. But please don’t just sit back and watch – whatever “watch” means to you.

Action Step 1: Boycott all NFL and all products.
Action Step 2. Dedicate 2 hours every Sunday, for the next 17 weeks, to the boys and girls of your surrounding communities.
Action Step 3: Spread the word!
Action Step 4: Pray for your community.” (and our nation)

Heather J. Kirk is an author, graphic designer, artist and fashion designer
She takes a stand by encouraging others to purchase clothing and products whose manufacturers pay a living wage and do not commit human rights violations. You can use the following Apps to help you do the same. Good on You and shop ethical
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