In Tulsa, a police officer has been charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher. In Charlotte, a curfew and the presence of the National Guard led to mostly peaceful protests after two nights of clashes with riot police, even as the family of Keith Scott called for the public release of dashcam and bodycam videos showing his shooting death at the hands of police.
The point is, many Americans don’t have the luxury of not thinking about this stuff, to varying degrees but at all times. Many of those that can pretend this is a problem that doesn’t exist want to do exactly that—they’re the 44 percent of poll respondents who claimed they would stop watching the NFL if players continued to use the national anthem to make statements of protest.
“If somebody like, say, Aaron Rodgers got behind us, I think it would touch home for a lot more people,” said Seahawks defensive lineman Cliff Avril, whose team has chosen to lock arms while standing during the anthem. “At the same time, I see why they probably wouldn’t, because they don’t know what we’re going through.”
Avril is not calling out or demanding anything from Rodgers specifically, but with Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers coming to Seattle this weekend, it got some Seahawks players musing to the Seattle Times over the value of the message sent by a white player sitting or kneeling for the anthem, something that hasn’t happened yet.
“You need a white guy to join the fight. The white guy is super important to the fight,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said. “For people to really see social injustices, there must be someone from the other side of the race who recognizes the problem, because a lot of times if just one race says there’s a problem, nobody is realistic about it.”
It’s easy for a large swath of this country to think that things are fine, because the problem doesn’t personally affect them. Even well-meaning allies can fear that this isn’t their fight, or that their gesture would necessarily come from a place of ignorance. But this, like all non-violent protest, is about attention and awareness, and spreading it as widely as possible. As Doug Baldwin told the Times, a white player getting involved “would get a different part of the population to open their eyes and ears.”
The value of Colin Kaepernick’s actions, and those of the players who have joined him, is in their unavoidability. The NFL is the biggest stage there is, and provides a cross-section of this country you just can’t get anywhere else, not at this scale. What good is a protest if it doesn’t force you to take notice? And what good is a protest if you can pass off the protestors as people who have nothing in common with you?