Behold, another move to co-opt a crude outline of Colin Kaepernick’s protest, divorce it of any meaning or purpose, and cash it in for a branding opportunity. The Green Bay Packers released a statement tonight asking their fans to link arms in a display of unity during the national anthem before Thursday night’s game.
The statement, which says that it is signed by the players, reads in part:
This Thursday during the national anthem at Lambeau Field, Packers players, coaches and staff will join together with arms intertwined—connected like the threads on your favorite jersey. When we take this action, what you will see will be so much more than just a bunch of football players locking arms. The image you will see on September 28th will be one of unity. It will represent a coming together of players who want the same things that all of us do—freedom, equality, tolerance, understanding, and justice for those who have been unjustly treated, discriminated against or otherwise treated unfairly. You will see the sons of police officers, kids who grew up in military families, people who have themselves experienced injustice and discrimination firsthand, and an array of others all linking together in a display of unity.
Those of us joining arms on Thursday will be different in so many ways, but one thing that binds us together is that we are all individuals who want to help make our society, our country and our world a better place. We believe that in diversity there can be UNI-versity. Intertwined, we represent the many people who helped build this country, and we are joining together to show that we are ready to continue to build.
Let’s work together to build a society that is more fair and just.
Join us this Thursday by locking arms with whoever you’re with, stranger or loved one, wherever you are—intertwined and included—in this moment of unification.
These protests did not start with some abstract goal of unity. Kaepernick is not out of a job because he tried to pursue unity. The idea of unity as a wholly positive ideal state is not only flawed, but insulting. Standing together means very little if there is no communal understanding of what it means to stand and no individual action beyond simple performance. Kaepernick was specific and unambiguous in his protest against police brutality and racial injustice, and he paid for it. Now, the NFL is taking his movement and hollowing it out to slap their own empty ideals on it and ask that everyone join in.
This is neither new nor surprising—there’s a deep playbook for corporate or establishment groups looking to grab the language and aesthetic of protests to simultaneously profit off them and defang them. It’s just maddening and gutless.