Deafening Silence and the 'Conversation' Cliches of the National Anthem Protests

For the rest of our days, or at least for the rest of however long we still want to talk about him, Colin Kaepernick is going to inspire a lot of rage. Rage against him, rage against his stance, rage against his profession, rage against oppression, rage against rage. He went from being a wunderkind to the league’s highest-paid backup to America’s (insert something good or bad here) in quick order. And even if somehow he lines up under center for the San Francisco 49ers ever again, he’ll never just be a quarterback or, eventually, a former pro athlete.

But something else has happened in the near month since he became this flashpoint of a country getting caught in its feelings. Actually, it’s what usually happens whenever unthreatening individuals are shot by law enforcement these days. Media personalities will say that what he and a growing number of athletes pro and amateur have done is “spark conversations.” They have “started a dialogue.” By taking a knee or sitting during the "Star-Spangled Banner," these athletes have “opened up a discussion.”

And this is where your friendly neighborhood Scribe gets upset. It’s where blood boils, the jaw and fists clench, the eyebrows furrow, and words spittle unconsciously. If you’re a person of color or even an ally, you have heard those words uttered pretty often, but with little to no action behind them.

Every time I notice a well-meaning person — especially a white person in a prominent position in the limelight — use one of the discussion clichés, I want to ask her or him two questions:

  • Do you actually have these conversations with anyone?
  • If yes, do you have these conversations with your white relatives, friends and colleagues away from the cameras, away from social media and away from attentive critics?

There is something to be said about how this paradox of these apparent conversations was articulated not by broadcast or cable news, not by the most prominent news sources, and not by new generation outlets that rank high on comScore. It was best addressed on a fledgling new show co-hosted by the most infamous personality in sports media today.

Last week, the Skip Bayless-hosted "Undisputed" on Fox Sports 1 had another episode discussing the protests and the highly divisive “show of unity” by the Seattle Seahawks. While there have been a few viral clips from the nascent show, there was one that particularly stood out in addressing the conversation clichés. It was a lengthy exchange between co-host and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe and network analyst Joel Klatt. While the 14-minute segment is surprisingly worth your time, at the 8:42 mark, Sharpe challenged Klatt on the frequency, or rather infrequency, of these sudden “discussions”:

Now as more police shootings involving unarmed black men hit the news waves, the exasperated point to Kaepernick to remind his critics that his message could not be clearer. And in revealing that he has received death threats, the quarterback himself reminds those same detractors (some who are rather quiet) that any action against him proves the point. All of this should spark more dialogue, according to the newsmakers of the country.

Yet, Sharpe and others further away from the media glare have called out the paradox. Who are having these conversations? When and where are they taking place? What are they specifically talking about?

Most of all, what remains are some prevalent queries left unanswered, if even asked at all. Why are they having these so-called discussions now after decades of ignoring the pained cries of racial minorities? Is it that they finally had enough? Have the videos finally provided the visuals needed in order to give a damn? Have you seen enough pie charts with empirical evidence to finally say “well ****, maybe the blacks are on to something”?

But we can go beyond that as it relates to sports and activism in recent years. Why didn’t previous displays of protests “spark a dialogue”? Why didn’t the conversation clichés come out a couple of months earlier when the NBA’s most famous friends made the clarion call to their fellow pro athletes? Why didn’t we have that mythical “national conversation about race” when athletes from across the sports world said, “I can’t breathe”?

When we are finished typing on these keypads, done repurposing tweets and memes to fit “both sides,” lamenting how tired the aggrieved are, and bracing for the next victim, we are left with our collective silence. Not just the relative silence we see from privileged co-workers and classmates on social media. Not just the silence of loved ones whose bigoted viewpoints are being confronted with each released video. Not just the silence of those who criticized the most visible demonstrations from athletes in quite some time. We’re left Big Media’s new magic trick, a hollow and glitzy discourse about nonexistent discourse.

We at The Sports Fan Journal — an independent sports editorial of minority founders and a diversifying staff of voices from coast-to-coast — have discussed these matters privately and publicly over the last two years. While we may not capture the wide range of viewpoints about social matters that our readers share, we have expressed a basic anger, sadness and frustration about a country that is schizophrenic about its liberties and who should have them. (The answer is everyone that breathes.) We hope that in the reading time indicated on the upper right-hand corner of this page, we capture your attention enough to carry discussions forward not only in the comment section or on Facebook and Twitter, but offline to a real, in the flesh, actual human being.

If Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, the Seattle-based Garfield High School football team, Kelsey Bone and numerous others across the land are sparking discussions about the inequities in the United States, then we should all be talking right now. So why aren’t we?

9 Replies to “Deafening Silence and the 'Conversation' Cliches of the National Anthem Protests”

  1. These conversations you say aren't happening have been in my family since at least the 1960s. I'm not sure how you measure what white people say in their own homes unless you go door to door and ask them. But to come out and say the conversations don't happen is ludicrous.

    1. Then what do you talk about? As a matter of fact, could you answer every question posed in this article about these discussions?

      Also, have you considered at all why people of color tend to believe that white Americans aren't discussing - and acting upon - these matters?

      And it's not just in their own homes, which as we can agree on, is vital as where we all learn who we are as individuals, but in places where we interact with one another. Schools, places of worship, work, public venues.

      1. You make some good points. I have and can answer the questions in the article that pertain to me. I can NOT answer the questions aimed at people I've not conversed with.

        To answer your first question, i and my family/friends discuss the race issues as the become made aware. Racial discrimination is not tolerated in my house and as a former teacher, not tolerated in my classroom.

        Your second paragraph. Absolutely! However, reverse the situation and you'll get the same. That some people of color just assume all white people don't either care nor have discussions about this racial issue. Please consider answering all the questions asked in this article but in reverse.

        We as a nation and as a community have a long, long way to go in solving our racial issues and it does begin with discussion. But to assume all white people don't is whack.

        1. First, let me say that while we seem to differ on some things here, I appreciate that we're using the forum respectfully. I'm hopeful that you and I come from the same earnest place, hoping that our society is collectively better than what it's showing.

          But secondly, while I can imagine how you'd infer that I said all as when these shootings happen, we read, watch and listen to a collection of outrage, I never said all. I would never say all, though there are quite a few people of color who do. I've talked and continue to speak about these matters with a few of my white friends and colleagues (including a couple who have served as mentors throughout my life), though admittedly, it's never comfortable for anyone. It's draining and weary on our souls.

          1. I think one of the reasons why it's weary on our souls is we begin at some point to realize that some people will never change. No matter the dialogue or circumstance. However, that doesn't mean the dialogue must stop so we can rest our weary souls. We must continue to teach our young so that maybe, hopefully, they fully understand that racism is simply not tolerated.

            As a side note. I'm thrilled (very saddened for the situation) the white policewoman that shot the black man with his hands up a few days ago has been arrested. Doesn't mean she was guilty or innocent, but what it means is a step in the right direction. At least this person that shot, from what appears to my eyes, an innocent man, will stand trial for her actions instead of a simple paid suspension.

  2. Dope post... everybody that is going in on Colin, come up super quiet when another cop kills a minority.. which is the point in the stand he's taking, but everybody wants to point to the armed forces and try to cloud the real reason and just like when a minority is killed they want to try to point out something in their past or if they were under the influence of any drugs.. anything to cloud the real situation.. and that's half the problem..

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