Silent Protests Continue to Have Weight

New Orleans   The National Football League continues to hope that they can outlast the players and their use of their “platform” to communicate their deep feelings about the state of racial injustice and police brutality in the country, but it’s not going away.  In fact it seems fueled by the owners failure to understand the depth of the players’ feelings.  Furthermore, the players protest is also hurting the White House now.

Here’s the scorecard from this weekend’s games as reported in The Hill:

Six players visibly protested at the game between the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, The Associated Press reported, and Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung raised a fist during the anthem before a game in Massachusetts.  During a game in London, nearly all members of the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns stood arm-in-arm for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Save The Queen.” … a majority of Houston Texans players knelt and locked arms during the anthem. While some team members had protested previously, this week’s demonstration appeared to be in response to owner Bob McNair’s comments in an ESPN The Magazine article saying “we can’t have the inmates running the prison,” in reference to prior protests. About ten players stood with their hands over their hearts, according to The Houston Chronicle.

Ok, not a mass movement for sure, but effective all the same.  The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that only 30% of Americans overall approved of President Trump’s handling of the NFL protest.  Of course Trump’s overall approval was a record low at 38%, but the protests were among his lowest scores, partially because he’s fighting a battle he can’t win.

He’s not the only rich, high-riser who is out of touch though.  Houston Texan’s owner, Bob McNair, clearly didn’t get it at all, but neither did Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones.  One tried, ham-handedly to mouth off as a boss, and the other tried playing the schoolyard bully.  Both were forced, likely by their coaches, to have to appear at a captive audience meeting with their players to back off their comments.  Those were powerful, silent protests behind the pay window from the fans and the media glare, but the fact that they happened at all is proof of the power of the protest and the depth of its support.

There’s also no peace on the field that is likely forthcoming.  Organizers and leaders of the current protests, only a week after an attempt at a reconciliation effort to co-opt the players in a meeting brokered by the league and the union with the owners in New York City, last week publicly complained that they were disappointed in the lack of progress and movement on these issues.  The McNair flareup will sharpen their critique, and start to pry the lid off of the effort to compromise and upgrade the league’s profile of work in the community.

Protests, large or small, loud or quiet, never really end until there is real change, and none is evident at this point.

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Players, NFLPA, and Local 100 ULU All Seem Winners After Owners Meeting

Demonstrators rally outside the location of the annual NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

New York City   It’s never over until it’s over, but for at least one meeting, the bully-boy owners and the National Football League have been forced to back away from their threats and ignore the even bigger bullying and Twitter threats of President Trump as well.

Reports from the NFL owners’ meeting in New York indicate that almost a dozen owners were present at the meeting physically along with the NFL Players’ Association chief and about a dozen players. There was supposedly a dialogue on the issues of racial discrimination. Supposedly, there will be some initiatives taken by the league to support efforts at alleviation racial discrimination. Among the players were some who had been part of protests.

Importantly, despite earlier statements by some owners, like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, there was no discussion of any rule changes for the anthem. In fact there were commitments that there would be no fines, penalties, or discipline for any players continuing to protest throughout the season.

Before the meeting former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kapernick, whose initial actions last year triggered these on-going protests over racial discrimination and police brutality, filed a grievance accusing all of the owners and teams throughout the league of “collusion” in their continuing refusal to hire him despite his record last season. The grievance goes to an arbitrator and, if successful, could trigger triple damages. Since his salary was $15 million, if awarded back pay because of the league’s blackballing, he could collect up to $45 million.

All of this seems to be pretty much a hands-down victory for the players, their union, and our own union, Local 100 United Labor Unions, who filed a charge with the NLRB Region 16 in Fort Worth over the disciplinary threats of Dallas Cowboys owner Jones. Not to be a wet blanket in the celebration, but this is likely to be a celebration for a battle won, rather than the end of the war. The owners had been caught red-handed in violation of labor law, as pointed out by Local 100, but also according to other noted academic observers in violation of basic free speech protections of the First Amendment of the Constitution as well as the Civil Rights Act. They were also going to be in violation of their own labor agreement with the NFLPA which blocks unilateral changes or in fact any rule changes once training camp ends and the season begins.

The owners and the league though are still worried about the continued harassment from President Trump, though the 49ers owner publicly indicated that they just had to ignore all of that. The impact of fan reaction potentially accelerating the recent attendance decline and television ratings slide is likely something that will command their attention more than the President since it hits their pocket books directly. Is this now a “charm offensive,” as the owners try to win back their own players first and try for a wink-and-nod at stepping up against racial injustice in hoping to exchange the public protests seen by the fans for private discussion and concessions brokered by the union? Given that they seem to be willing to invite Kapernick to future meetings, and he seems open to attending, I would almost bet on it.

Some measure of the current victory though is a report that Jerry Jones when confronted by Black Lives Matter protests in the lobby of the New York meeting hotel, listened, and kept his mouth shut. For Local 100’s part, that is a huge victory in itself and, depending on how the weekend games play out, could be sufficient for us to withdraw out charge at the labor board for now.

We’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime, as organizers everywhere would say, “a win is a win.”

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