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raceAhead: The NFL Plans to Fine Players Who Kneel During the Anthem

Yesterday, the NFL issued a new policy requiring all players on the field to stand during the national anthem or risk league-issued fines.

For supporters of the protests, the optics are tough. It’s a rule made by a mostly-white management to police the expression of a mostly-black workforce, on issues of vital importance to many of the player’s fans and communities.

It also politicizes the national anthem over a spectacle that has little to do with patriotic values.

And it looks like capitulation to a petulant President who is using his bully pulpit to harangue private citizens and jeopardize their livelihoods, while distracting his viewers from the bigger issues facing the country and his administration.

Sports and entertainment are two of the only areas where black talent has consistently earned a platform big enough to raise social issues, so the silencing feels familiar. “Taking a knee” clearly had legs.

And by talking about the anthem, we’re not talking about other things like criminal justice reform, underinvestment in communities of color, or how pro-football is a gig that comes with a 100% injury rate and the potential of devastating permanent harm, like CTE. What if the NFL were regulated by OSHA? asks Deadspin.

Oh, and Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job.

Allies will emerge, like Jets chairman Christopher Johnson who plans to absorb any fines incurred for anthem-related player protests. And I expect that the athletes themselves will find creative ways to make their feelings known about the policy and the larger issues the protests hoped to highlight.

At times of great division and disappointment, people like to invoke Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his belief in the long arc of a moral universe that bends toward justice.

But along the way, it also bends toward power.

Consider Rose Robinson, a black high-jumper from Chicago, who is believed to be the first athlete to refuse to stand for the U.S. national anthem, at the Pan Am Games in 1959.

The one-time Olympic hopeful also refused to go on State Department-sponsored goodwill trips – which she called their “propaganda machine” – and turned to the black press to share her grievances about life in a segregated country.

I stumbled on Robinson’s story in an interview with Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history at Penn State and co-host of the feminist sports podcast, Burn it All Down. She joined The Nation’s Dave Zirin in a fascinating conversation about her research and her forthcoming book, Can’t Eat A Medal: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow.

Like Kaepernick, Robinson was shut out of her sport. Her advocacy for civil rights landed her in jail, on a trumped-up charge of tax evasion involving $380. It led to a very public hunger strike that turned her into a minor cause celebre among a small number of supporters.

And then she was forgotten.

But I cautiously predict that Kaepernick and the other players won’t be. The arc of the sports universe has always bent toward power – now, no longer just derived from traditional authority, but from social movements, consumers, and celebrity “brands” who can survive the sanctions of the day to stay in the spotlight.

I wonder what the Rose Robinsons of history could have done with a social media megaphone, and how different the world would be now if they’d been able to get traction. Best we can do is remember her name and have faith that the long arc of a new power gets us somewhere near justice for all, sooner rather than later.

On Point

TheSkimm closes a $12 million Series C with Shonda Rhimes and Tyra Banks in the mixThe women-led media company and e-mail newsletter powerhouse confirmed its Series C investment round which included previous investors, Google Ventures and Spanx founder Sara Blakely, along with some important new names. Among them: Shonda Rhimes; Tyra Banks; Willow Bay, a former journalist and now dean at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism; Jesse Draper, founding partner of Halogen Ventures; Linnea Roberts, founder and CEO of GingerBread Capital; and Hope Taitz, CEO of ELY Capital. “We wanted to use this moment in time to curate a really impressive group of female investors, to make sure we had a larger female presence on TheSkimm’s investor syndicate,” said co-founder Danielle Weisberg. The round brings their total financing to $29 million.TechCrunch

The Most Reverend Curry is having a moment, y’all
I don’t get to gloat much on this beat but I will say this: I told you this would happen. Rev. Curry became the breakout star of the recent royal wedding, when he invited the world to view the world through a black preacher’s eyes. He even went long and off script, on cue. But as this breezy recap from Vanity Fair makes clear, he’s parlaying the moment into a “tidy media tour,” sharing his message of love and reconciliation. He was even parodied on SNL, a sure sign that he’s arrived. You can follow him on Instagram, too.
Vanity Fair

Native American student-athletes have been expelled from their lacrosse league for reporting racial epithets and abuse
It’s a complicated story, made more so by the ugly fact that the sport has been played by indigenous people long before Europeans showed up; and uglier still, since it took the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1973 to reverse a provision that banned young athletes from playing their own sport. But three majority-Native youth teams, with players aged 11-18, have been booted from the only league in the Dakotas for no discernable reason other than they reported serious racial abuse directed at them from other players, their parents, and referees. At first blush, this sounds like a straightforward story, but a local investigation, now amplified by Deadspin, reveals an ugly pattern of unchecked racism embedded in the culture. “You’re going to experience racism, you’re going to get called prairie nigger,” explains one coach.
Deadspin

Boots Riley is here to make your summer more bonkers
“It’s an absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction, inspired by the world of telemarketing. It’s called ‘Sorry to Bother You.’ ” This is the “level one” pitch that community organizer, activist and anti-capitalist hip-hop artist Boots Riley used to get people interested in his film project. I’ll cut to the chase: After many levels and many pitches, the film goes out to wide release in July. Along the way, luminaries like Patton Oswalt, Dave Eggers, Jordan Peele, Donald Glover, Kathryn Bigelow and Lakeith Stanfield all responded, in some form, to some aspect of his pitch. Either way, Boots Riley is poised to become a name to finally remember – his film was a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival – Vice called it the “most bonkers movie,” Vanity Fair called it “a bonkers social satire”; Slate called it a “feverish, bonkers satire.” So, bonkers.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

Stalking for Love
RaceAhead favorite (and grit expert) Erica Joy Baker flagged this video, explaining that it breaks down an important but complex concept: The determined behavior we frequently see from men in romantic comedies is actually dangerous and intrusive stalking, and that it exists in pop culture as a heroic theme is problematic. Produced by Pop Culture Detective, it makes an exhaustive case that the hero of some of our most beloved comedies engages in behavior that blasts past true boundaries and common decency, and is actually manipulative, disrespectful and in some cases, abusive. And yet, he’s rewarded for his efforts by “getting the girl.” Groundhog Day, Ten Things I Hate About You, The Notebook, The Amazing Spiderman, Crazy, Stupid, Love fans… I’m sorry. Also, every other movie, too.
YouTube

The racist history of prom
We’ve already explored the racist history of swimmingsquare dancing, even tomatoes. But college proms, once short for promenade, were highly segregated affairs, originally designed to be a lower-rent version of the debutante balls for the elites, and an opportunity to introduce middle-class young women to society (and potentially eligible husbands.) By the 1920s, the concept was extended to high school, and with it came the rigid social norms of gender-based behavior and white supremacy. After Brown v. Board of Education, proms became a battle ground for integration. Spoiler alert: It didn’t always work. Plenty of single race proms still exist, and Wilcox County High School in Abbeville, Georgia, held its first-ever integrated prom in 2013.
History

Innovation needs diversity to thrive
Ali Merifield the head of client services at Mirum, a digital creative agency, has published an essay that encourages leaders in search of innovative ideas to steel themselves for discomfort and awkwardness ahead. Diverse teams, “might slow down process and expose some shortcomings and weaknesses elsewhere in the system,” she says. “Problem solving and product development won’t be as comfortable, or as much fun, as working in a homogenous group straight out of the same social, cultural and educational background,” she ways. But it’s that comfort and familiarity that causes teams to fail. By falling back on an initially easy rapport, assumptions go unchallenged and new perspectives fail to surface.
Campaign Live

Quote

You have to look at the history of pro sports in this country to understand how slowly things changed in the NFL with certain positions. In football, the ‘thinking’ positions down the middle – quarterback, center, [inside] linebacker – were the ones that we weren’t allowed to play. Despite the fact that there were a lot of African-Americans playing in the National Football League in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, there was a stereotype that we weren’t capable of succeeding at certain positions. If you played those positions in college and you got drafted, you knew you were probably going to get moved in the NFL. Supposedly, we weren’t smart enough or had the leadership qualities or whatever it took. At every position, for African-Americans, conquering that myth at quarterback was so important.
Warren Moon