There have been numerous questions this week for players, coaches, and executives across the NFL regarding the new wave of National Anthem protests we have seen during the preseason. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan both offered thoughts about it this week.
In his comments on Wednesday, Lynch said he respected the players’ right to protest, but thought it could be divisive. The use of the term “divisive” has resulted in plenty of push-back. My own reaction was that I did not buy into what he said about football being a beacon for culture. The game itself can show the traits we want to see, but the NFL has been anything but a beacon for America in recent years.
On Thursday night, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins raised a fist during the Anthem. A picture capture his teammate Chris Long with an arm around his shoulder. After the game, Long was asked about it. He said, “I thought it was important that athletes with my skin color stood up with others protesting for racial equality.” Long has been outspoken in support of the Anthem protests, and his actions followed Michael Bennett saying the effectiveness of the protests would grow with white players’ involvement.
On Friday, John Lynch made an appearance on KNBR. He was asked if he saw the Long, Jenkins moment, and what his reaction was. Lynch took the opportunity to try and clarify his thoughts on it. Here’s a transcript of his comments.
Reaction to seeing Chris Long with his arm around Malcolm Jenkins as latter had fist raised:
I did. And I’m glad you brought this up, because I’ve had, over the past couple days, a lot of thought, a lot of waking up in the middle of the night thinking about what I said and how people perceive that. When I saw that picture of Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins, I think that’s exactly what I was speaking to. And what I think is so great of football is that I think it really is an example of like how our society can be and should be, people coming together. I played for 15 years, I’ve been around the game, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of about the league. That’s what I was trying to articulate. I want people to know where my heart is. I said the other day I respect, I also want them to know I understand. In light of things going on in our world right now, in our country right now — I sat home, I went home for a day last week to see my family. We sat home and we watched that Charlottesville, and when you’re talking to your 10-year old, and trying to explain what’s going on. It’s sad, it’s disgusting, it’s unbelievable that these things still exist.
I think I want to go a step further. Not only do I respect, I also understand the motivations of these players that are trying to do something about it. And so I want to be very clear with that, that that’s where my heart is. I think people who’ve been around me know that. I’m new here, and I think some things I talked about the other day, what I was trying to say was, this game is a great example of what can be. As I watched LaDanian Tomlinson’s Hall of Fame speech, Ladanian’s been a guy I competed against, but a great friend, and that’s the message I was trying to, it’s time to unify, but I also understand the motivation of, hey, things can be better. And that’s what this country’s about, it’s about being the best. If we can make things better, then I’m all for it. And I want our players to know, I want people around the league to know, I understand that motivation as well. I just want, I’ve always seen, personally, the Anthem as exactly that, as a unifier. So that’s what it means to me, but I also respect and understand that to other people, hey, things can be better. I believe things can be better. So when they take that stance, I respect and understand it. Hopefully that clarifies some of my comments.
On using the word divisive:
I think that’s, these days with social media, context is kinda taken out. But if I could take one thing out, I think it would be that word because of the negative connotation. But I was really trying to make the point that our game should be a beacon for what can be. That’s the only thing. I have talked and had a lot of thoughtful conversations with people whom I respect over the last couple days, and I hope I expressed myself a little better — both on the positive side and on what I failed to do the other day.
Part of the reason some of these players have protested the Anthem is they do not view it as a unifying symbol. For black people in America, the experience for the entirety of their history has been significantly different than that for a lot of white people in America. For many minorities, the flag, the Anthem, the founding fathers, and everything else we celebrate about the country do not provide the same positive connotations many people take from them.
There is a view that protesting during the Anthem is disrespectful to America. However, different people are coming from vastly different life experiences. I strongly believe that part of the disconnect on all this comes from people not being able to fully grasp the historical experience for other people. There is a difference between knowing there was slavery and knowing Jim Crow laws existed, and knowing the long-term implications this has had. Ratifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments after the Civil War, passing massive Civil Rights legislation to roll back Jim Crow -- all of that is important to moving the country forward, but it does not begin to make whole the experience of black people in America.
These are some of the many reasons why black athletes have been protesting during the National Anthem. People try and narrow it down, but this is much bigger than a lot of people want to acknowledge, and that has led to a disconnect for a lot of people when it comes to really understanding the problems in this country.
I greatly appreciate John Lynch trying to better understand the situation. The road to understanding the plight of black people in this country is a lengthy one, and educating one’s self is an important step. But in some ways, I think he (and I and plenty of other people) has a lot more to learn to fully grasp why Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins, and so many others are doing what they are doing.