An Open Letter to Athletes Who Kneel

By Brandon Blackburn:

It has been a few weeks since your “movement” was launched and in that time there has been robust debate about the merits of your tactics.  Some of you have been fired, while some have seemingly profited off the attention. You have been supported by both those who fight and give their lives for your right to do so and those who feel you give a voice to the injustices you’re demonstrating against. But what seems to be lost on the coverage is that for most of you your tactic is actually no speech at all. It is silence. Silence that does nothing to provide solutions to what are legitimate concerns to be sure, though not a systematic belief that reflects the ideals and belief of this great nation. A great nation where you have been afforded the opportunities and lifestyles most of the world can only dream of. And when you are confronted with the opportunity to participate in actual speech, many of you fail to engage in a way that is thought provoking or respectful.  It is probably why this week a representative of the highest court in the land called your actions as disappointing and stupid. Not stupid necessarily from an intellectual standpoint, but stupid from the standpoint that your actions are ineffective.  Perhaps further proving Justice Ginsburg’s point, who by the way is Jewish and in her over eighty years on this earth has certainly seen her share of systematic oppression,  your self-appointed leader who plays quarterback for a west coast team could only respond by questioning the need to honor the flag, or as he called it “just a piece of cloth.”

Thankfully we have men and women in this country who understand the meaning of this flag and lack such an ego to ever make their work to combat injustice about them. These people know how to speak when others are silent and have the fortitude to stand when others kneel. Men like Tremane McCullough. Tremane’s brother was shot and killed by police during a response to a night club shooting whereby he was mistaken for one of the assailants. That happened when Tremane was 14.  Seven years later Tremane found himself playing college football in Missouri, not too far from Ferguson at a time when protests and riots were a daily occurrence. Perhaps having the most legitimate beef with police of anyone in the show me state, Tremane wanted to do something to address the issues of race and distrust of police. He, like many of you, took his protest to the field as well. However, he chose to stand instead of kneel by organizing a flag football game with members of the community and police.  Or how about a man like Raymond Nelson in Charleston, South Carolina? Raymond is a black man who teaches elementary school in a low income district. After hours of being in the classroom under the stress of dealing with overpopulated classrooms, underpaid and overworked, nobody could argue if at the end of the day Raymond chooses to kneel. But instead he stands up to make a difference by working with at risk children to teach them life lessons and prepare them to be gentleman in the real world.

I realize that most of you as professional athletes probably do not know these names because they almost certainly do not run in the same circles as you.  They are not millionaires nor are they famous.  But you probably do know the name of Shaquille O’neal.  He stood instead of kneeled to put in the work required to become a reserve police officer, and did so to make a difference in his community and to serve as a role model for children.  And you probably know the name of Pat Tillman. That which the aforementioned quarterback refers to as just a piece of cloth now drapes over his casket because, despite being in the prime of his football career, when he saw injustice in the word he decided to stand instead of kneel. He served his country and showed his anti-war stance by bringing the fight to those who wish to bring war to us.  Widespread warfare has never happened in the modern era on our land because of men and women like him who stand instead of kneel to confront true evil where it resides.  Evil that looks to enact violence at every opportunity to include detonating bombs at large sporting events as a means to kill others simply because they are of a different race or belief system.

But you have never experienced such violence at any of your sporting events have you? That is because of the men and women in blue and camouflage who stand and look forward while you kneel and look down. They do so that you and your colleagues can play your game, and make your millions, with little regard for those who make your success possible. And you do so all the while wearing a truly meaningless piece of cloth.

Brandon Blackburn is an OpsLens Contributor and former CIA Counterterrorism Officer with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and an MBA with a concentration in International Business. During his time with the CIA, Brandon served multiple tours in the Middle East, to include Iraq and Jordan, and in Afghanistan. Brandon consults with businesses and media on national security related issues with his consulting firm B4B Enterprises.  He can be followed on Twitter @Bran_Blackburn.

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