AT ARM'S LENGTH - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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AT ARM'S LENGTH

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A gesture of support by NFL owners is meaningless without them taking real action

IT WAS the same scene, with slight variation, playing out in every stadium, and it defined the NFL weekend: players standing along the sideline during the national anthem, sometimes with their coach, sometimes with their owner, linked arm-in-arm.

If it was the most common protest, it was also the least effective. After the example set by Colin Kaepernick, it can be assumed that a player taking a knee or sitting out the national anthem is protesting the injustices facing people of color in America, and the lack of accountability when unarmed black and brown people are harassed, assaulted or killed by law enforcement.

To stand for the anthem does not mean you oppose these injustices, of course. But linking arms presents a faux show of unity that promotes the false ideal that we are one, that we are all treated the same and that we're in this fight together.

What is this show of unity? If anything, the linked arms appear to be a sign of solidarity against President Trump, a man with a history of inserting himself into conversations that do not include him. But Kaepernick's protest isn't about Trump or the flag but about racism and inequality; Trump perverted this to make it all about him.

Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers stayed inside the locker room during the anthem on Sunday because "there are only a few times in life when you have a chance to stand up for something you believe in." But the arm-in-arm stances are moderate compromises that point to an issue off in the distance rather than a confrontation of ugly truths about the country—We're thinking about the issues but we can't be bothered right now with solutions. Protests are designed to make you feel uncomfortable, to motivate change. Linked arms do little.

But it was the appearances in London and in Landover, Md., by team owners Shad Khan of Jacksonville and Dan Snyder of Washington that stripped the "protest" of credibility. They stood linked with their employees on Sunday; each had given $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee—for a candidate who had promised citizens further division through bigoted, reckless rhetoric.

The presence of Khan and Snyder on the sideline was an affront to the cause championed by Kaepernick. If you truly stand with your players—some of whom condemned the President after the game—anything short of a total rebuke of Trump and a sizable donation to an organization promoting justice would be insufficient.

But there they were in this charade of unity, months after giving a fortune to celebrate a man who believes the players beside them are sons of bitches. And there wasn't a hint of irony.