fightin' words


Protest means making the moment count


Way back in 2014, some members of the Jacksonville Jaguars courted controversy for their pregame warm-up t-shirts.

The message on them: “I can’t breathe.” Those were the final words of Eric Garner, choked to death by a New York City cop, months after an analogous death-by-cop incident in Ferguson, Missouri galvanized the popular consciousness.

The Jaguars who made that statement got lit up back then by local yokels. How dare they link the NFL with politics? Specifically, those politics?

Such protests were back-burnered, more or less, until Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel in protest—followed by the decision to opt
out of his contract with the 49ers, rendering him unemployed.

Now, of course, Kaepernick has become a cause célèbre extending far beyond NFL locker rooms. With President Trump focusing on Kaepernick and other athletes who would dare to protest, the act is legitimized for people who otherwise would be on the fence.

And this set the stage for Sunday in London—where roughly 20 Jags knelt, and where team owner Shad Khan came out and locked arms with players in a show of unity.

Khan has cut checks to Trump, specifically, a million dollars for the inaugural. But he’s also taken issue with Trump policies, such as what was billed as the Muslim ban in February.

Despite generally being willing to tolerate what any Republican incumbent dishes out as long as the numbers make sense, Khan stood with his players Sunday.

“Following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump,” Khan said he “was honored to be arm-in-arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem.” 

“Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms–race, faith, our views and our goals. We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder,” Khan added.

Realistically, Trump’s comments are deal-breakers. There’s no do-overs with superstar athletes in league after league who are clowning the president on Twitter.

We are a long way from Michael Jordan’s apolitical aphorism: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” The athletes, the centerpieces of the garish art form of professional sports; they are saying that the political is personal.

For people who have devoted their entire lives to develop their craft and reach a certain level, people who realize how fleeting that time is, how it can end with one wrong hit or cut on the field, why defer the impact of being able to make
a statement?

The most prominent Jaguar involved in the #ICan’tBreathe protest was Cecil Shorts. Shorts had a couple of solid years for some bad Jaguars teams. He was injured in 2016 with Tampa, and now he’s a free agent who may be signed again, but at 29 the odds get longer every week.

You have to take your shot when you have it, because there is nothing guaranteed in this world except inevitable obsolescence, ignominious death, and biological decay. 

Closer to home than a football pitch in London, two Jacksonville City Councilors—Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown—found themselves in a unique position where they actually had to take a stand on a social justice issue … in no small part because they personally were involved.

After the Sept. 18 City Council meeting, Gaffney was pulled over on his drive home. The ostensible reason was that he was driving around on a tag that he reported stolen in 2016, after said tag ran some red light cameras.

Call it Plategate, or Plateghazi, but for those who have followed Gaffney from his days as Corrine’s valet to Medicaid billing issues and hiring Ken Adkins as a political consultant, it’s just another situation in the comedy.

The saga continued when Katrina Brown pulled up and accused the cops of racial profiling. Brown had said previously that she felt “targeted” by a poll the sheriff ran which backed up the play for 100 new cops. Imagine how she felt when her best friend on Council was pulled over. Good thing she was close by.

Now, it seems that Gaffney may have had an epiphany.

“I can see why lots of blacks are afraid of police,” Gaffney told WJXT. “When we get stopped, the first thing that comes to mind, no matter what we did, is why are they so aggressive?”

If Gaffney and Brown are really interested in changing the paradigm of “aggressive” law enforcement, they could start with some actual legislation that would change protocols of traffic stops.

We know how the protesting athletes would function in elected office on these issues. But locally, politicians have never found civil liberties to be a winning issue.

1 comment on this story | Add your comment
Please log in or register to add your comment

Ill be taking my family to games to show support. Normally I'm not someone who would choose to spend my free time and money at a football game. Not a fan really. But I was appalled that a sitting president would publicly recommend that players who protest peacefully be fired. I also understand why the players are protesting. We need change. we need empathy. So while others maybe boycotting the NFL. I'll be going to my first game. Friday, September 29, 2017|Report this