Outrage over Kaepernick protests misses the point

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This week two more black men were killed by police. While video of Keith Scott’s shooting was not conclusive, the video of Terrence Crutcher’s death showed a clear abuse of power by a cop with many red flags who was clearly not prepared for the situation. The video was clear enough for the Tulsa DA to bring charges against Betty Shelby, a rarity in police-involved shootings. You’d think that an abuse of power this definitive would be enough to outrage the nation, but the outrage sweeping the US is motivated by a different thing entirely — the protests by football players during the national anthem.

After Colin Kaepernick started the trend of sitting during the anthem to protest institutional racism, others quickly followed suit. Jeremy Lane, Brandon Marshall and Arian Foster, among others, joined Kaepernick in the NFL, while athletes in other sports, notably soccer player Megan Rapinoe knelt during the anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick’s cause. Even high school football players decided to join in.

In what may or may not come as a surprise, these acts were met with a great deal of venom from both pundits and fans of the NFL. Talking heads like Mike Ditka said that they had “no respect” for Kaepernick, and a congressman implied that he was responsible for the New York bombing. A recent survey showed that he was the most disliked player in the NFL and a #boycottNFL movement was started that seems to have had a real effect — the NFL’s ratings are significantly down. The protest of the anthem has managed to do what Ray Rice, Richie Incognito and Greg Hardy never could — get people to stop watching. This behavior is confusing to say the least. Why would a protest offend fans more than all the real crime and scandal that NFL players have been involved in?

The answer boils down to willful ignorance. Watchers can choose to ignore scandals and crime, but are forced to confront the anthem protests every time they tune in. This just shows how essential Kaepernick’s protest is — the fact that a large portion of NFL fans are more concerned about disrespect to a symbol over actual loss of human life shows how abstract the struggle of people of color is to a large amount of people. They ignore the killing of black people just like they ignore the criminal activity of NFL players. Forcing these people to confront injustice, which is what the protests do, is the only way of getting through to them.

Chastain-Howley is rhetoric and writing junior from Dallas.