Kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest is dead.
Cause of death: doing too much. The guilty party: the Dallas Cowboys, who instead of kneeling as the national anthem was playing, dropped to one knee seconds before it started and then stood up to do President Donald Trump’s favorite move, the arm lock.
Yes, they had help in killing the spirit of the protest—from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks who stayed in the locker room to the dozens of other teams that did some remixed version of kumbaya—but the Cowboys' knees were the final death blow.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick began a peaceful protest during the national anthem to call attention to and protest the atrocities of police brutality and inequalities in America's criminal justice system—which render the promises of the anthem a farce. A little over a year later, his intended message is all but lost. It became about vague messages of unity instead of the deaths of unarmed black people.
Is there anyone who believes Jerry Jones was thinking about Tamir Rice, Philando Castile or any of the other victims in recent memory?
Taking a knee, after Monday, is now as effective a political message as the dab is a cool dance. When Cam Newton began to dab to celebrate touchdowns, a move he picked up from the rap group Migos, it was seen by many as a form of black joy. Then people like Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan started to dab to up their cultural cachet.
The protest effectively became gentrified. Now, players like Aaron Rodgers, who has barely addressed the issues for which Kaepernick took a knee, think everyone, even fans, should lock arms during the anthem.
For the black players who will continue to kneel in protest, boos will likely continue to rain down upon them, but the media attention may likely soon dry up. As the cops like to say, "there's nothing to see" there anymore.
So for them, the players whose large paychecks still can't protect them from social injustice, how can they protest in a way that reminds people why Kaepernick first kneeled?
I propose a few options, with one criterion: The protest must make those who witness it more aware and uncomfortable, as it's only when we leave our comfort zone that we experience change.
The LeSean McCoy Protest
One of the more unusual forms of protest came from Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, who didn't kneel or even stay seated during the anthem. McCoy ignored the song altogether and decided instead to stretch. It was an aggressive-aggressive way to make his feelings about what Trump said known, and the indifference riled some people up.
The Black Power Salute Protest
Few gestures represent solidarity with black America more than the raised fist, commonly referred to as the Black Power salute. In 1968, Team USA Olympic track medalists Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) raised their fists during the national anthem while standing on the podium in Mexico City. It was arguably the most iconic moment of the Black Power movement and the reason the gesture is used by many to this day.
Two receivers—Brandon Coleman (New Orleans Saints) and Odell Beckham Jr. (New York Giants)—raised their fists in the end zone to celebrate touchdowns this past Sunday. Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins has also raised his fist (albeit while standing) while the anthem has played, and there's a reason for that: The salute symbolizes power to the people for the people.
The End-Zone Protest
The raised fist from Beckham was his second touchdown celebration of the day. The first was a far more indignant response to Trump's SOB comments about players who protested: Beckham got on all fours and raised his leg like a dog would urinating. The move was not well-received by many fans, which is ironic considering the far less dignified remarks that prompted it. But it was a reminder of the NFL's complicated politics behind its end-zone celebrations and why it's such a great moment to amplify a cause.
If the anthem protests taught us anything, it's that timing is important, not for the sake of other people's comfort, but for being understood. People began to think Kaepernick and those of his ilk were protesting the anthem and the American flag when neither was true. But an end-zone celebration might be the perfect time to make their cause known with a lot of fans watching. Perhaps a player can mimic Terrell Owens' infamous Sharpie celebration and write "Black Lives Matter" on a ball and see how the referees and the league respond.
The Press Conference Protest
One of the most visible moments for every player is the postgame press conference. Players can say as much or as little as they want. As long as they keep the language clean and their tempers in control, there's nothing the press or the league can do, which is why if players simply wanted to relay a message of the issues they most care about, they could do this in response to every question asked.
The reporters may ask football questions, but like Marshawn Lynch said "I'm just here so I won't get fined" to every question asked of him at Super Bowl XLIX media day, another player can be just as defiant and determined to be heard and understood.
What if a team all responded with the names of unarmed citizens who were killed by police? "I won today, but Michael Brown lost." If coordinated correctly, the message would be powerful.
The Anthem Protest
At many Historically Black College or University (HBCU) games, there is a longstanding tradition that two anthems are played. One is, of course, the American national anthem. The other is a song called "Lift Every Voice and Sing," more commonly known as the Black American National Anthem. Originally a poem by writer and activist James Weldon Johnson written in 1899 and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was first performed for a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1900. It is as American a song as "The Star-Spangled Banner," only it wasn't written by a slave owner.
Of course, it might not be realistic to play this song at games right away. Maybe the way to begin rolling this out is to play the song during pregame warmups, and all the black players can put their routines on pause to lock arms and look up in the sky to sing along or listen while the song is being played on the stadium speakers.
Maybe the NFL can play the song before it plays "The Star-Spangled Banner" as a form of solidarity with its workforce, which is 70 percent black. Then black players can see how many allies they truly have by the number of non-black people who stand with them as they sing, "Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us."
Whatever happens this Sunday, whether players continue to kneel or consider staying in the locker room, the issues that spawned this whole thing will continue. Many of the players who will take a knee know that underneath the helmet and the jerseys and the pads, they're still black men living in a country where once upon a time in its history they were considered three-fifths of a person; where just last Friday, the president himself considered them no better than dog spawn simply for kneeling on behalf of what they believe in. And even when the league finally got on board, the players' voices were drowned out by their owners and the commissioner's. But silenced they were not. The players can still be heard. They just have to be louder and bolder to make people more uncomfortable.
Colin Kaepernick may never play another down in the NFL again, and even if he gets invited back, he reportedly does not plan to kneel. So what does the next form of protest look like to get the world's attention, and when that happens, what will the players do with it?