Coalition of National Civil Rights Leaders Condemn NFL’s Censorship of Peaceful Protest During the National Anthem

WASHINGTON —  Today, a broad coalition of leaders of national civil rights organizations released a letter to the National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell objecting to the NFL’s new rule censoring players’ peaceful protests during the national anthem of police violence against unarmed African Americans and other people of color. When players take a knee during the national anthem, they seek to raise awareness of police brutality and violence routinely perpetrated upon unarmed and nonviolent people of color. 63% of unarmed people killed by the police are people of color; police are twice as likely to kill unarmed African Americans as white Americans. Racially biased policing undermines our criminal justice system.

Protesters striving to create a more inclusive democracy define the history of this country; there is no better way to honor our national symbols than to fight for equal justice for all. Racial disparities within the NFL’s leadership make this recent decision even more appalling. 70% of NFL players are black, yet 75% of head coaches and 100% of team CEOs and Presidents are white men. No team has a majority owner that is African American or Hispanic. Compelling players to stand during the national anthem erodes the values the flag represents and tells the world that the NFL does not care about racial justice.

“In no uncertain terms, the NFL is standing on the wrong side of history with its repressive and racially-charged anthem rule. Just like generations of nonviolent civil rights activists before them, these players may be shuttered into a locker room but they will not be silenced,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “There is a long history of athletes—from Jesse Owens to Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick—using the field or the arena to challenge barriers to racial justice. The NFL claims to be built on grit and competition but lacks the constitution to stomach a call for basic equality and fairness. We urge Commissioner Goodell to repeal this policy immediately.”

“Protest is an American tradition. In a free, democratic society, the protest is a legitimate and necessary way for aggrieved communities to hold our country accountable to its highest ideals and to urge those in power to take action,” said Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP. “The day we cede control of this noble right is the day we weaken our collective power to effect change. We call on the NFL to abandon its unfair anthem rule now.”

“The NFL continues to conflate kneeling during the national anthem with disrespecting our flag,” said Angela Rye, Principal and CEO of IMPACT Strategies. “This false narrative is heavily influenced by the Trump Administration, which has openly led the charge in attacking players protesting the injustices of the criminal justice system. We demand the League not only reverse this order, but also acknowledge and honor the fact that players are protesting systemic police violence. We continue to stand in solidarity with those courageous players and encourage ALL players to continue to take a knee or even better: sit out this season if the NFL fails to realize that no game can be played without the players.”

The letter was signed by leaders from Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Advancement Project, American Civil Liberties Union, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, Arab American Institute, Center for Constitutional Rights, Color of Change, Hip Hop Caucus, IMPACT Strategies, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, MomsRising, Muslim Advocates, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Action Network, National African American Clergy Network, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, National Council of Negro Women, Inc., National Women’s Law Center, Pod Save the People, and South Asian Americans Leading Together.

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