Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas was part of a group of players who met with owners and commissioner Roger Goodell this week to talk about the state of the league’s approach to protests during the national anthem.
He’s also a man who has been singled out by police for no good reason. Casillas recounted his reality to Bob Glauber of Newsday, mentioned the number of times he’s been stopped, and how nervous he gets every time.
“I’m not going to be a football player all my life,” Casillas said, “but at the end of the day, I’m still going to be a black man in America.”
And because of that, Casillas seems worried about the actual impact of recent protests.
When former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began making a statement during the anthem, it was to protest the unfair treatment of minorities by law enforcement. (It should be noted he began by sitting, but chose to kneel after talking to veterans, as a way of showing respect to their service.)
But over time, Kaepernick’s intent was diluted and appropriated, sometimes by himself (by wearing sock depicting police as pigs, along with Fidel Castro t-shirts). But when President Donald Trump spoke last weekend, hoping owners would fire any “son of a bitch” who knelt, the message changed dramatically.
“Is kneeling conducive for us as players? Is it conducive for our league? Is it conducive for the guys that are actually kneeling?” Casillas said. “Because there’s a guy who kneeled a long time ago, and he hasn’t seen the field since then. Ever since he kneeled down, he’s only done the right thing. Maybe he didn’t do the right thing before that, the whole socks situation. But since he’s kneeled down, he’s only done the right thing. He’s donated his salary and jersey sales and all that.”
Casillas wondered whether last week’s wave of kneeling players were true to Kaepernick’s message, or simply a reaction to a politician throwing red meat to his most loyal supporters.
“Hopefully, we can make changes [in society],” Casillas said. “That’s all we want, and hopefully that can happen.”
Of course, the reflex to last week appears to be more shows of #unity like the Cowboys and Saints have chosen, when teams can separate any political statements from the political statement being made by playing a patriotic song before a ball game. With every team that chooses a route designed to offend the fewest amount of people possible, and resemblance to Kaepernick’s original intent fades further toward obscurity.