An Open Letter to White NFL Players

The NFL is all about family and brotherhood, so why aren't white players standing with their teammates?

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Complex Original

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Presumably, you’ve all participated in sports since you could walk. An emphasis on mental toughness, confidence, leadership, discipline, brotherhood, sacrifice, commitment, and teamwork are not only the foundation of the player and teammate you’ve become, but the man you’ve grown into.

As NFL players, you’re accustomed to banding together through tough times. Each day you come together for practice or for games. You lift weights together, lift each other’s spirits when morale is low, and literally lift up fallen teammates when they get knocked down. Every year coaches, fans, and the league itself emphasize perseverance, sense of community, and unity both on and off the field.

Teamwork. Togetherness. Respect. Support. Honor. Family.​

When he first began his fight to bring awareness to the numerous injustices against people of color in this country, particularly the unsettlingly consistent murders of unarmed black people by police, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stood sat alone.

"Yes. I'll continue to sit. I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand."

"There's a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There's people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That's not right. That's not right by anyone's standards."

On August 28, Kaepernick addressed why he wasn’t standing for the National Anthem and why he would continue to sit. Within days, front office executives around the NFL reportedly said they wouldn’t want such a player on their team, even going as far as to compare their feelings towards Kaepernick to their feelings about Rae Carruth, a player who was convicted of hiring a hitman to murder his pregnant wife. 


Do you know how many of you white NFL players have opted to take a knee, sit, or raise a fist during the National Anthem through Week 6 of the NFL’s 2016 season?


If there’s anything in football you want to avoid, it’s seeing a “0” on the scoreboard. However, we’re nearing the midpoint of the season and that’s where you’re at, fellas. Zero. Outside of a couple nobody-can-be-offended arm-locking demonstrations, no white players have decided to join their black teammates in this fight.

Teamwork. Togetherness. Respect. Support. Honor. Family.​

I get it—you don’t agree with the way he’s protesting. It isn’t necessarily the message. You get that black people are getting killed by police at an astronomical rate. You get that many times it has nothing to do with following officers’ orders, and that even after following orders a black person could still end up dead. You probably even get that Colin Kaepernick isn’t intending to disrespect members of the military, since he has military members in his family and clarified this point early in his protest. You just don’t like not properly honoring the National Anthem. Even if the original version featured unsavory lyrics about capturing runaway slaves. Even if the NFL’s Star Spangled Banner pregame theatrics are literally American taxpayer-funded advertisements for the US military that use your likeness as patriotic marketing.

But what if it’s your participation that’s needed to actually create change? What if standing alongside your teammates turned this type of injustice from a minority problem to an American problem? What if educating yourself and taking a knee could literally save people’s lives?

Teamwork. Togetherness. Respect. Support. Honor. Family.

Bring action to Kaep’s cause. If not for supporting equality, eliminating injustice, or realizing America’s potential—do it for your teammates.

What do these words really mean to you? Sure, this isn’t the NCAA where you’re playing for the love of the game with the clock ticking on your eligibility. This is a job now, and you have to look out for yourself. But since when has football ever been about your own personal best interests? Football is about winning together, right? About trusting the man next to you, right? About laying it on the line for something bigger than yourself.


This sport has created generations of inspirational and iconic leaders. Leaders who—through eloquence or intensity or simply success—could get a majority of the league and a healthy number of fans to join them in any fight. Some of them are still viewed as legends despite embarrassing transgressions in their past.

“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.” —Vince Lombardi, NFL Coach 1954-1969

Do your black teammates really feel you care about them?

It’s not as if white players haven’t spoken out. The Patriots’ Chris Long explained why he supports Kaepernick but will continue to stand for the anthem, bringing up that the two are not mutually exclusive and that he can support the protest without participating in it. It’s a fair point, but a protest without action isn’t a protest, much like helping someone without action wouldn't actually help.

If kneeling for the anthem—an anthem that NFL players have only taken part in since 2009—is too much to ask, you could always do something else. If kneeling for the flag and the Star Spangled Banner makes you uncomfortable (not as uncomfortable as you’d feel bleeding to death on asphalt, of course), do something different. Bring action to Kaep’s cause. If not for supporting equality, eliminating injustice, or realizing America’s potential—do it for your teammates. It’s the NFL way.

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