It’s time for a strike: An open letter to NFL players on understanding their moment in history

Shaun King
Jun 7, 2018 · 5 min read
Donald Trump holding a football

Dear NFL Players,

It’s hard to understand a moment in history when you are in it.

62 years ago when thousands of black men, women, and children in Montgomery launched a 13 month long boycott of their local bus system, what they were doing wasn’t even being called the Civil Rights Movement yet. They were literally just local people who were sick and tired of being embarrassed and mistreated on the busses every single day. So they decided they wouldn’t take it anymore. And their boycott was a real sacrifice.

Right now — you are in a moment in history. The President of the United States has openly and repeatedly lied about you, degraded you, called you sons of bitches, said you hate this country and are unpatriotic, said you should be yanked off the field, and that you should leave the United States.

That same man has repeatedly attempted to ban Muslims from entering this country. He has called entire African nations — “shithole countries.” He has called immigrants of color “animals” and separated immigrant children, including infants, from their parents — often sending them thousands of miles away from each other. He has emboldened white supremacists. He has openly and publicly encouraged police to be brutal to suspects. He openly called for the death penalty for non-violent drug offenders. He once took out a paid ad in the New York Times saying that the Central Park Five, a group of young Black boys in New York who were wrongly accused of rape, should be executed.

That man, according to sworn testimony from several NFL owners, has now dictated policies to your league — telling owners to not give an inch on the anthem or anything else because it is good for him politically. This is actually a crime. It is illegal for the President of the United States to use his influence to cause businesses to change policies for his political benefit.

Yet here we are. He’s not being held accountable and the NFL team owners have clearly colluded together with the President of the United States to dictate NFL policy.

Furthermore, several of your esteemed colleagues, including Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, have been effectively banned from the NFL as a penalty, a punishment, for being courageous enough to have a peaceful demonstration against injustice and police brutality in the NFL.

Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick

Again, this is a very real, very disturbing, deeply problematic moment in American history. We now live in the time where two exceptional professional athletes in the prime of their careers, have been targeted and banned for peaceful protests. It’s wrong. It’s unjust. But you have the power to fight back.

These upstanding professional men have had their careers and their livelihood taken away from them. It’s not OK. Team owners and executives have clearly done this to Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid to make an example them in front of each of you. This same tactic of publicly humiliating and shaming and punishing revolutionaries comes directly from American slavery.

Listen to me brothers — you are better than this.

I have spoken now to over 150 of you. Each of you have told me that you are sick about what has happened in the NFL. You are disturbed by what has happened to Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. You told me that you want to do something. You told me that you understand you make this league and that it couldn’t exist without you.

But you also told me that players don’t have a unified method of communication with one another to plan a real course of action. You also told me that each of you has very real financial obligations, from mortgages to staff members that rely on you, and that the prospect of missing paychecks is a serious concern. Many of you also told me that veteran players who are already on their 3rd and 4th contract need to step up and play a lead role here.

Here is what I know…

Donald Trump is counting on you doing nothing.

The league owners and executives are counting on you doing nothing.

But you are in a moment in history where doing nothing would be a grave mistake. It would be a grave mistake for you, for your legacy, and for your name to simply allow Donald Trump and these team owners and executives to denigrate and abuse you, to effectively ban world class players from the league for a peaceful demonstration, and for you to do nothing about it.

Maybe you will still take a knee or raise a fist during the National Anthem. Maybe you will stay in the locker room. That’s your choice.

Your greatest power, though, is your willingness, in this unprecedented time, to stand up for Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, and strike.

Refuse to play under these circumstances.

Don’t play a single down of football until these two men, and others, who’ve been effectively banned from the league, not for violating league rules, but for making a peaceful demonstration about injustice, are guaranteed a full return.

So many of you told me that what Donald Trump and the league owners have done has “spooked” you. Many of you told me that because you and your teammates don’t want to experience what Colin and Eric have suffered, you aren’t so sure that you are willing to protest in any public ways moving forward.

I understand. I truly do. I know what it’s like to be threatened. I know what it’s like to be humiliated and targeted. But listen to me — you are so much better than this. You are stronger than this. Do not bow to these men. Show them that you have power. Show them that you have courage. Show them that you can unify and fight back. Stand up for your brothers that have been targeted and had their careers stolen from them over this.

We believe in you.

Do not miss this moment in history. Instead, step into it. Embrace it. If a time ever existed for you to stand up for yourselves — and for all of us — it’s right now.

Don’t play another down until this is resolved. You each put your bodies and brains on the line in this league. You deserve the peace of mind of knowing that if you ever peacefully demonstrate against some form of injustice that it won’t cost you your entire career.

Be bold. We come from a bold tradition. Now is your time to walk into it.

We’re counting on you.

Shaun King

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Husband, Father, Journalist, Activist.