When Movements Fail & How To Ensure That #BlackoutNFL Doesn’t
First of all, I want to say that I’m a proud supporter of the #BlackoutNFL movement spearheaded by my brother, Pastor Debleaire Snell, and so many others across the country. I was on the record back in February as an advocate for a boycott. I’m glad to see them taking the bull by the horns, and calling our community to action by replacing the time we’d normally invest in watching games with more constructive efforts.
I have one issue with this particular movement, which is something I think we’re missing in this movement. To be clear, I am in no way disparaging the work that many have done in calling attention to the protests and the cause that precipitated it. But, I think there is one crucial oversight or tactic we have neglected to deploy, and that is the failure to make demands.
What’s The Point?
The protest has garnered media attention and viral impact has been generated nationwide. But, over and over I hear people asking, what’s the point? What will it accomplish? Sadly, I fear that they are right. I’m afraid that at some point people will simply fall off the bandwagon because of a lack of focus on a greater goal than community service and mentorship.
Again, these are all noble activities very much needed in our communities. But, the purpose of a boycott is to exert pressure on those in power in order to exact a certain price or force action that creates lasting change.
Two weeks ago I wrote an article outlining 7 demands we require of the NFL and it’s owners before we relinquish our boycott. It got a few looks, but next to no responses. From anyone. No agreement, arguments, or differing points of view. Nothing. The only feedback I got was that my/our demands were a bit unrealistic. In effect they were saying I was asking for too much. I don’t think so. In negotiations you always want to come from a position of strength and never underbid yourself.
Why Demands Matter
Here are a couple of key points that I think need to be underscored as to why making demands are so important:
- Keeping the ball rolling: You will lose momentum and credibility if there is no clear objective to your action. Remember the 99% movement of a few years ago? There was a lot of passion and engagement with the movement at the time. But, their inability to articulate any demands just made them into a bunch of hippies yelling at rich hedge fund managers. They accomplished nothing more than awareness of how rich the 1% was. That’s it. Their lasting impact? Zero. Which leads me to my next point…
2. Invisible arrows only hit invisible targets: The movement falls apart without a solid target to hit. There’s a reason why most NFL owners hang out in the tinted skyboxes. Anonymity gives them power. You can’t stop what you can’t see.
Interestingly enough, by blackballing Kaepernick they have also achieved the opposite result via the same tactics. The reason so many still won’t join the Blackout is because the league has done a good job (along with His months-long silence) of neutralizing Colin Kapernick by keeping him out of the league. Out of sight, out of mind. Out of mind, out of momentum.
They’ve built a strong brand based on the emotional attachment to teams and the story lines that come with each new season. A protest nebulous for nebulous reasons like “justice” and “fairness” can’t compete with a multi-billion dollar behemoth that is a fixture of the fall calendar. It’s easy for people to forget why they’re protesting, especially when you have no clearly stated demands.
No one wants to boycott a logo. Movements need villains to fight against, leaders to rally behind, and most of all, clear-cut objectives. Lacking these, people lose interest and eventually revert back into their old patterns of behavior.
3. If nothing is at stake, nothing can be won: You can’t win a negotiation if you aren’t clear on what you want to achieve. Basically you’re negotiating against yourself. You’re demanding the attention of the league be given to the issue that Kapernick protested in the first place, yet you’ve given them no reason to do so. Why should they? People stop watching sports all the time. They make new fans every year. So they keep increasing profits every year. If you aren’t threatening those profits, you will not have an impact. The way you do that is by clearly defining how you will damage their brand and impact their bottom line. Short of that, they will simply ignore you.
4. You can’t win a gunfight without bullets: Life is about leverage. Either you have it or you don’t. The only way to get it is to take it away from those who have it. The only way to do that is to exert the advantages you have in a way that puts you in a more favorable position.
The Blackout movement has defined what they will take away: time, viewership, and patronage. What happens though, without clear demands, is that you don’t focus the leverage you’ve gained in a way that changes anything. Bank robbers use guns to rob banks for money. Right now, we’re using a gun to hold up the bank… but we’re not asking for any money. At the end of the day we can say we shut down the bank, but we didn’t get paid. So what was the point of robbing the bank???You have to demand something! Otherwise it’s a moot point.
5. The line in the sand should connect the dots: The outcome of the protest should be related to the issue that provoked it. Kaepernick originally protested the National Anthem because of his convictions about the unavenged police killings. The protest is a way to get the NFL owners to leverage their influence, and effect a necessary change in society. But, unless we make this an explicit demand it won’t happen. The action mayst have a direct correlation. Cause and effect.
Crossing The Goal Line
Now, I know, in the tradition of completely missing the point, that some will take this entire post as simply being a hater. Again, I must say that I believe the momentum generated thus far is a good thing. But, in my experience, and studying various change movements of the past, unless we clearly define and articulate an end goal we will constrict the momentum of the Blackout, and we will leave little-to-no long-term effects from this effort. I believe that Trayvon, Sandra, Eric, Tamir, and so many more deserve so much better than that. We all do.