The swirling controversy over athletes and others protesting the flag is all rooted in hypocrisy, said Dr. Harry Edwards, the renowned author, professor, sports mentor and civil rights activist.
Edwards, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The Revolt of the Black Athlete,” was the architect of the 1968 Olympic Project for Human Rights which led to the memorable black-gloved fist salute by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
Edwards, who also fought against apartheid, counts as ex-San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s closest adviser.
“There has never been a protest where white America has said, ‘Amen, I agree with that.’ They didn’t agree with the sit-ins, the marches, the efforts of the Black Panther Party and they didn’t agree with students taking over buildings,” said Edwards, 74.
“There’s been not one protest where they said, ‘I get the message,’” he said. “At the end of the day, this thing about the flag is a red herring. Many of the same people who are talking about disrespecting the flag can’t even tell you if the flag is mentioned in the Constitution.
“They couldn’t tell you what the words of the national anthem happen to be. If you ask them, when they’re playing the national anthem and they’re sitting on their couch watching on TV, do they stand and put their hand over their heart? Or, do they reach for another beer or another handful of peanuts or do they get up and go to the bathroom so that they won’t miss the opening kickoff?”
Recently, President Donald Trump helped to ignite a firestorm with demeaning comments about NFL players who, like Kaepernick, have taken a knee or otherwise not saluted the flag during the playing of the national anthem before games.
To prove the hypocrisy, Edwards said the flag has been used to sell cars, clothes and to boast Fourth of July sales.
“They were flying a flag outside of the Bunny Ranch in Nevada and you know what they sell there,” he said of the infamous house of prostitution.
“The flag has been pimped out to the point that nobody pays attention. It’s only when Black people protest and they look at ways to avoid having real discussions that they say you are disrespecting the flag,” Edward said.
“They didn’t say Trump disrespected the flag when he insulted a Gold Star family. They didn’t say Trump disrespected the flag when he attacked Sen. John McCain, a POW and a war hero who gave his blood in defense of this country.”
There’s always been a tug of war between what the Constitution prescribes and what traditional convention and history have allowed, which is white supremacy and tension that’s been going on since “the first day they brought a Black African to these shores and enslaved him,” Edwards said.
He likened his 1960s protests to today, but with notable differences.
“Our struggle, since we have not resolved the root causes of this tension which is that our circumstances and our dynamic struggle is multifaceted and perpetual and there are no final victories,” Edwards said. “So, when we look at the circumstances in 1968, there are a lot of commonalities today.
“That struggle was framed up by an ideological scaffolding that had as a call sign, ‘Black Power.’ Today, that struggle is framed up by the ideological scaffolding that has its call sign, ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Edwards added.
In 1968, fueling the commitment to athlete activism was the violence being perpetrated against the Black community, Edwards said, citing Black Panthers being shot; Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the four little girls who lost their life at the 16th Street Baptist Church.
“We were still in the throes of battle despite the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act where Black people were being denied their Civil Rights and the right to vote and there was police violence against Black people where nobody was being held accountable,” he said. “You pretty much have the same causes today. Police violence in the Black community and an assault on civil rights. The difference today is you have athletes like LeBron James who can get on Twitter and say to Trump, ‘You bum,’ and hit send and it automatically goes out to 3 million people who retweet to their followers and it goes viral to the point it reaches Trump.”
He also decried NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s recent edict that all basketball players must stand when the anthem is played.
“I would like to see Adam Silver tested in court,” Edwards said. “Even if it’s a collective bargaining agreement item, a person doesn’t check their First Amendment Rights when they put on a uniform. Only in the military and then the rules there say you can’t speak wearing a uniform. When Silver said you can’t speak in the uniform, what is it about playing a game that’s so serious and conspicuous in terms of civil responsibility?
“I don’t think they have a legal leg to stand on,” he said.
That Kaepernick remains unsigned despite not breaking any rules or regulations has Edwards fuming.
“You can’t pose a regulation in opposition to the Constitution,” he said. “All of this is because they don’t want to discuss the original sin of American society which is the ongoing sickness of white supremacy because that’s so tied in with white power and white privilege. But the minute you begin to deconstruct and unpack white supremacy, you get down to the core of inequality and injustice in American society and they don’t want to do that.”
Kaepernick, 29, would seem to be ideal for any contending team. He first starred at the University of Nevada where he earned Offensive Player of the Year twice and, after being selected by San Francisco in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, led the team to the 2012 Super Bowl, their first appearance in the big game in nearly 20 years.
The next season, he led the 49ers to the NFC championship game.
“Kaepernick is getting ready to play football. He’s keeping in shape and he’s moved from protest to progress,” Edwards said. “With all of this discussion going on, he’s in the community helping people to educate themselves. He’s about progress and bridging the gaps in the community. I think he should seriously get the Nobel Peace Prize.”