Brandon Marshall was with the New York Jets in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick first received national attention for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice.
The retired wide receiver was not one of the few who joined Kaepernick in the silent protest, and he expressed shame at the decision nearly four years later.
Marshall ‘ashamed’ he didn’t take a knee in 2016
Marshall delivered the comments on the podcast “I Am Athlete,” which became “I Am Black” beginning this week to discuss injustice, oppression and racism.
"The first thing that came to my mind, and I'm just being honest, was: 'I got a mom that don't work. I got a sister with four kids that don't work and I've been taking care of for 10 years. If I take this knee, what will happen?' And I remember feeling so broken and so hurt that that was the first thing that hit my mind. 'Do I kneel for the entire community, or do I stand for my mom, my brother, my sister?' And looking back on it, I am ashamed that I didn't take that knee. But I am so excited now about with the video that just came out with the NFL players, because now I feel like they don't have to make that decision. They don't have to think about that anymore. If they want to take a knee, you think Nike's going to drop them?"
Marshall, 36, referenced the powerful video made by NFL players asking if it would take their murder by police to say that black lives matter. Commissioner Roger Goodell then finally released a statement saying the league condemns racism and that “black lives matter.”
Why didn’t more NFL players kneel in 2016?
The podcast consisted of Marshall, former tight end DJ Williams, South Florida Sun-Sentinel sports writer Omar Kelly, and Esé Ighedosa, a former NFL employee and president of House of Athlete.
Kelly, a Miami Dolphins beat writer and columnist, said in conversations with players in 2016 they were concerned about their jobs. Not everyone has a large contract or a big-money sponsorship that sets them up for years.
.@OmarKelly recounts why @NFL players were hesitant to join Colin Kaepernick in silently protesting police brutality and racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem back in 2016.
The short answer? 💸💸💸 pic.twitter.com/RQ3NkqVlp3
— I AM ATHLETE (@IAMATHLETEpod) June 10, 2020
“‘Colin Kaepernicks’a already got his money. He’s a quarterback,’” Kelly said of what players told him in 2016 about declining to kneel. “‘My future is not guaranteed and the minute I do this, I’m putting a batch of people that they’re trying to push out the league.’ And if you look at what’s happening to the players, the majority of them with a few exceptions have been pushed out.”
NFL ‘let’ kneeling conversation be hijacked
The conversation began with discussing Drew Brees controversial comments that continued to link Kaepernick’s protest with patriotism and disrespect for the flag. He has since apologized. Then apologized again. And then explained his new understanding to President Donald Trump.
Kelly questioned who Brees was speaking to when he said it.
“It’s dog whistles and code words and things, patriotism, that people use in order to rally their base. And it makes me have to wonder, who does Drew Brees feel like his base is? While he might do a lot of things positive for the New Orleans community and the community around the world, his priority is still to his base.”
Ighedosa worked in the league office for seven years and described a 2017 meeting to Yahoo Sports’ Henry Bushnell in which top NFL executives weren’t “prepared” to say they condemned racism.
She also called it a hijacking of Kaepernick’s true message, which some people are just now beginning to understand.
“We are the most powerful sports entity in the country. And you can argue one of the most powerful in the world. So there is nothing that can be hijacked from the NFL. We let things be hijacked. It was a conscience decision to let the narrative be told because we said our base is on the other side of this and we don’t want to alienate them.”
The NFL will have to continue to address players kneeling and what it plans to do about social justice issues. As Marshall said in explaining why he didn’t kneel then, there is a far different societal feeling to do it now.
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