The pathetic results of the NFL kneeling spree

What, exactly, did the NFL "take-a-knee" protests by wealthy black football players protesting racial injustice accomplish?

Based on what most people could see, pretty much nothing, other than lost ticket sales.  People go to football games to be entertained, not to be lectured by their supposed betters in another dreary virtue-signaling game.

This is why longtime cultural observer and critic Shelby Steele thinks black protests have lost their power in his must-read op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal.

The recent protests by black players in the National Football League were rather sad for their fruitlessness.  They may point to the end of an era for black America, and for the country generally – an era in which protest has been the primary means of black advancement in American life.

The reason, he concludes, is that it's hard to protest The Man's power when you yourself are now the man.  As Steele puts it, freedom has arrived, and with freedom, accountability.  Black protesters must now be judged on the actual merit of their protests, instead of just the identity reality the protesters' black race, which up until now, has pretty much sent whites scurrying.  They aren't scurrying anymore in deference to the protests; they just aren't buying tickets.

This demonstrates how hollow these protests from pampered, millionaire athletes, honored on the field for their talents – with no affirmative action to ensure white representation, which is how it would go if affirmative action were enforced in football – really fail to resonate among the captive audiences of live football games.  In the past, Steele notes, protests really did take courage.  Black protesters were fired, beaten, fined, jailed, and killed.  Today, anyone who goes out there as a black protester enjoys the pleasures of virtue-signaling and laps up the attention from the cultural elites. 

Black protests in the past also brought change, Steele notes. They were black Americans' means of achieving the American Dream, just as immigration was the way other Americans achieved it.  He writes:

It is not surprising, then, that these black football players would don the mantle of protest.  The surprise was that it didn't work.  They had misread the historic moment.  They were not speaking truth to power.  Rather, they were figures of pathos, mindlessly loyal to a black identity that had run its course.

What they missed is a simple truth that is both obvious and unutterable: [t]he oppression of black people is over with.  This is politically incorrect news, but it is true nonetheless.  We blacks are, today, a free people.  It is as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise.

Freedom means accountability, which is where black protests of today fail to produce any results.  Steele cites the horrific murder rate of Chicago, which is largely black-on-black crime.  He writes:

For any formerly oppressed group, there will be an expectation that the past will somehow be an excuse for difficulties in the present.  This is the expectation behind the NFL protests and the many protests of groups like Black Lives Matter.  The near-hysteria around the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray[,] and others is also a hunger for the excuse of racial victimization, a determination to keep it alive.  To a degree, black America's self-esteem is invested in the illusion that we live under a cloud of continuing injustice.

Steele points out that when people feel lost and don't know where to go, they retreat back into the tried and true, which is what these ineffective protests are about.

What he might have added is that the protests show that the black community of today is profoundly lacking in leadership.  That might be attributed to black leaders buying into the entire Democratic Party package in large numbers, leaving the black community with failed, corrupt one-party cities such as Detroit; lousy schools due to teachers unions' grip on power; abortion targeting and hitting black communities hardest, weakening the family structure; and the absence of a significant black business community due to the massive regulations imposed from Democratic rule.  There are bright lights, such as the Rev. Alveda King, the niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who will be honored this weekend.  She has identified these problems in the community for years and has absolutely refused to go along with the Democratic leadership package.

If I had to guess, the time is coming that she may well be rising in prominence in a black community, which, as the football protests show, desperately needs such leadership.

If you experience technical problems, please write to