Protesting racial injustice by remaining seated or kneeling during the national anthem has the potential to raise awareness about an important issue. But it can also result in deplorable hate mail.
Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, 22, has knelt during the national anthem the past two weeks. His reason? He wants to protest racial injustice — like Colin Kaepernick did a year ago. Unfortunately, Reeves-Maybin’s protest is being met with racial slurs and calls for him to suffer brain damage.
According to Reeves-Maybin, people have told him to get CTE and have also called him the n-word since he began kneeling. MLive.com’s Kyle Meinke explains:
“People are saying, like, ‘I hope you get CTE,'” Reeves-Maybin said. “Or, ‘I hope you can’t play with your kids when you get done playing,’ Stuff like that. But, yeah. It doesn’t bother me.”
Reeves-Mabyin, a fourth-round pick out of Tennessee, also said he’s been targeted with a deluge of racial epithets. That includes the N-word.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” he said. “Yeah. All day. But, I mean, I can handle it.”
CTE is among the biggest issues facing football. In 2015, a study found that 87 out of 91 deceased former players had CTE. And in July, another study found 110 of 111 former NFL players had the brain disease.
The protests against racial injustice began a year ago, when Kaepernick, then playing for the 49ers, remained seated for the anthem and pledged $1 million to charities that help communities in need. Several players around the league quickly joined Kaepernick’s protest. And even though Kaepernick wasn’t signed this offseason, his protest lived on this year through players like Michael Bennett. But the protest shifted in recent weeks after Donald Trump made inflammatory comments about players who kneel during the anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now,” Trump said Sept. 22. “Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.”
“You know, some owner is going to do that, he’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired,'” Trump also said. “And that owner, they don’t know it — they’re friends of mine, many of them — they don’t know it, they’ll be the most popular person for a week, they’ll be the most popular person in this country, because that’s a total disrespect of our heritage, that’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
In a show of unity against Trump, the majority of teams planned demonstrations during the national anthem. Some players refused to stand during the anthem, many linked arms, and a couple teams refused to come out for the anthem altogether.
Before the Lions’ first game after Trump’s comments, eight players on the Lions — including Reeves-Maybin — knelt during the anthem. After that game, Lions owner Martha Ford asked players to stand for the anthem in the future. In return, she promised to financially support community issues that the players cared about.
But on Sunday, Reeves-Maybin and linebacker Steve Longa, whose father recently died in a car accident, kept on kneeling.
According to Reeves-Maybin, he knelt because it was “the right thing” and he didn’t like how the movement had shifted from a protest against racial injustice to a protest against Trump.
“I feel like the right thing for me to do is kneel,” Reeves-Maybin said, via MLive.com. “I really don’t like the state of social inequalities and justices that go on here. I didn’t want it to be about what President Trump said, and I felt like at the time, the week when you saw all the demonstrations, I feel like it more so made it about that and that’s not the idea of what it should have been.”
And don’t expect Reeves-Maybin to stop his protest due to the hateful messages.
“People DM me all the time, comment on my pictures,” he said. “A little hate mail here and there. But I don’t really care. Most of the time, I just kind of laugh at it. I’m pretty sure the people writing it have way more anger, or put way more energy, into something they claim they don’t put energy into. I think if you get those kinds of things, it makes you really realize how far away you are from what it really should be like.”