State Senator Napoleon Harris III (D-Harvey) recently submitted the folowing op ed:

Could someone please explain to me how, in 2018, in America, we could on one hand have the country rushing to make even more money off athletes thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling on sports betting, while on the other hand NFL owners strip those very athletes of their First Amendment rights and tell them to shut up and get back to work.

Is this what we’ve become in Trump’s America?

While you enjoy watching these players risk life and limb every weekend, people who look just like them are disproportionately victimized by poverty, police, politics and just about every other aspect of society.

The real problem is not these athletes taking a knee, but race relations and classism in America. When people of color speak out and want to have a discussion to better their condition, a deaf ear is turned. Simply put, America wants blacks and minorities to suffer in silence. Get out of line and lose your job.

Think about it.

When professional players run afoul of the law, they are scoffed at and told they should be role models and community leaders. They’re told to be better.

But heaven help the player who dares speak his mind about what’s really going on in the community. When that happens, they are scorned, mocked and told to get back to work because no one care what they think.

That NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 owners chose to tell players in a majority black league that they can’t protest injustice is unacceptable on so many levels. Not one of those owners is black. Neither is Roger Goodell. It smacks of plantation politics and no one should tolerate it.

The league never consulted with the players’ union about this change in policy. It’s supposed to be a partnership, not a dictatorship. I am appalled and embarrassed as a former NFL player to be associated with a league that would treat its players as second-class citizens and so brazenly attempt to remove their constitutional rights.

Ten years ago, I watched a black man become president of the United States in a moment that gave us all hope. America was changing, we were told. We were fool enough to believe it was real.

Now we’re stuck with a president who spews vile, racist tweets and whose rhetoric and policies seek to send this country back to the 1950s if not further. In case you forgot, those weren’t good times for people of color.

Trump doesn’t care about problems in our community. Rather than actually try to solve a problem and make American better, he makes things worse. He wraps himself in the flag and accuses anyone who disagrees of being  unpatriotic.

It’s mindboggling that Trump gets away with it.

I’m stunned that Goodell and the NFL owners now feed this cynical frenzy.

We can’t continue to sweep problems under the rug and pretend that injustices never happened or we’ve somehow magically moved on. We haven’t. Slavery happened. Lynching happened. Jim Crow happened. Segregated schools happened. Police brutality still happens. Social injustice runs rampant across our country.

If you want NFL players to stop kneeling, take a moment to try to understand why they are kneeling. They’re not trying to insult your patriotism or ruin your Sunday sports viewing. They’re trying to make you aware of something.

That something is a very serious problem regarding race relations in America.

We need to talk about these things. We need to figure out how to do something about these things. That’s what players are trying to tell us.

If you want NFL players to stop kneeling, the first step is to start listening. You might be surprised at what you hear, and you might then want to join us in trying to do something about it.

-- Napoleon Harris III is a former NFL player and currently serves in the Illinois State Senate.

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Springfield Office:
Senator 15th District
M122 Capitol
Springfield, IL 62706
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Harvey, IL 60426
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