Jeneé Osterheldt

Don’t believe in national anthem protests? You don’t believe in the land of the free

Some blissfully ignorant and privileged folk think Kansas City Chief Marcus Peters should explain himself better. You know, “whitesplain.”

Others say a highly paid athlete should just collect his check and do his job. Lots called him disrespectful. Many think politics aren’t for the field.

On Thursday, the cornerback sat on a trainer’s bench for most of the national anthem before the game against the New England Patriots. Hey, people, he was protesting brutality, inequality and injustice.

No, he does not have to shut up and play football. Leave his politics at home? Nah.

Each and every person coming for Peters is part of the problem. Few people want to talk about America’s systemic racism, xenophobia or all-around inequity and injustice. But plenty of people want to tune into a game.

That’s why sports have always been a grand platform to empower the marginalized. Boxer Muhammad Ali was a master teacher in the practice. Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos knew what they were doing when they raised those black-gloved fists during the national anthem atop the medal podium at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. The Miami Heat made a powerful statement when they all wore hoodies, heads bowed, hands in their pockets and called for justice for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Because #BlackLivesMatter.

Starting in preseason last year, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the anthem. Since then, NFL players have joined his movement to protest racial oppression and injustice. Peters said his raised fist at last season’s opener was in support of Kaep’s cause.

Despite the rumors, Peters is not in violation of any team rules. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt did not write that fake letter telling players they couldn’t protest. But he did say it’s his desire for them to stand. Just as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, “The national anthem is a special moment to me. It’s a point of pride. That is a really important moment. But we also have to understand the other side that people do have rights and we want to respect those.”

It’s great they respect players’ rights, but let’s be clear: As men of great power, exclaiming their preference for standing and their love of an anthem is a not-so-subtle hint for players to toe the line.

People go bananas over the protection of their precious flag and the anthem, but where is that passion for basic humanity? Fox News’ Todd Starnes says since the NFL is tolerating players sitting out the anthem, he’s sitting out the season. Bye, Todd. NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter says he believes in the right to protest but finds it disrespectful to do so during the anthem. Cris, a country disrespects its citizens when it does not live up to its self-proclaimed virtues.

I sit the national anthem out, too. And I quit the Pledge of Allegiance once I realized the flag represents a historically broken promise of liberty and justice for all. America is all about divisibility. Quit screaming about the importance of an anthem and a flag while going mute when it comes to black lives, brutality, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and white supremacy.

Peters does more than sit out an anthem. He joined artist Pharell Williams’ Don’t Be Quiet Please Adidas campaign, with cleats that say “Liberty” and “Justice for All” on the soles. His actions are loud.

Along with Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch and former New York Giants quarterback Joshua Jackson, Peters is a part of the Fam 1st Family Foundation dedicated to helping underprivileged youth through mentoring, literacy and education. They have hosted school supply giveaways, football camps, architecture camps and family-friendly events.

Peters stepped in for Randy Olsen of San Jose, Calif., who learned that his wife, Zaineb Al-Qazwini, a Ph.D. specializing in cancer research and an Iraqi citizen, could not return to America with him because of President Donald Trump’s travel ban. He posted the family’s image on Instagram and asked for help. Legal experts chimed in. The family now lives in San Francisco.

Clem Daniels protested a different way. The retired Raiders running back was among two dozen black players who boycotted a 1965 all-star game in New Orleans, saying the city was racist. The game was moved to Houston and they played. Daniels now claims the anthem protest is a bust, just a grandstanding move.

“Three or four guys or even 10 guys in the National Football League is not going to make a difference,” Daniels told USA Today. “But if you do it from a collective standpoint, you can make a difference.”

I respect what Daniels did. It made strides. But it didn’t fix everything. There isn’t just one way to protest. Maybe Peters and other protesters will eventually refuse to play, but right now, discounting their protest is the real grandstand.

You think it’s not effective? A nationwide poll conducted by The Washington Post and University of Massachusetts-Lowell found 19 percent of pro football fans are losing interest in the sport. Among those fans, almost a quarter cite political issues — 17 percent specifically cite the anthem protests or Kaepernick.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett announced he would no longer stand during the anthem after the white supremacists terrorized Charlottesville. He was using his fame to not only force a conversation but to spur action. A week later he was held at gunpoint by Las Vegas police. Bennett says police singled him out in a crowd of bystanders. But y’all worried about the anthem, not the humans.

The NFL thought it could shut Kaep down by blackballing him. He is currently not playing for any team. But as he said from the beginning, these issues are bigger than football.

When Peters sits or raises a fist or rides a stationary bike, or when Lynch has a seat, or when San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid takes a Kaepernick kneel and 10 teammates surround him during the anthem, they are taking the most important stand of all: a stand for the people.

Jeneé Osterheldt: 816-234-4380, @jeneeinkc