When the history of 2017 is finally written, the controversy surrounding professional athletes kneeling or sitting during the national anthem as a form of protest will be seen as a made-up controversy that happened before something really significant occurred. That thing could be the Second Korean War or the second race to the moon. One conclusion that historians will agree with is that the “take a knee” protest was an epic fail. The reason for the failure is that the professional sports players violated a number of principles of civil protest.

Have a clear and relevant grievance

When Colin Kaepernick first started the protests few people understood why he was doing it. He claimed that he was unhappy about police brutality and racism. These are bad things, but what specifically does that mean and why are they more pressing than other problems, such as the numbers of African American youth being murdered in gang-related homicides? What about the incidence of brain trauma injuries among Pro Football Players? The matter has become more complicated now that President Trump decided to pour gasoline on the fire. Now the grievance is the president of the United States.

Present your message in a clear and coherent manner

Football players taking a knee during the national anthem in front of a live television audience have forgotten the power of images to impart a message that may or may not be intended.

They can claim all they want that what they are trying to say is that they’re unhappy about how law enforcement is treating the African-American community or, as is the case now, Donald Trump called them names. The image of someone refusing to stand for the national anthem imparts the message that the flag and the country are inherently evil and not worthy of respect.

Most people watching that display recoil from it.

Have a desired course of action

The final principle of civil protest, the players, violated was to have a desired course of action. What do they expect people or society to do to address their grievance? The 1960s civil rights protestors wanted people of all races to be treated equally before the law.

The Tea Party wanted the government to stop interjecting itself in every aspect of life. What do the players want? No one seems to know.

“Start a national conversation” is not a legitimate course of action. That conversation, thus far, seems to consist of “You suck!” and “No, you suck!” In no way is that "conversation" productive, especially when the president is gleefully fanning the flames.

The net effect will be to damage professional football permanently and to render Americans hopelessly divided, at least until an external event provides some kind of unity. That event is likely to be horrible.

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