The NFL and the San Marcos City Council

GUEST COLUMNS

In some ways, the NFL and the San Marcos City Council are seeking the same thing — justice, an end to hatred and equality. But they’ve gone about seeking change in two very different ways.

For its part, the NFL has attracted attention because a number of players have chosen to kneel during the national anthem at games. Last week the league announced it believes all players should stand for the anthem but won’t urge team owners to discipline players who kneel.

The protesting players have insisted from the beginning they are not disrespecting the flag, the military or even the nation, even though many critics have mislabeled the reasons for their protest. But these players clearly are exercising their First Amendment rights in protesting the lack of equal justice for African-Americans and the unfortunate rise in the killing of black Americans at the hands of police officers. Where better to call attention to their concerns than on national television?

For their part, the players gave the NFL and the public a nudge in calling attention to the problem of unequal law enforcement treatment and justice for African-Americans. And the NFL has said while it wishes the protests to end, it will make an unspecified commitment to pursue efforts at addressing social justice issues. Any effort a powerful organization like the NFL could undertake would surely be noticed and have a profound impact.

The San Marcos City Council, at Mayor John Thomaides’ suggestion, has joined with some 300 other cities in 45 states in adopting the Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a response to the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The compact’s wide-ranging policy is aimed at addressing social justice, bigotry and hate issues for everyone, not just African-Americans, while protecting free speech, celebrating diversity, promoting law enforcement training on responding to hate incidents and encouraging residents to report hate incidents and crimes.

Under the compact, mayors commit to vigorously speak out against all acts of hate; punish bias-motivated violence to the fullest extent of the law; encourage more anti-bias and anti-hate education in schools and police forces, using ADL experts and resources for both; encourage community activities that celebrate their population’s cultural and ethnic diversity; and ensure civil rights laws are aggressively enforced and hate crimes laws are as strong as possible.

One of the first to speak out in favor of the compact was Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who said, “Terrorism by white supremacists, like what took place in Charlottesville, is a clear and present danger to America’s cities... Only the Statute of Liberty should be carrying a torch these days, and her message of respect must echo in America’s cities where this battle is being fought.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL, noted, “Charlottesville made clear that we have a lot more work to do in our communities and we can’t wait a minute longer to step up our efforts.”  

“Even as we uphold and ensure free speech in our cities, as mayors we can never let hate go unchecked,” said Anaheim, Ca., Mayor Tom Tait.  “We must call out racial extremism for what is — provocation to divide and incite. Like cities across the nation, Anaheim draws strength in diversity and a culture of kindness. We are with all who peacefully stand against hate and intolerance.”

Inequality and hatred against various races, the LGBTQ community, the poor and other groups exists in San Marcos and elsewhere, as speakers at last week’s San Marcos Independent School District meeting and before the San Marcos City Council demonstrated. But the compact gives voice to an intention to change things. And as San Marcos City Councilwoman Lisa Prewitt said of the compact, “It’s very timely – not just in our community but as a nation.”

But just as with the NFL’s nonspecific commitment, the devil is in the details of implementation of the compact. Without specifics, both simply will be statements that may ring hollow when specific situations arise. And the San Marcos Council, for its part, began a much-needed discussion of implementation last week.

Certainly the NFL players are within their right to protest in the way they have chosen under the First Amendment and even under terms of their own union agreements. The disparagement of the players has been unfair and misguided. If everyone lived by all 10 points of the compact it is likely the player protests would not be necessary at all.

Kate McCarty is a resident of San Marcos

San Marcos Daily Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666