On Monday night, I walked into FirstEnergy Stadium having absolutely no clue what was going to happen during the national anthem. When it began, I saw a group of Browns players kneeling and was proud. A few moments later, I noticed that No. 87—my husband, Seth—was among them, and I was even prouder.
That moment reconfirmed a few things that I knew: that the many in-depth conversations about race that Seth and I had—that every interracial couple must have had—resonated and took root with him; that he knew this was bigger than just one-on-one chatting with me over dinner or coffee; and that he gets it, beyond a simple desire to be protective of me as his wife.
While I understand (and am deeply proud) that Seth is the first white NFL player to kneel during a demonstration like this (on Sept. 4, 2016, Megan Rapinoe, a U.S. women’s soccer player, was the first white professional athlete to do so), I would like to push back against some of the attention he’s been getting that portrays him as some sort of white savior to a movement that was started and has been carried on by black football players for about a year now.
I am grateful for the widespread support and praise that Seth is getting for his actions, but I would like to offer a humble reminder that a man—a black man—literally lost his job for taking a knee, week after week, on his own. Colin Kaepernick bravely took a step and began a movement throughout the NFL, and he suffered a ridiculous amount of hate and threats and ultimately lost his life’s work in the sport he loves.
We should not see Seth’s participation as legitimizing this movement. Rather, he chose to be an ally of his black teammates. To center the focus of Monday’s demonstration solely on Seth is to distract from what our real focus should be: listening to the experiences and the voices of the black people who are using their platforms to continue to bring the issue of racism in the U.S. to the forefront. Seth, as a white individual, never has and never will truly have to feel the weight and burden of racial discrimination and racial oppression. No white person does or will. But all white people should care and take a stand against its prevalence in this country.
What I hope to see from this is a shift in the conversation to Seth’s black teammates, who realistically have to carry that burden all the time. I am discouraged by this idea that acknowledging and fighting against racism is a distraction that must be stored away in order to be a good football player. I wholeheartedly reject that narrative.
Black players in the NFL cannot just turn their concern on and off in order to be able to focus more on football. White players shouldn’t, either. Racism is a day-to-day reality, and I hope that, instead of holding Seth up on a pedestal, the response will be to do what he did: listen to the voices of the black people in your life, and choose to support them as they seek to make their voices heard.
To the people who are looking at pictures of us and saying, “Oh, well, that makes sense,” I offer a dramatic eye roll. People on Twitter have insinuated that it’s simply my appearance that inspired Seth to kneel with his teammates, or that I must’ve threatened Seth with leaving him or refusing to have sex with him if he didn’t join the demonstration. To even joke in this way is gross. Seth didn’t do what he did simply to obtain a gold star from his wife. His actions on Monday night were not the equivalent of him bringing home a bouquet of flowers after I’ve had a rough day.
In his interview after Monday night’s game, Seth said, “I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me, and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.” I don’t think either of us foresaw that this choice to share about his personal life would become the go-to narrative to explain Seth’s actions in their entirety.
Seth understands how racism systematically oppresses people across this entire nation. He understands that to be complacent about it is not just unacceptable as a “black wife’s” husband; Seth supported his teammates because it was the right thing to do, it was the godly thing to do and it was the responsible thing to do. If I were white, he should have done the same, and I am confident that he would have.
In the last few days, we have seen a lot of the same comments that have been expressed since Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem: people imploring players to stand up because it is disrespectful to the flag, to the country, and to active military and veterans. But what Kaepernick did (and what various NFL players are continuing this season) is something we should see as real patriotism. They are engaging critically with the national anthem and this country’s articulated ideals; they are consciously observing the reality of our country’s current state; and they are using their platforms to publicly hold the country in which they live accountable to the ideals it is supposed to be upholding.
To be complacent that the U.S. strives to be “the land of the free” while so many of its citizens of color are being oppressed for their race is unpatriotic and irresponsible. I applaud those who realize that and do something about it rather than ignore it.
Erica Harris DeValve recently graduated from Princeton University and will begin pursuing her master’s in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary this fall with a focus on the intersection of race and Christianity in the U.S.