So this is what it took.
This is what it took for Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz and millions of other Americans to finally admit that Colin Kaepernick was right; not only right, but that his legal, peaceful protest was the proper method by which to address the institutional racism inherent in the country’s society and apparent in many members of its police forces.
It took a 9-minute video of a white cop, knee on the neck of a handcuffed black man, and his hands in his pockets, casually crushing the life out of George Floyd, who lay face-down on the street, begging for relief.
It took an innocent black man named Amhaud Arbery running through a white neighborhood being gunned down by a confederacy of three bigoted dunces apparently bent on a daylight lynching -- one of whom recorded the entire ordeal.
The cop, Derek Chauvin, was quickly fired and eventually arrested, though the other three officers at the scene who were also fired remain free. So were the three men involved in killing Arbrey. But the arrests did not happen, not immediately, and they did not happen without pressure from the public, and that reticence -- that turgid, reluctant justice -- is what set the country ablaze.
These killings are what it took to detonate the nation’s anger and, at last, activate these athletes’ consciences. The deaths of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, killed after Colin Kaepernick began his protest in 2016, were not enough for Wentz and Ertz. The crucifixion of Kaepernick’s career -- he, a member of their football fraternity -- never moved their needle.
They tweeted Thursday, not Monday, when Floyd was killed, or Tuesday or Wednesday, as Chauvin still roamed free and people took to the streets. Would they have said anything if protests hadn’t broken out? You would hope they were not led to finally lead by the advent of disorder and disharmony. They can prove this to be true.
There was a march in Philadelphia on Saturday. There will be more all over the country. If Wentz, and Ertz, and the rest of their no-longer-silently outraged demographic want to make a difference, they could show up. Help mitigate unrest. Help be a part of the solution.
Will they? Probably not. So, at least they’ve said they care. At long, long last.
Does it matter that these are the events that finally convinced them to speak up?
Perhaps not. We learn at our own pace. They’ve learned. So, no.
It doesn’t matter that it took days and nights of protests and rioting and looting by whites and blacks alike, exhausted by racism; emboldened and unified in outrage; intoxicated by fumes of righteous rebellion; and, for their troubles, abused at protests by the very authorities who swore to protect them.
It doesn’t matter that it took two dead protesters and billions of dollars in damaged property, while a hateful president seems to revel in the anarchy. A president who, in one breath, praised armed, “very good people” for breaking temporary pandemic laws to pursue the right to get a pedicure; then, in his next breath, encourages Gestapo retaliations against unarmed “thugs” protesting the Gestapo tactics against which Kaepernick protested, and which cost him his career, and cost George Floyd his life.
It doesn’t matter, yet, it is sad and disturbing and maddening that this is what it took to convince so many like Wentz and Ertz and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly of the inconvenient truths long been told by Kaepernick, and his allies on the field, and so many of the rest of us; truths told long before his protest began in 2016, and consistently ever since.
Now, as we bury Floyd and Arbery, and as Minneapolis burns, they have heard, and they have sympathized. Now, they’re listening.
Wentz, in a tweet, admitted his ignorance of the American black experience.
Ertz apologized for the pain and fear black America experiences every day.
Kelly, who is white, tweeted, "Enough! ... My voice should have been heard earlier ... "
Yes, his voice should have been heard earlier, but make no mistake: Whether early or late, it is crucial that rich, famous white men campaign for equality and condemn brutality. Without the voices of the most powerful, the voices of the weakest would never be heard.
For his part, Kaepernick’s organization KnowYourRightsCamp.com pledged to pay legal fees for protesters.
We would not come as far as we have come without moments like these. But actions mean more.
Actions like those of white Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese embracing Jackie Robinson in Cincinnati and quelling a noxious roster of Reds in 1947.
Actions like those of AFL quarterback Jack Kemp, the future congressman and Republican presidential candidate, threatening to boycott the league’s 1965 All Star Game in Jim Crow haven New Orleans, which helped force the game’s move to Houston.
Actions like those of Chris Long, a Charlottesville native and the only white NFL player who demonstrably supported teammates as they joined Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem. Long put his hand on the shoulder of activist Malcolm Jenkins while Jenkins raised his clenched fist.
Long became a member of the Players Coalition, a group of current and former NFL players that Jenkins co-founded. Josh McCown was a founding member. He also was the Eagles’ backup quarterback last season and became Wentz’s most significant mentor.
Long’s activity and Jenkins’ leadership weren’t enough to move all of their teammates, but maybe McCown’s recent influence pushed Wentz and Ertz, who are best friends and committed Christians, to speak out this time.
All of those other times?
Wentz and Ertz did nothing. They said nothing. Now, they’ve said something.