Long before Debleaire Snell became a pastor, he was a football fan. He played in a Pop Warner league as a child and intramural football in college.
“I grew up as a Florida State fan,” Snell said. As for the NFL, he was a full-time fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But during the Jimmy Johnson-era when Florida players such as Michael Irvin were being drafted, he became a part-time Dallas Cowboy fan. “Part-time,” he stressed.
But Snell, senior pastor of the 2000-plus member First SDA Church in Huntsville, Alabama, is punting his interest in the NFL to the sidelines this season. Like many, he believes former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been blacklisted by the NFL for taking a knee during the national anthem last season. And he also agrees with the reason for the quarterback’s protest: opposition to police brutality that disproportionately affects people of color.
So Snell created Black0ut NFL, a social media video campaign and community project designed to encourage others to withhold their support of the league unless Kaepernick is signed to a team. He said he was hoping to create a local grassroots movement, so he reached out to other influential pastors in Huntsville.
“We speak more powerfully with a collective voice than with an individual voice,” he explained.
The Blackout NFL video that features him, other Huntsville pastors and Dr. Leslie Pollard, president of the Huntsville-based Oakwood University, became a social media sensation. One of the YouTube postings of the video had been viewed more than 8 million times by mid-September, 2017.
God just put the wind underneath it, and caused it to really take flight, Snell said.
Of course, believing the NFL owners have colluded to blacklist Kaepernick and proving it are two different things. But many believe it because Kaepernick once was one of the League’s hottest quarterbacks. Over his six years with the 49ers, he made it to three post-seasons, including appearances in two NFC championship games and one Super Bowl.
Additionally, analysis done by the Undefeated website shows that Kaepernick’s career statistics far exceed most of the 37 quarterbacks who have signed with teams since he left the 49ers earlier this year. In fact, 21 of those quarterbacks literally have no statistical data at all from last season. They are unproven commodities, something that can’t be said about Kaepernick.
Dr. Carlton Byrd, senior pastor of the 2,000-plus members of the Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, agrees. So when Snell called him to participate in the NFL Blackout video, he was more than willing to participate.
“You’re telling me of the nearly 30 NFL franchises, that he can’t even get on as a third-string quarterback?” Byrd asked rhetorically.
Juxtapose the NFL’s cold shoulder to Kaepernick with the NBA’s reaction to protests by its players. In 2010 for example, the Phoenix Suns donned “Los Suns” jerseys to protest Arizona’s controversial HB 1070 anti-immigration law.
Robert Sarver, the Suns’ managing partner, made the decision with unanimous support from the players. “The frustration with the federal government’s failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law,” Sarver said in a statement issued by the Suns. “However intended, the result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question, and Arizona’s already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them.”
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, then the Suns’ general manager, compared one provision of the now failed law to “images of Nazi Germany.” All of that—pointed political statements from an owner, players and a team executive—and not a peep from the NBA. No sanctions or fines. And no blacklisting.
Snell and others believe that the NFL is guilty of a blatant disregard for the people of color who comprise a significant portion of its fan base and team rosters. In fact, only 27.4 percent of NFL players were white in 2016—which means that most of the league’s players arguably have very personal reasons to be concerned about police brutality.
“We’ve been living with this tension of black and brown people being shot, killed, (and) brutalized while unarmed at the hands of police and law enforcement, without any repercussions, for several years,” Snell said.
Consider Michael Bennett’s encounter with police this past August. While the Seattle Seahawk was not shot, killed or brutalized, he certainly was traumatized by Las Vegas police officers. Apparently Bennett was Black at the wrong place and time—coming out of a boxing match when shots were fired—which resulted in Bennett being handcuffed, forced to lay face-first on the ground, and a gun placed to his head.
Later, when the officers realized who he was, he was released. Bennett recounted the incident in a Twitter post that included this blunt and raw assessment: “No matter how much money you make, what job title you have, or how much you give, when you are seen as a “N—ger,” you will be treated that way.”
Snell’s Black0ut NFL movement is more than viral social media videos. He and his church have launched a mentoring program that he says will continue whether or not Kaepernick gets picked up by a team. But there’s no question that
the quarterback’s decision to take a knee inspired Snell’s decision to extend the protest to churches and other people of conscience.
“When we see Colin Kaepernick take a knee in one of the largest venues in the United States, that resonates with us,” he said.
DAVID PERSON is the owner of DavidPersonMedia, LLC. Since 1986, he has been working as a broadcaster, journalist, documentary director, and media consultant.