Another Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday, another tone-deaf tweet incorrectly co-opting the civil rights icon’s famous words.
In what has all but become a tried and true American tradition, the NFL on Monday showed itself to be one of the most recent white entities to espouse Dr. King’s verbal brilliance while at the same time failing to grasp the true meaning of his words.
Fresh off an exciting weekend of playoffs games, the association of professional football teams inexplicably decided it would be a good idea to observe the holiday by tweeting the following eight words Dr. King wrote nearly 58 years ago: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
— NFL (@NFL) January 18, 2021
That quote, of course, stands the test of time … unless you’re the NFL, which not so long ago blacklisted a player from being in the league because of his silent protest against police violence, racism and what is many times the deadly combination of the two.
With that truth in mind, the NFL had absolutely no business co-opting MLK’s words that were actually in favor of the kind of protest started by Colin Kaepernick, who last played in the NFL in 2016 — the same year he began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem.
Today is #MLKDay. And today, you will undoubtedly hear his words co-opted to silence Black people protesting for justice. Make no mistake, Dr. King was a radical leader whose innovative tactics that forced a racist apartheid system to crumble. Onward with his legacy.
— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) January 18, 2021
It would take more than four years later for the NFL to admit that Kaepernick did nothing to deserve being excommunicated from the league — even if the NFL did not exactly admit it that way. After George Floyd was killed, the NFL finally found some semblance of religion and issued a statement mourning the police killing. But what was missing from that statement was any mention of the employment consequences an NFL player could face for peacefully protesting anti-Black violence.
Fast-forward a little more than seven months later and the NFL tweets MLK’s quote with no context.
The NFL’s tweet came as other people and groups who have historically not had Black people’s best interest at heart also co-opted MLK’s words in a purported attempt at rewriting their own histories.
Today, we honor a hero, who embodied love and faith in his pursuit for equality: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
– MLK Jr.
— Kayleigh McEnany (@PressSec) January 18, 2021
The NFL’s tweet came exactly one year after the FBI tried a similarly tone-deaf stunt.
The same law enforcement agency for the U.S. government that used controversial surveillance programs like COINTELPRO to spy on Martin Luther King Jr. apparently decided that the best way to celebrate the civil rights icon’s enduring legacy of social justice on the federal holiday named for him was by trying to use the good reverend doctor’s own words in vain.
“Today, the FBI honors the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” the FBI tweeted on Jan. 20, 2020. “A quote from Dr. King is etched in stone at the FBI Academy’s reflection garden in Quantico as a reminder to all students and FBI employees: ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’ #MLKDay”
Today, the FBI honors the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A quote from Dr. King is etched in stone at the FBI Academy's reflection garden in Quantico as a reminder to all students and FBI employees: "The time is always right to do what is right." #MLKDay pic.twitter.com/UKMLAAZw5w
— FBI (@FBI) January 20, 2020
For perspective, the FBI “began monitoring Martin Luther King, Jr., in December 1955, during his involvement with the Montgomery bus boycott, and engaged in covert operations against him throughout the 1960s. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was personally hostile toward King, believing that the civil rights leader was influenced by Communists,” the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute says on its website.
The FBI got then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy to approve wiretapping King’s phones in 1963 — the same year he gave his timeless “I Have A Dream Speech” and the feds called him “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.”
One year later, Hoover called King the “most notorious liar in the country.” The FBI even sent King a letter urging him to kill himself amid unfounded allegations of improprieties and insisted that the American public would soon recognize him as “an evil, abnormal beast.”
All these people who peddled a massive lie that incited white supremacists and anti-semites to attack the Capitol quoting MLK this morning… pic.twitter.com/AbqAOzmfsX
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) January 18, 2021
Not to be outdone, Vice President Mike Pence in 2019 used the federal holiday to compare Donald Trump to Dr. King, offering the falsest of equivalences when he said “both inspired us to change.”
That same year, then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders came under fire for her tweeting that King was “a great American who gave his life to right the wrong of racial inequality.” Critics noted that was a kind way of saying he was murdered by a white supremacist.