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Panthers Can Take A National Anthem Stand That Unites All

The National Football League and its players’ union continue to butt heads over players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Wouldn’t it be impressive if on game days players and their team could present a united statement on liberty and justice for all – one everybody could stand up for? 

It can be done, and the Carolina Panthers are just the team to do it. 

The NFL’s problem is this: Players kneel to make a statement about injustice, but many fans see kneeling as a show of disloyalty to America. This conflict is almost inevitable, given the contrasts between the two groups.  

Seventy percent of NFL players are young black men. Eighty percent of the fans at NFL games, and 70 percent of the audience on TV, are white.  One survey found that white football fans are much more likely to express high levels of national pride than white Americans who aren’t football fans. 

The Panthers’ new owner, David Tepper, is vastly different from his predecessor, Jerry Richardson. Tepper is street smart, not to mention unimaginably rich. He is not hesitant to expresses his commitment to justice and equality. He and the team could make a statement, and here’s one way they could do it. 

First, establish the purpose for playing the anthem. Make this announcement at Bank of America Stadium: “Please stand for the National Anthem, honoring our nation’s courageous commitment to liberty and justice for all.”

Second, create a Liberty and Justice for All Award for nonprofits in our region. At each home game announce a donation of $100,000 – a meaningful sum for recipients but small change on an NFL ledger.

Finally, give this award to groups that unite our community – that help returning veterans find homes, jobs and health care, or incarcerated men and women and their families, or poor people fighting for their rights in our legal system. The team and players could create a task force to pick recipients.

Connecting the Star-Spangled Banner’s celebration of courage with this tangible support for liberty and justice for all would create an inspiring symbol for the Panthers’ new era. And it would make a statement everyone could stand up for.

Ed Williams is the chair of WFAE’s board of directors and a retired editorial page editor of the Charlotte Observer.