Trump, the NFL, and the Streisand Effect

In 2003, Barbra Streisand sued a photographer taking pictures for an endeavor called the California Coastal Records project. Meant to document the erosion of the state’s beaches, the CCRP took one photo approximately every 500 feet all up and down California’s coast.

One of those pictures showed a particularly ritzy part of the Malibu coast, which happened to house Streisand’s mansion. The picture had been downloaded six times before Streisand’s suit, which alleged that the CCRP had violated her privacy, demanded the image be suppressed. The publicity brought by the suit brought a massive spotlight to the image, and it was downloaded nearly half-a-million times over the next month. In attempting to erase the image, Streisand brought it far more attention than it ever would have had otherwise.

This “Streisand Effect” is now cited whenever an attempt to stamp out information only makes that information more available.

Over the weekend, President Trump employed a version of the Streisand Effect to bring a massive spotlight to something that, before, had almost totally faded away from the public eye: NFL players taking a knee during the singing of the National Anthem.

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had started dropping to one knee during the Anthem in the 2016 preseason, to protest police brutality and injustice by authority against unarmed black men. It took two weeks for anyone to even notice.

After that, and for the bulk of that season, Kaepernick was out on an island. A few players kneeled, others raised their fists in protest, but it was mostly Kap. He was cut by the 49ers in the offseason, and the protests, again, went mostly unnoticed in the nascent 2017 season.

Until the President of the United States took to the microphone at a rally in Alabama on Friday and demanded Kaepernick (referred to as “that son of a bitch”) be fired for “disrespecting our flag.”

Trump instantly took an issue that almost nobody wanted to talk about and turned it into one that nobody could stop talking about.

That’s the Streisand Effect. A mostly dormant issue made popular through the act of trying to stamp it out.

Last Sunday, hundreds of NFL players knelt for the anthem, as opposed to half a dozen the week before. They likely will do so again. The issue is now everywhere. Last week it was nowhere.

As far as the protests themselves, obviously, I support them. I also support the right of those bothered by them to not watch. Freedom, baby!

What’s truly fascinating is why the players are protesting. They weren’t protesting violence by cops, as Kap had done. And they certainly weren’t protesting the flag, the Anthem, or “the troops,” as so many conservatives are falsely claiming on social media.

They were protesting a tyrannical government trying to punish them for exercising free speech.

The question is not why they were doing it, but why isn’t EVERYONE doing it? Sure, racists are going to racist. They’ll burn their (expensive) jerseys, and loudly proclaim they aren’t watching the NFL anymore because some black millionaires had the nerve to be upset about something.

But if the jersey burners and NFL boycotters stopped for a second to reason this out, they’d probably join the protests too. Because first when the president starts fucking with people’s livelihoods, it’s the NFL today, and it’s their office tomorrow.

A president who demands you be fired for speaking out is crossing not just a red line, but the Rubicon of civil liberty. What’s next? The president demanding anyone caught reading Hillary Clinton’s new book at work be fired? The Department of Justice scouring voter rolls for Democrats and demanding they be fired? The First Amendment being suspended for not being sufficiently deferential to “the troops?”

Just because he can’t doesn’t mean he won’t. Or that someone else won’t down the line.

It’s impossible to know what Trump’s motives for attacking Colin Kaepernick were. Maybe he truly finds protests against symbols of American dominance offensive. Maybe he doesn’t like the guy because he’s black. Maybe he’s just an old asshole who likes to complain.

But whatever the reason, Trump took a tiny fraction of players and made them martyrs by trying to shut them up. He made sure everyone saw his Malibu beach house by trying to stop everyone from seeing his Malibu beach house.

Hopefully, players will continue to exercise the rights hard won for them by soldiers of the past by kneeling and speaking and demanding to be heard.