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Startling change hits Lafayette Square, NFL

George Floyd's murder has sparked an impactful movement.

In the two weeks since George Floyd was murdered while in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers, America has changed.

Some of the shocks since Memorial Day have been breathtaking, some startling.

American military members have gassed, shot rubber bullets at and knocked down peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment right.

Corporations embraced Black Out Tuesday and Black Lives Matter.

Some police officers, knowing full well that just about everyone is equipped with a recording device, continue to strike out at civilian protesters and media.

An historic intersection in the nation's capital has been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. The street in front of the church has been painted with letters that can be seen from high above.

New fencing has been erected around the White House, keeping citizens out of Lafayette Square. A huge Black Lives Matter banner now hangs from the fence.

And the head of the most powerful sports league in America symbolically took a knee about 48 hours after one of its star players said he would never condone kneeling during the national anthem, sparking an incredible social media backlash.

No one knows what's next or the full impact of what we've been witnessing. Can systemic racism really be kicked to the curb?

The NFL will be fascinating to watch. On Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell shocked the sports world by saying the Shield (his affectionate name for the NFL) was wrong for not listening to players in 2016 and 2017 who were protesting for racial equality and against police brutality.

Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49ers quarterback, began the movement when he first sat, then took a knee during the national anthem before games. 

Others joined him and most kept their jobs. Kaepernick didn't.

President Donald Trump argued the protests disrespected the American flag and U.S. military. Politically, it didn't hurt him as he called the kneeling players names.

Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, vowed to fire anyone on his team who protested. (Jones has kept his thoughts to himself since Goodell's bombshell).

Goodell switched sides a day after New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees reversed his stance on whether the protests were about disrespecting the flag.

Acknowledging the protests across the country sparked by Floyd's murder, Goodell said, "We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people.

"We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest," Goodell said. "We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much needed change in this country.

“Without black players, there would be no National Football League. And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff.

"We are listening. I am listening, and I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family.”


Of course, not everyone agrees with Goodell and the NFL's revised stance. What will it mean when NFL stadiums reopen and the national anthem is played before games? Maybe there won't be protests, but if there are, say at Heinz Field, how are Yinzers going to react if a beloved Pittsburgh Steeler takes a knee?

Meanwhile, one of the most visible displays of change is in the streets next to Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.

Last Monday, the empire struck back as Trump ordered the streets cleared of peaceful protesters so he could stomp through the federal park to 16th Street to pose in front of historic St. John's Episcopal Church.

By week's end, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser renamed the intersection next to the church as Black Lives Matter Plaza. The words Black Lives Matter were painted onto 16th Street and can be seen from satellite cameras.

It's quite a change from last summer when a couple from Canfield spent a quiet Sunday morning in D.C.

When you attend a service at St. John's Episcopal Church, you don't receive an ordinary bulletin. The one we were given last Aug. 11 contained 24 pages, 17 of them detailing the morning worship components. 

Twenty-four pages — at Canfield United Methodist Church, the usual four-page bulletin sometimes (mostly around holidays) has an insert that pads it six.

How did we end up at St. John's Church? On the way home from a week at Folly Beach, S.C., we decided to stop in Washington to see a Second City performance at the Kennedy Center and tour Arlington National Cemetery.

It was three weeks before The Vindicator, my employer for 40 years, was to close. The future was uncertain (details of a very generous severance package had not been revealed and the website Mahoning Matters did not exist) so a visit to a historic church couldn't hurt.

Most of Washington was deserted because Congress was in recess, so we decided to take a chance on visiting a landmark.

We arrived about 45 minutes early (typical Ohio tourists) and heard the choir rehearsing. A former church choir director, my wife felt the choir didn't need an audience for practice. So we walked around Lafayette Square and 16th Street, then returned to join a diverse congregation.

The Rev. Robert W. Fisher prayed for everyone, even calling out the president's name.

Savannah Ponder, the assistant for ministries for children, youth and families, made a pitch for Sunday School volunteers. That plea apparently is universal, my wife observed.

Sadly, we were unable to stay for the finish. Seventy-five minutes in, they were still on page 12 and we had 15 minutes to walk five blocks to beat a noon checkout deadline. In hindsight, we should have stayed until the end (again, Ohio tourists).

Today, the neighborhood around St. John's Church has been transformed.

So has the NFL.

So has the nation.

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