I gotta confess, I enjoy watching sports of all kinds. I like to see people doing things that even they might think are impossible. And as a result, I’ve been saddened by the recent controversy with football players refusing to stand for the National Anthem. It started with Colin Kaepernick, shown below, and has spread from there.
This whole protest seems totally wrong to me, but not for the reason that most folks cite. Most folks seem to think it is wrong because the football players are disrespecting the flag and those who died for it. And while I understand and agree with that objection, it’s not my main objection.
Me, I think it is foolish and wrong because I am a practical man. I’m not so much interested in the theories and the causes, or the motives of the players and what they believe they are doing. On the other hand, I am very interested in the effects … and kneeling during the Anthem has had no measurable beneficial effects.
The problem is that the “kneel when they play the Anthem” movement has no goal. And as a result, their actions as political football activists have accomplished exactly nothing. I’ve invented a new word to describe that kind of people. I call them “inactivists”. Consider:
Are black people and people of color better off because Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem? Not in any sense.
Has kneeling during the Anthem brought the disparate and often fractious racial groups closer together? No way.
Has it improved the social or economic situation of people of color? Nope.
Has it engendered a dialog about racism in America? Quite the opposite. It has led to increased and often-virulent antipathy.
In short, those inactivists not standing for the National Anthem have made the racial situation in the US worse, not better.
And to cap it off, I see that a bunch of eight-year-old Pop Warner football kids have now refused to stand for the National Anthem. That to me is among the lowest of actions, using your kids to publicly push your narrow political message … but setting that particular horror aside, WHAT IS THE MESSAGE THEY ARE PUSHING?
Look, I’m not blind to racism. The US history of racism is actually pretty amazing, both as to the good and as to the bad. When I was a boy, in several US states it was illegal for black people and white people to marry. Illegal! And across the South, segregated beaches and segregated swimming pools, lunch counters, hotels, clubs, theaters, restrooms, and even segregated public drinking fountains were so common as to raise little comment. Almost unimaginable today, but that was everyday life in my youth.
To have gone from that condition to where we are today, with segregation illegal and people of color in every part of our society including the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House, is nothing short of astonishing. And I have fought for that change, and spoken in favor of it, and supported those advancing that change.
Now, does racism still exist in the US? You bet. There are still parts of the US where DWB is sometimes a crime.
But it is nowhere near as bad as people want us to believe. Michael Brown did not have his hands up when he was shot. When Trayvon Martin died, by everyone’s account he was sitting on a man’s chest and pounding the man’s head into the pavement. And the Washington Post data clearly shows that if you are getting arrested in the US, you are more likely to be killed if you are white than if you are black or Hispanic.
The moral of the cops-vs-citizens story has NOTHING TO DO WITH RACE. It’s the same message that my mom told me, and I’m clearly melanin-deficient. What wise moms of all colors tell their sons is, when you have to deal with the cops, be polite, do what they say, and don’t resist arrest. Ninety-five percent of the people shot by cops are resisting arrest.
But I digress. Yes, there are still problems of racism in the US, people of color continue to face hidden barriers … but when someone asks “what did you do to improve the racial situation”, is it enough to answer “My contribution was that I publicly disrespected the US flag”?
If you want an example of what a football player can do with their wealth, popularity, and public stature, look at what J. J. Watt did last month. Like Kaepernick, Watt is a football player with the National Football League (NFL). While the rain was still falling in Houston, Watt publicly pledged money for the flood victims. Further to that, he set himself a goal of raising two hundred thousand dollars from the public … and at present, the amount donated has topped thirty million dollars.
As soon as the money started coming in, Watt immediately got some semi trucks, enlisted a bunch of his teammates, loaded the trucks with relief supplies, and went to Houston and started delivering the food and blankets and such to those in need.
I’m sure you can see the difference between doing those good works, and those refusing to stand for the Anthem. One makes the situation better, and the other makes the situation worse. One achieves something, the other achieves nothing. One brings people of all colors together, the other splits and divides people by color.
A few clarifying comments and conclusions.
First, of course, the players have a right to not stand for the Anthem, it’s part of freedom of speech. But what’s going on is not a question of rights, or of freedom of speech. It is a question of effectiveness, or to be more precise, a question of ineffectiveness.
Next, yes, there are many valid racial issues that sadly still need work. However, taking a knee during the Anthem does nothing to move that necessary work forward. Instead, it engenders discord and drives the races even further apart.
Next, the National Football League (NFL) officials by and large have been total hypocrites on this issue. For example, when the Dallas Cowboys wanted to put decals on their helmets to honor the five policemen killed in a cowardly ambush at a BLM rally, the NFL would not let them do it … but it allows the players to dishonor the Anthem and the flag. Go figure …
Next, not all football players have drunk the koolaid. After talking with legendary football player Jim Brown, the Cleveland Browns decided to NOT kneel during the Anthem. Jim Brown said “Colin [Kaepernick] has to make up his mind whether he’s truly an activist or he’s a football player”, and I can only agree.
Finally, I use the term “drunk the koolaid” deliberately, because this kind of divisive action is suicidal for football. The TV audience is way, way down this year, and when asked why, the most common answer was “Because of the disrespect to the Flag and the Anthem”. Football is already reeling from the issue of brain damage from concussions. The TV networks are the ones paying the players’ salaries, that’s where the big money comes from. The last thing the NFL players need is to personally insult and alienate their core audience.
My vote? Sports are sports, social justice is social justice, and they should never be mixed. When I sit down to watch baseball, I don’t want to be bothered by politics—it’s one of the reasons I’m watching sports, to get away from the political madness.
Now, I’m going back to watching the football games … hey, it’s Sunday, what can I say?
Best to all,