As I sit here and watch all the vitriol around NFL players taking a knee roll in on different message boards of my favorite NFL team, the Denver Broncos, on different NFL feeds, and just across Facebook in general my heartrate spikes as my faith in humanity drops. I really feel like so many in this country need to educate themselves, but are too lazy and it's just easier to be angry. There are so many facets to this I'm not sure where I should start, but this blog will try to attempt to break down many of the different angles there are to this from my perspective.
I suppose we should start with Collin Kaepernick, former NFL Quarterback, who many (myself included) feel is getting blackballed by the NFL for his protests during the National Anthem that started last year. The funny thing is, for the first few games he didn’t even want to participate in the National Anthem, but after talking to some fellow teammates, they thought it would be more respectful for him to come take a knee rather than hide away. But all of that is neither here nor there, the real point is why he didn’t want to participate, and why he chose to kneel. This has all been covered in much more depth than I will do here, but if you would like to learn more then I highly suggest you read the work of Dave Zirin (Hell if you're lazy you can just listen to his podcast, which is brilliant). Anyways, he was not participating primarily due to the racial injustice that is going on in this country, from the insanely high incarceration rates to the disproportionate rates at which Black folks are assaulted by police in this country. So many white folks don’t want to face the fact that it's harder to be a person of color in this country than white, just cause they also had it hard. So when you see friends, family members, community members, people who look like you not being treated with respect, it's easy to see why you may not feel like everything that flag is supposed to stand for doesn’t seem to apply to you (Not to mention the racist ass history of the National Anthem).
Yeah we're all getting beat down in this country, but some of us WAY more than others. And I think that's probably one of the biggest problems White American's have with Kaepernick's protests, as well as the rest of the NFL's protests. They see these players as a bunch of spoiled brats who are making millions, when all they want is to be entertained, because it's their relief from the daily drudgery of our messed up society. But little do they know, often enough, or little do they care, that the average NFL player career only lasts about 3 years. And since the last round of NFL Owners vs Players Union contract agreements, those drafted are capped at very low salaries. So for the most part, you have a minority of the league making a majority of the money. Now I'm not trying to be an apologist for the amount of money these guys make, I'm just saying, they don’t all make that crazy amount of money, and it pales in comparison to the amount of money the owners are raking in, which is why they pay Goodell so damn much!
In some ways, I feel like the only reason why the NFL owners have gotten behind this last weeks protests is to prove that "they aren't the bad guys, they aren't blackballing Kaep." To which, I still smell BS. But I think that in some ways they are afraid of losing that revenue. Not the revenue of some BS strike that Trump followers could mount in protest, cause let's face it, they will still go to games, they will watch, they will buy, and if they don’t, most NFL teams have a long waiting list for season tickets of people licking their chops to get those seats; but you can't have games if you don't have players. So when Trump says something that pisses off most the league, saying that these players should be fired for exercising their 1st amendment rights, then yeah, they are going to ease over to the players side, even if they do agree with Trump.
Now, I want to get to what probably makes me the most angry, this idea that by protesting during the National Anthem (which we've already established as having a checkered past if you clicked on the link above), but this idea that protesting the National Anthem and the "flag" is disrespecting soldiers and veterans. This is absolutely preposterous! I say this not only as a veteran but as a person who thinks critically. If you believe this, you must understand the irony of what you say, right? Obviously not. If we are supposed to be a "free country" (again, not everyone, see incarceration link above), who believes in the first amendment (the right to free speech, which is the 1st, not the 2nd, not the 3rd, the 1st), then we should understand that those who defend the country defend the 1st amendment. So to say they are dishonoring soldiers because they are protesting is absolutely ass backwards. But I think I know where this started, and it is a result of… 9/11! Ok, I'm not going to blame everything on 9/11, the same way Trump voters blame everything on Obama, but after 9/11 the nationalistic rhetoric slowly began to rise. And with the declining view of the war in Iraq, the military sought to make the military cool again (also with all the VA scandals they needed some good PR), so what did they do? They started spendingmillions of dollars on pro-sports…
Does this mean had this not happened, these people would not be so angry with NFL players for speaking out against injustice they see in their communities? Well no, they would still probably be outraged, but this perversely extraordinary amount of patriotism that became normalized at sporting events definitely set the stage for something like this to happen, since we now see soldiers and veterans regularly honored and highlighted at sporting events, thus we now equate the two.
But returning to this idea that protest disrespects the flag, soldiers, and veterans, I think works to distract from what is really going on. It hides the complicacy that we all have in perpetuating inequity in this country. It shifts the blame and the shame, that is hard to deal with once you realize you are wrong, and you do have it easier, and maybe there are times you were privileged because of the color of your skin. People don’t want to face that. It's very similar to fellow soldiers I know who refuse to believe that going to Iraq was bad. They don’t want their friends to have died for nothing, or for someone else's greed. They don’t want to know that the traumas they suffered or are still suffering are all based on lies. It's easier to not dig deep. It's easier to hate those dirty backwards hajis. Just like it's easier to hate Kaepernick and the NFL players protesting. They don’t have it hard. They don’t suffer. They are millionaires'. They hate America… But once you dig deeper. Once you pull the curtain back. You can learn. We need to learn. We need to listen. People of color in this country are pleading with us to listen. They want to love this country, but until it shows them some love, they will protest, and rightfully so. We need to listen to their stories, their plight, and their anger. We need to shut up and sit with it, process it, and not second guess it or try to explain it away. All Kaepernick and these NFL players are trying to do is pull back the curtain, but White America doesn’t want to look. I think cause they know it's an indictment of who they are and they are afraid of losing what they have.
I am truly ashamed of those who are so angry with these players, because they refuse to listen, they choose to be willfully ignorant. But I am proud of the players for standing for what is right and for what they believe in. That is what I fought for. And that is what I still fight for. I too want to pull back the curtain. It has been a long process, from my days as a Young Republican to my days now as some radical leftist as many of my friends think… lol… But the important thing to take away from all of this is to take some time to learn about the issue. To listen to what is being said critically. Kaepernick as well as many NFL players have spent a lot of time with soldiers and veterans, to learn from them, as well as to explain why they are doing what they are doing. They are doing wonderful things in the community, and it should be their right to use the platform they have to stand up or take a knee for that matter. There is a long history of social activism and sports, especially around the issue of civil rights, from Muhammed Ali who was hated in his time, to John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists at the Olympics, who were also hated. Cause many folks want them to just "shut up and play… Shut up and entertain me boy." Well if that isn't just the most racist perspective, I don’t know what is. It was racist 50 years ago, and it is racist today. And we should realize, many of the problems of yesterday not only echo today, but also have impacts on today. Again, one must be willfully ignorant to not understand the ways in which slavery (which really wasn’t that long ago, many of our great grand parents knew folks from that era), which impacted Jim Crow laws (our grandparents era), that impacted the backlash against the Civil Rights era through unequal drug laws (our parents era), which has made a mess of our society through and through. But again, folks don’t want to learn. They don’t want to listen. Because it was hard for them, and they were poor too. Well that's also what happens when we privatize everything, commodify everything, and do not have any sort of social safety net, we all suffer. But again, we don’t all suffer the same. So stop taking the easy route of just hating folks, and accusing them of being unpatriotic.
I think one of the best quotes I saw today (and I will leave it at that because I'm now ranting…) was by politician Jason Kander who said, "Patriotism isn't about making everyone stand and salute the flag. Patriotism is about making this a country where everyone wants to."
Please feel free to use this blog as a jumping off point for learning more… Here is a website that explores some of these issues and provides more resources on the topic.