Antagonism vs. Aspiration

Oh, what the hell…it’s “news” right now, so why not jump on the bandwagon?

The NFL anthem controversy.

Again.

Crap, will this thing never go away? It is, perhaps, the stupidest and most pointless “controversy” on the face of the planet right now. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence someone sits, there are bigger things to worry about than this.

Now, first off, one thing needs to be said — it doesn’t matter on which side of the kneel-or-stand debate you are, Trump’s comment the other day was the most moronic, asinine and stupid thing in the world:

“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

No. Just no. Actually, not just no — hell no.

Leaving aside the NFL crap — I’ll get to that in a moment — any act of respect or honor, just like any act of faith or gratitude, must be heartfelt and self-initiated to have any worth whatsoever. That is why, by the way, I don’t like the mandatory Pledge of Allegiance in schools. For such a thing to have any meaning, just like standing for the anthem, a student/kid/person must willingly choose to participate. Anything else is just empty symbolism.

Okay, that being said…what about the NFL?

I wrote once before about this, when it was picking up steam. My point then — as a guy who has played team sports all his life — was that the “kneelers” were being selfishly individual in what is, honestly, a sport where team has to be everything. I thought teams should act, one way or the other, as a team. The decision belongs in the locker room, and especially with the team leaders.

Of course, that was a year ago. I thought then that this whole thing would soon die out. How naive.

The whole issue has, sadly, become conflated with the current cultural and political divide tearing us apart as a nation. And that is just stupid. Must everything be about “beating” the other side?

Sadly, I know the answer to that.

*sigh*

It is important to note that, in spite of all the rhetoric and vituperation — on BOTH sides — this is not an argument about patriotism. This is not an argument about love of country, nor is it about who is a “better” American. There is no such thing as a better American. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are any more or less American or patriotic than the other, and anyone who thinks they are “better” — anyone who wants to use patriotism as a weapon — is helping only to bring us down.

What this whole thing is about is money, and the currency of power.

From the NFL’s point of view, it’s quite simple: this is purely a question of marketing. Roughly forty percent of their fan base was upset, for one reason or another, with the anthem protests. No business can afford to offend that large a portion of their customers. The league had to do something…unfortunately, they screwed the pooch from day one by trying to play to both sides. They didn’t “solve the problem” in the first place, which irked the first 40%, and now they have backtracked on their “promise” to allow the players to choose, which alienates another 40%.

Congratulations, NFL, for once again kicking yourself in the balls.

The league does, by the way, have every legal right to dictate the players stand during the anthem. That is a fact, whether you “like” the protests or not. It is a workplace environment, and the employer can dictate workplace rules. And, no, those rules do not apply to the league’s customers (the fans). Anyone arguing that the new rule applies to fans as well is just putting up a pointless strawman.

The NBA, by the way, requires their players to stand, on pain of suspension, yet there is no brouhaha surrounding that league…

Now, for the player’s point of view. I can understand the impulse and reasoning…understand, at least, those players who actually have considered and heartfelt positions.  Players like Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. He knelt, but that was just the beginning for him. He went on to sit down with Denver police officers. He participated in ride-alongs. He took part in some of their training scenarios on shooting and violence. He articulated what he saw as problems, and worked with others to come up with solutions. That is legitimate, respectable and honorable. That is the kind of thing we need more of if we are to solve, well, anything.

Unfortunately, Marshall’s attitude and actions are not the rule. Many of the “protestors” had/have no clear message, and instead offer only the vaguest generalities and broad-brush attacks on others. These folks are just as guilty of politicization and divisiveness and useless antagonism — and are as worthy of scorn — as those who want to turn overt, ostentatious “patriotism” into a political weapon.

Others have no plan or goal, other than one of protest for the sake of protest. For that group, kneeling WAS the message, rather than a tactic to bring attention to any particular problem. This is the group — players, reporters and fans — who are most virulently up in arms right now about the new rule. They are not talking not about the ostensible reasons for the protests in the first place — racism and policing — but are talking only about…protesting.

Folks, if the tactic becomes the message, you are doing something wrong.

On a personal level, I should probably say a couple of things. First off, as much as the league screwed up in their initial handling of this issue (and in all subsequent efforts to “handle” it), the players screwed up just as badly. There was no plan, there was nowhere to go, there was just…protest. When this thing first came to a head, then was the time for a real message. Then they had the real spotlight and soapbox, then was the inflection point for action. Now? Now, positions are so bitterly entrenched that neither side can even hear the other. Decisions and judgments have been made, and the bitter reality of political “teams” has taken over.

Secondly — leaving aside the team-versus-individual dynamic of football — I was not a fan of the kneeling. To me, on a personal level, the flag is a symbol. Not a symbol of the US as it is, and not a symbol exclusively of the military and those who have sacrificed, but a symbol of aspiration. It is a symbol of what the nation could be. It is something to rally around as a higher ideal, something to unify us and give the common identity and purpose we need to make things better.

The US is far from perfect, in any sense. Culturally, socially, politically, economically, and yes racially, we still have a lot of ground to cover. But we cannot even begin to cover that ground if we cannot agree on a common identity…and the flag is, to me, the symbol of that identity, and of the aspiration to be better.

That being said, I may not have liked the protests, but I do not question the hearts of those who protested, nor their motives. I am a white man, I only know the realities and problems of racism through conversations with minority friends. I have no personal experience. Now, I’m not going to even try to tackle racism in this post, but I have heard and learned enough from those friends to understand…a bit.

In the end, it is that message that matters. It is neither the protests, nor the politics and bile currently taking hold, that matter. The answer is not to kneel, nor to attack the kneelers. The answer is for every player to be a Brandon Marshall…and for every fan to be a Brandon Marshall. The answer is to understand, and to aspire for more.

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