Today is Sunday, the day of the week in every fall that I used to look forward to NFL football. As any logical person would expect, the “anthem protests”, which started with one player kneeling during the national anthem have morphed into a sideshow of their own, getting more and more elaborate, involving not only players but coaches, then owners and of course, Mr. Twitter, also known as the President of the United States.
The ESPN website now has a section highlighting the protests: Today the noteworthy protests–or were they responses to the protests–included entire teams staying in the locker room during the anthem: Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks. The Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars locked arms together before the game in London. The Buffalo Bills walked 10 yards towards the middle of the field–was that to simulate approaching a battlefield? All the other teams had various combinations of kneeling, sitting, fist raising, linking arms, hands on heart, locking arms with service members or first responders. Tom Brady, as if he was trying to please everyone, stood one hand over heart while linking his free arm with a black/African-American (not sure which term to use–you know how I am reluctant to offend anyone) player who was about a head shorter than him, thus simultaneously demonstrating solidarity with America, fans (who almost in every stadium booed the players regardless of team), minorities and short people. The Los Angeles Chargers, since they are trying to out-Hollywood the Los Angeles Rams, did a little of everything, standing, sitting, kneeling, linking . Well, not everything actually. No one saluted or put a hand over the heart. What’s left for next week?
We have been told that the principles the protesters are embodying are, variously, racial conciliation, equitable justice, freedom to express opinions, consciousness of injustice. All very noble, but I submit that the principle they are actually demonstrating is that how an individual feels about social issues, and their desire to demonstrate their virtue, should trump the well-being of their employers. Even more than that, what the players, the President, the professional commentators and anyone who thinks with their tweets are actually demonstrating is their allegiance to the “shortcut” society. Kaepernick merely got the snowball rolling, signaling his virtue by kneeling during the national anthem, which in fact demonstrated nothing so much as “I want to make a virtue statement without much of an effort regardless of what ultimately comes of it.” No, I can’t read his mind, just the beginning and interim results.
Who knows where it will end. But today, September 24, 2017, marks a significant watershed. The conversations on sports networks and websites are as much about the “protests” (or whatever they have become–I’m not sure we have a word for it yet) as the game. A lot of the blame for this lies on the President, since his shortcut mentality led him to rash remarks and threats which unified MOST of the players and owners, even including former supporters like Brady and Kraft, against him. Shortcuts never work, unless the goal is to further divide and confuse. They guarantee that. That’s where we are now.
Many of the players have come from backgrounds of poverty and prejudice, and through very hard work and sacrifice have earned a significant public profile. However, despite that and the millions they earn, they are still employees. The customers of their employers–the fans–are overwhelmingly against their protesting social issues during the game. I doubt that most of the fans object to the principles that the players are trying to stand for, nor the right of any American, including employees, to protest whatever they are against. Just as people tune into ESPN to see and hear about sports only, people go to football games to watch football and to experience a feeling of community with their team and other fans. They are paying ridiculous sums of money–therefore making sacrifices in other areas–to go to games rather than watching at home, for a short escape from the constant bombardment of negative news about the world. What about their rights?
Imagine saving up money for a really expensive meal at the best restaurant in town. You might have to eat top ramen for the rest of the week, but you really need this small reminder that there are still rare pleasures in this world. The most expensive meal in any town wouldn’t cost nearly as much as going to an NFL game. So you go to the restaurant, and your hostess declares how angry she is at the latest police shooting outrage while seating you. Your waiter wears an upside down American flag for an apron to protest injustice, and reminds you how unhealthy red meat is when you order a steak. Occasionally, a chef visits tables, soliciting your opinion about the meal and Islamophobia. Will the customer enjoy this meal the way he had hoped? Does the behavior of the employees affect how likely the customer will be to return to the restaurant?
Does it matter what the employee is protesting? When the protest is done during the customer’s time with the product, doesn’t it detract from the customer’s enjoyment? If so, is the business affected? Does the right of an employee to protest whatever cause they care about, on company time, trump the rights of the customers to enjoy the product or the employer to have their business well represented? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the players to demonstrate, or otherwise represent their causes, somewhere other than the game? It would be, if their goal is to really open a dialogue, or to accurately represent their position, but that is not happening. Fans boo, Trump tweets, commentators opine–and the country is more polarized than ever! Today some team owners joined in the protests or expressions of solidarity. Does that mean they approve of what the players are doing and the way they are doing it? Or does it mean that the virtue points they score are worth more to them than the satisfaction of their customers? Since the fans booed just as much whether or not owners joined the players, I hope the virtue points were worth it. To understand how all of this actually helps Trump, read this.trump wins
While writing this post I am also listening to the Vietnam documentary on PBS. A marine is describing an ambush his platoon stumbled into when his company commander insisted on counting VC bodies rather than saving his men, and how a fellow marine risked his own life to rescue him. No reference was made to the race of his savior, because in war nothing matters less. I was over there too, and I know. The film also describes what happened to protesters in north Vietnam who demonstrated against their side. I will leave their fate to your imagination. America has a lot of faults, at least we are allowed to protest them. But even this right can be abused. I wonder if anyone asked Colin Kaepernick to think about what would be the most appropriate time and way to protest injustice. If it was suggested to him to write a blog about his concerns, or build Habitat for Humanity homes during his offseason, instead of what he did, would he have agreed? It wouldn’t have attracted nearly as much attention, but what has been accomplished?
Before I go, I have to get this off my chest. Mr. Kaepernick, while in Miami for a pre-season game, decided to exercise his right of “free speech” by appearing at a press conference wearing a t-shirt with a photo of Malcolm X greeting Fidel Castro (at their one and only meeting–Malcolm X turned down subsequent meetings with Castro). Then he doubled down on his ignorance…or was it arrogance (I sometimes confuse the two) by defending Castro–in a city in which a significant proportion fled Cuba–and further tried to equate Castro with non-existent social benefits. Later, when he was unemployed and the Miami Dolphins were desperate for a quarterback (with starter Tannehill out for the season), he was passed up for a guy who had already retired. I wonder why. Yet his defenders continue to hold him up as a paragon of virtue, and insist he be employed. So what happened to his closest shot?
Ray Lewis said the Baltimore Ravens chose not to sign Colin Kaepernick after the quarterback’s girlfriend posted a “racist” tweet featuring the former All-Pro linebacker and owner Steve Bisciotti. “We were going to close the deal to sign him,” Lewis said on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” on Tuesday night. “Steve Bisciotti said, ‘I want to hear Colin Kaepernick speak to let me know that he wants to play football.'”
“And it never happens because that picture comes up the next day.” The Aug. 2 tweet by Nessa Diab compared a picture of Lewis hugging Bisciotti to a scene from “Django Unchained,” in which Samuel L. Jackson as a loyal house slave held Leonardo DiCaprio’s cruel plantation owner character. “His girl [Diab] goes out and put out this racist gesture and doesn’t know we are in the back office about to try to get this guy signed,” Lewis said. “Steve Bisciotti has said it himself: ‘How can you crucify Ray Lewis when Ray Lewis is the one calling for Colin Kaepernick?'”
Lewis was asked whether the Ravens would have signed Kaepernick if not for the tweet. “Then he’s flying him to Baltimore,” Lewis said. “I am sitting with all three of them and we are all having a conversation about bringing Colin Kaepernick in.” So President Trump didn’t corner the market for foolish and insulting tweets?