Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Point/Counterpoint of NFL Flag Protests

I had been meaning to write about the NFL player protests during the national anthem when a friend sent an email about a proposed fan boycott for the November 11 games. What follows are point/counterpoint, his note and my response: 

Point: You graduated high school in 2011. Your teenage years were a struggle. You grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Your mother was the leader of the family and worked tirelessly to keep a roof over your head and food on your plate. Academics were a struggle for you and your grades were mediocre at best. The only thing that made you stand out is you weighed 225 lbs. and could run 40 yards in 4.2 seconds while carrying a football.  

Your best friend was just like you, except he didn’t play football. Instead of going to football practice after school, he went to work at McDonald’s for minimum wage. You were recruited by all the big colleges and spent every weekend of your senior year making visits to universities where coaches and boosters tried to convince you their school was best. They laid out the red carpet for you. 

Your best friend worked double shifts at Mickey D’s.  College was not an option for him. On the day you signed with Big State University, your best friend signed paperwork with his Army recruiter.  You went to summer workouts.  He went to basic training.

You spent the next four years living in the athletic dorm, eating at the training table. You spent your Saturdays on the football field, cheered on by adoring fans. Tutors attended to your every academic need. You attended class when you felt like it. Sure, you worked hard. You lifted weights, ran sprints, studied plays, and soon became one of the top football players in the country.  

Your best friend was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. While you were in college, he deployed to Iraq once and Afghanistan twice. He became a sergeant and led a squad of 19-year-old soldiers who grew up just like he did. He shed his blood in Afghanistan and watched young Americans give their lives, limbs, and innocence for the USA.

You went to the NFL combine and scored off the charts.  You hired an agent and waited for draft day. You were drafted in the first round and your agent immediately went to work, ensuring that you received the most money possible. You signed for $16 million although you had never played a single down of professional football. Your best friend re-enlisted in the Army for four more years. As a combat tested sergeant, he will be paid $32,000 per year.

You will drive a Ferrari on the streets of South Beach. He will ride in the back of a Blackhawk helicopter with 10 other combat-loaded soldiers. You will sleep at the Ritz.  He will dig a hole in the ground and try to sleep. You will “make it rain” in the club. He will pray for rain as the temperature reaches 120 degrees.

On Sunday, you will run into a stadium as tens of thousands of fans cheer and yell your name. For your best friend, there is little difference between Sunday and any other day of the week. There are no adoring fans. There are only people trying to kill him and his soldiers. Every now and then, he and his soldiers leave the front lines and “go to the rear” to rest. He might be lucky enough to catch an NFL game on TV. When the National Anthem plays and you take a knee, he will jump to his feet and salute the television. While you protest the unfairness of life in the United States, he will give thanks to God that he has the honor of defending his great country.

To the players of the NFL: We are the people who buy your tickets, watch you on TV, and wear your jerseys. We anxiously wait for Sundays so we can cheer for you and marvel at your athleticism. Although we love to watch you play, we care little about your opinions until you offend us. You have the absolute right to express yourselves, but we have the absolute right to boycott you.  

We have tolerated your drug use and DUIs, your domestic violence, and your vulgar displays of wealth. We should be ashamed for putting our admiration of your physical skills before what is morally right. But now you have gone too far. You have insulted our flag, our country, our soldiers, our police officers, and our veterans. You are living the American dream, yet you disparage our great country.  I encourage all like minded Americans to boycott the NFL.

National boycott of the NFL for Sunday, November 11th, Veterans’ Day Weekend. Boycott all football telecast, all fans, all ticket holders, stay away from attending any games, let them play to empty stadiums. Pass this post along to all your friends and family. Honor our military, some of whom come home with the American Flag draped over their coffin.

Counterpoint: I can understand and appreciate the anger, resentment, disappointment many feel toward the players who have taken the very public protest of kneeling or some other gesture during the playing of the national anthem. You feel they are dissing the military, police, veterans, our country as represented by our flag.

When that black soldier returns home from combat and is walking around in civilian clothes, is it fair that police will treat him differently than they do white men and women? Blacks have fought in every war, from the Revolution to the Civil War, to the Indian wars to the Spanish American War to the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each time they thought they were fighting for freedom and for their country. They thought that by doing so they would be treated as equals once they returned home. 

You know they haven’t. You know they were discriminated in housing, in employment, in voting rights, in education. And now, thanks to cellphone cameras and police bodycams, we are finding out that the decades long complaint of unjustified police brutality, even killings, are not figments of a minority’s imagination but rather plain facts that are “justified” by police and politicians. Police are shooting black men who are not endangering them, who are not facing them, who are running away from them, unarmed. Police are stopping black drivers for petty violations far more than they do white drivers. Police are arresting black men for drug possession, especially marijuana, while turning a blind eye toward white people’s use of drugs. Once incarcerated a person’s potential is stifled. It is no wonder blacks are disadvantaged.

It is a privilege to play in the NFL. But consider this: as the players make their way up the ladder of pro-opportunity, how much do they truly benefit from their college programs compared to the colleges themselves? Do you not find it repulsive that the highest paid “public servant” in many a state is the head coach of the state university’s football team? 

And once they are professionals, do you not find it disingenuous that the NFL for years disavowed any correlation between playing football and degenerative brain injuries? Keep in mind that the league is predominantly populated by black players in the positions that most often have their heads battered. Any latent racism there? 

What surprises me about the player protest is how few of them actually protest and that protests have not taken hold in other leagues where blacks and Hispanics have large representation. Perhaps it is an economic consideration. After all, a pro athlete’s career ends in a manner of years, not decades, like yours or mine did. They have to maximize their income when they can. 

Instead of fans boycotting a game to show their displeasure, I wonder what would be the reaction if players boycotted a game in response to the latest police shooting of an unarmed, innocent black man. Don’t the gladiators in our sports arenas deserve to be fighting for some dignity for their fellow citizens? 

I support any American’s right to express their views on their government and the officials elected to guard our constitutional rights. I am against anyone’s politicalization of constitutional rights. Colin Kaepernick did not start his protest to overthrow the government or to express displeasure with any specific elected official. He simply wanted accountability for police actions against black people. For his “uppityness” he has been economically punished. He never lived up to his athletic potential, but compared to some of the jokers masquerading as NFL-level first string and back-up quarterbacks he more than qualifies. Yet he remains a pariah. 

Kaepernick and his compatriots kneel during the anthem not because they want to protest the military or denigrate the flag. Their actions are far less degrading than people who wear the flag as bikinis, or as part of their jeans or hug the flag as a symbol of their allegiance but hid behind suspect injury deferments to evade service in the military. 

Think about this: Using your illustration of two young men, Kaepernick et al probably know more men and women who joined the military than most Americans because the military was one of the few employment options that provided a way out of the ghetto. The fortunate ones returned from their tours of duty intact in body, mind and spirit. But they still had to confront a most dangerous threat to their lives—police quick to react and, many times, shoot to kill. 

PS: If those who want to follow through on a November 11 boycott want to do something truly meaningful, they should donate their tickets to inner city youth clubs so disadvantaged kids can get to do what only mostly white men can every weekend—attend an NFL game!