The Sit/Stand Anthem

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

Like many white cisgendered male Americans (and I only refer to myself thusly with a great deal of sarcasm), I’m a fan of the American game of football. There’s nothing better than to sit back on a weekend, frosty adult beverage in hand, and root for my team. Doing that has been a bit difficult for me for the last several years, since I ditched cable, and every year I’m more than a little tempted to sign up for the sports package, just during football season. Heck, if high energy prices & baking hot summers didn’t have me sending virtually my entire bank account to Pacific Gas & Electric every summer, I’d have been watching every game.

The numbers show that I’m not the only American missing out on one of our nation’s favorite pastimes. TV ratings and ticket sales have been declining for a few years now, though whether that’s due to the increasing injection of politics into the sport is inconclusive. Like many aspects of American life, the realm of television entertainment has been shaken up by the modern technology revolution. With so much entertainment media at our fingertips, it makes sense that even a behemoth like the National Football League would be in for a tough fight to retain its market-share in the industry.

And the current debate over players kneeling or sitting during the National Anthem is just the latest episode in the saga of politics in football. Back in 2009, there was a big outcry over Rush Limbaugh’s bid to become part-owner of a NFL team. Bob Costas has stirred up controversy several times over the years by interjecting political commentary while calling games.

What’s the point?

But while many people are debating whether or not it’s okay for players to sit or kneel during the Star Spangled Banner, I’m over here wondering, “What’s the point?”

The original goal of Colin Kaepernick’s protest was to draw attention to, and hopefully bring about action on police shootings of young black men. Not that the issue wasn’t already a major focus of the nation, with cities across America rocked by riots and protests. As to whether the action Kaepernick desires would do any good…well, let’s just say that I wouldn’t keep my hopes up on that count. But at this point, the only issue the protest is bringing attention to is itself.

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The media frenzy has ratcheted up since President Trump weighed in with his opinion on the protest, and so has the protest itself, with players at many NFL games taking a knee during the anthem this past weekend. And as the media and the protest ratchet up, so does the backlash, with fans booing the players who kneeled at at least one game. And while it’s too early in the season to tell how TV ratings may be affected, we’ll all find that out soon enough.

As far as the protest goes, if the point is still about police shootings and the state of African-American communities in the United States, then it has been an abysmal failure. While so many Americans are getting riled up about this protest, all of the focus is on the players. No one is talking about the issues the protest is meant to highlight. In that way, the entire ordeal has become counter-productive; they are causing plenty of problems, but solving none. In that light, it may be time to think about changing the strategy, rather than just further escalating things, which has only increased everyone’s tribal tendencies in the debate. Now it’s all about US vs THEM. It’s about finger-pointing, not solving issues.

And isn’t that the crux of so many of America’s problems these days? Everyone, it seems, wants to complain and protest about the problems, but in the end, all of that is just hot air and finger-pointing. They always seem to want someone else to fix the problem. The number of people willing to stand up, take action, and do the hard work of fixing are few.

Land of the Free

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Are we still “the Land of the Free?” In many ways, I would argue that this is no longer true, but there are some rights that are still protected in our nation, and the right to free speech, at least when it comes to political protests, is one of them. In that context, it’s rather disconcerting to hear the Leader of the “Free” World calling for the firing of these players over their political protest. But as long as the Long Arm Of The Law doesn’t overstep its bounds, the players have the right to protest as they will. The NFL, both the league and the team owners & managers, have the say on whether it’s okay for those players to use their cartel as a platform.

But let’s be clear: the players’ right to protest on the field is solely between them and their employers. Your dislike for the practice is only relevant because, at its core, the NFL exists as an entertainment medium consumed by millions of Americans…and, of course, the league’s long history of folding pro-America propaganda into its games certainly plays a role.

Politics, it seems, is permitted on the field only so long as those politics don’t point out any of our nation’s problems, or violate the Right Wing’s version of political correctness in any way. While people on the political Right love to make fun of leftist millennial college students and their “safe spaces,” they tend to have no appreciation for the irony when you point out that they’re really only outraged because their own safe space has been violated.

Let’s get down to brass tacks, here. The point of civil disobedience is to do something inappropriate. At some level, saying that the National Anthem or the NFL is the wrong time or place to protest is like saying that the lunch counters or the buses were the wrong place for a protest – like you just want to watch your football, those people just wanted to eat their lunch or ride their bus in peace. Why bring politics into it?

Personally, when it comes to this protest, I have a hard time caring either way.

While I agree that serious problems exist in the African-American community, I’ve heard enough from protesting players to know that we won’t agree on how to solve the problems…especially since I know that real solutions will have to come from within the African-American community. And as a white guy, I’m supposedly racist by default, so my thoughts and opinions are automatically dismissed. I think that these millionaire players, possibly even in conjunction with their multi-billion-dollar league, could do a lot more good by doing actual work within African American communities than through their misguided protest, which has done no good at all.

And at the same time, I agree that football is about escapism. One of the reasons that I haven’t written here in just over a month is that I’ve been very busy trying to ignore the inane, insane realm of American politics. And if politics started intruding into my escape of choice…well, I would likely just move on to something else, because I try not to be a snowflake about those kinds of things.

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