United We Kneel

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“Back when I was growing up, football players just played the game and kept their mouths shut,” a family member said during our nice dinner. Picking up on the hint, I kept my mouth shut and didn’t point out the fact that Colin Kaepernick wasn’t actually saying anything but kneeling but anyway…

If I had spoken up, I would’ve brought to his attention the fact that he basically explained the reason why today Kaepernick feels the freedom to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest: change. It’s a thing!

In fact, it’s the only constant in life.

I think it’s a generational thing? My parents’ generation of white people tend to be reserved and polite (well, their definition of polite), not wanting to make a stir. Better to be silent than, goodness forbid, make anyone uncomfortable. Or maybe that’s just my family, which would explain so much…

ANYHOO

Fighting against this type of societal progress is like vehemently lobbying the movie industry to continue to churn out VHS tapes. Because you’re kind, and you prefer to rewind for Blockbuster (Google it, chillins).

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To be fair to my family member, he’s consistent. He also believes actors should shut up and act, too! But why shouldn’t an actor or athlete with a platform share their opinions or give light to injustices? Are they exempt from being citizens with full rights just because they’ve gained recognition in the public eye?

(Hint, hint: NO.)

Since our country has the First Amendment, any person in this country has a right to share their opinions, including those with a national platform.

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Those with that platform don’t gain national recognition with an asterisk and conditions inherently attached limiting their ability to use it in certain ways.

It’s theirs, they earned it, and they’ll have to deal with any negative as well as positive consequences that come with it. Either way, it’s still their choice and their right to use it, not anyone else’s. Much like how women should be able to decide what we want to do with our own bodies without the government telling us otherwise but let’s stay on topic here…

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Even if you don’t have a national platform, you have access to the Facebook and the Twitter and the YouTube. Like my friend’s 8 year old son, you, too, can share videos of, say, you playing hours of video games that, as she constantly reminds him, no one cares about.

So whether you’re Colin Kaepernick or some variety of a Kardashian or an 8 year old essentially talking to himself while playing video games, the American people still have a mind of their own to agree or disagree, speak out about it, or post vapid selfies.

That’s the beauty of America.

What is NOT American is cherry picking which individuals get to enjoy the rights allotted to all our citizens and which do not. Condemning an individual for utilizing free speech and “abusing” their platform to speak freely is wrong. So wrong, in fact, that our country has a history of fighting other countries that condemn or oppress or even kill people who dare speak ill of their country.

Y’all remember hitler, right?

And unfortunately, it’s not yet a thing of the past. There’s still that little man in North Korea who will move you and your family to a political prison camp for speaking out against the country. Likewise, there’s that other man in Russia instituting anti-protest laws.

So it’s one thing to disagree with Kaepernick for the message behind his kneeling, it’s another thing to disagree because he’s kneeling in the first place.

That’s not how the First Amendment works.

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Contrary those who prefer to apply it on an ad hoc basis, the First Amendment is nondiscriminatory.

You can’t allow those who glorify the message of an evil, murdering psychopath a stage for protest because they have the right to free speech but then turn around and condemn a football quarterback for peacefully protesting.

So what is the message behind Kaepernick’s kneeling? If this is the first time you’re asking yourself that, WELCOME! So happy to have you here and that you thought to ask. Here, I Googled it for you:

 

Please note: Kaepernick initially sat for the anthem. But after discussing it with friends, teammates, and a veteran, he decided to kneel because it was a more respectful gesture. It was purposeful and considerate, not flippant or done lightly.

And it actually makes a lot of sense. Anyone who has played a sport knows that when someone is injured on the field during a game, everyone takes a knee. Including players of the opposing team. It’s to show respect and human concern for the individual, no matter what side you’re on. I’m not speaking for Kaepernick but it’s like the country is hurting now, we’re very divided, and taking a knee for that seems appropriate for an athlete who is protesting.

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On Tuesday, I listened to a YouTube video with a law school friend of mine. It was posted by Brandon Tatum and here are some highlights of what he said:

A.   He asked, what does your perceived oppression have to do with the flag or our national anthem? Tatum’s opinion was that they have nothing to do with Kaepernick’s message of protest, and that the flag and anthem represent our nation.

Ironically enough, Tatum was sharing his opinion and exercising his right to free speech, and in doing so, was saying that someone else had no right to express their opinion or exercise their right to free speech. What a symbol or song stands for is subject to one’s own interpretation and opinion. An opinion, by it’s very nature, cannot be wrong.

It’s an opinion!

Your opinion might be to disagree with what a symbol stands for, but to condemn someone and call them a fool for expressing their opinion because it is tied to a nation’s symbols is contrary to American values (see oppressive countries referenced above).

B.   He claims that there is no positive aspect to his kneeling in terms of the flag or the anthem. And that kneeling is only highlighting negativity and slavery.

As stated above, Kaepernick initially sat down during the national anthem. He decided that kneeling was more respectful, as he didn’t want to discount the people who fought for the freedom to do exactly what he was doing: speaking freely and protesting injustice. So that in and of itself seems to hint that he does have respect for the flag and anthem, but also that he is disappointed in what is going on in our country.

As far as I’ve researched, Kaepernick doesn’t focus much on slavery but rather the current mistreatment of people of color in our country. And yes, that is negative, but basically all protests are. It’s… it’s in the nature of a protest… Ugh.

C.   He says Kaepernick’s not acknowledging the very flag or anthem that gave one man the opportunity to go from cornfields and picking cotton to becoming president of the US, or, in Kaepernick’s case, being paid millions to play football.

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Oh shit… Seriously, dude?! Ok, three things IMMEDIATELY come to mind. First off, when that flag was first made in 1777 and the national anthem written in 1814, slavery was definitely a thing in the US and going strong. So neither of those things have anything to do with freeing the slaves from cornfields and picking cotton. HOWEVER, Tatum is entitled to the opinion that that is what he thinks they represent. Still not a fact though.

Second, the only reason black slaves were given that “opportunity” was because they were first taken from their own country to be slaves in ours, THEN well over 200 years later President Lincoln finally had the balls to recognize that slaves were human beings and slavery is wrong (at least in part, there were economic incentives too because #murica). And nowhere in history does it show that Lincoln was like,

“Shit man, that flag and anthem, though. Gotta end slavery.”

Finally, the anthem was written during the War of 1812, which was fought against the United Kingdom. However, it wasn’t for our freedom, that had already become a thing by the 1800s. Instead, it was to break free of the oppression the UK was imposing on the US by way of trade restriction, forcing Americans into the UK’s Royal Navy, and limiting the US’s ability to expand its territory.

Soooo… we were fighting a force that was trying to keep us down and oppressed when Frances Scott Key became inspired to write a song about our country’s bravery and valor in fighting that oppression, which later became our national anthem. Sound familiar?

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D.   He claims people are kneeling to be trendy and that it has nothing to do with the flag.

This one’s easy: you can’t speak for others. Much like assuming that Kaepernick is kneeling to be negative and to purposefully disrespect those who’ve fought for our country, you can’t assume that others are simply doing it to be trendy.

Also, our nation’s racism crisis has been dialed up to eleven. It’s not a “trend,” it’s a poignant issue that keeps getting worse. So who can blame a people who feel cheated and abused by a country for using every possible platform they can to get their message across? Specifically a people who have literally dealt with this shit their entire lives.

E.   He says Kaepernick and other kneelers should do it at another venue, go out and do something, and vote to pass laws that will change things.

There’s no universal rule that only sports can happen during sporting events. Yes, it’s intuitive, but there’s no law, nature or human-created, prohibiting non-sport things from happening at sporting events. And it’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

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What is intuitive though is the fact that a lot of professional sports (ok, not hockey much) make billions every year on the backs of people of color, leaving them with little else once they leave the sport. In that light, it seems natural that they would use this type of platform to make a stand.

And I don’t know about other kneelers, but I know that Kaepernick has raised awareness and money for various charities that are in line with his message. As for legislation, that’s a great point and those charities that Kaepernick has pledged and given to also fight for that too. So, yeah, great idea, Tatum…

F.   He claims it does nothing and that nothing has changed because of it.

How can he say nothing has changed? What is he basing that on? At the very least it’s raising awareness and forcing the much-needed conversation about police brutality against, and the general topic of mistreatment of, people of color in our country. And, again in point E, clearly things have been done.

What’s more is that Tatum is a police officer in Tucson, AZ. That city is in the 8th percentile of city safety. That means Tucson is only safer than 8% of all the cities in the US. And guess what?

It’s gotten worse.

So clearly the police efforts in Tucson aren’t really changing the city and making it safer. Perhaps Tatum should halt his efforts because obviously it’s not doing much, nothing has changed. And that is how his flawed logic operates.

G.   Finally, Tatum calls Kaepernick and other kneelers names, tells him to stop whining like a baby, and just play the game.

Again, keep in mind this dude is a police officer. They take an oath when they become officers, and reaffirm it throughout their career. Here is it in full:

I (state your name), do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of the State of Arizona, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and defend them against enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge, the duties of a peace officer, to the best of my ability, so help me God.

(emphasis added)

This comment speaks more to Tatum’s character and inability to have an adult conversation with those he disagrees with more than any commentary on the character of Kaepernick or his message. Anyone whose argument becomes reduced to name calling and petty comebacks clearly has no argument. And has little to no control over their emotions. But enough about our president.

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After watching the video with my law school friend, I told him I disagreed for all the reasons I just stated above. He said he was just sick of hearing about it because it’s coming from everywhere and he just wanted to watch football.

I’ll give you one guess as to what he looks like.

I pointed out that he couldn’t relate because he is a white male. True to form, he didn’t like this and went off on how sick he was of hearing that, too, especially from people in California (where we live, he’s from Texas).

He eventually did admit that he couldn’t relate, however, his reaction showed that he wasn’t going to try to relate either (in law school, we call this willful ignorance and it doesn’t absolve you from being or doing wrong). Had he attempted to empathize and hear these people who are kneeling out, he might be ok with the first few minutes of his football game showing players kneeling, absent from the field, or unifying by locking arms.

Because the message is worth listening to.

On that note, I’ll end with a white man eloquently explaining (and doing what more white people need to do) why the act of kneeling isn’t disrespectful:

Being Female, a Feminist, and Loving Football

I love my San Francisco 49ers. That team has held a special place in my heart for as long as I can remember. And not just because I’m from the Bay Area and I love football. When I was young, it was rare that the whole family was together, unless it was a Sunday and we were watching our Niners.

My parents started their business when I was one. And while I’m incredibly proud of them for creating such a success together, it wasn’t without sacrifice. My Mom stopped working full-time when I was eleven, but my Dad continues to be engrossed in his rapidly expanding new enterprise. This meant we didn’t see Dad very much. But one thing was always certain:

he was home on Sundays and that’s when we would watch our Niners.

We’d eat a meal together gathered around the television and at half-time my sister and I would go in the backyard with Dad to throw the football. Dad would be all-time QB, using his hand to draw out plays, and my sister and I would switch off on defense and offense. After running around a bit we’d go back inside to watch the rest of the game.

Although I wasn’t as captivated by the game back then as I am now, I was enthralled by how my Dad talked about the team. They weren’t just great players, they were great people. He would describe them as “class acts” and “real stand-up guys,” especially compared to other teams and coaches. A few of my bedtime stories were football stories. I remember how my Dad would describe Joe Montana entering a huddle, like he was in it, too. It’d go something like this:

“Joe stepped into the huddle. All the men were nervous, a lot depended on this next drive. They were down by three, deep in their own territory with less than four minutes left in the game, and Joe Cool couldn’t be calmer. He even pointed out that John Candy was on the sidelines, and immediately everyone relaxed. Because in that moment they knew they were going to win the game with their cool-as-a-cucumber of a quarterback. Joe knew, their coaches knew, hell, even the other team knew. And that’s exactly what they did. They charged down that field like they owned it and won the Superbowl. No jeering from our Niners, no endzone dances, just pure elation that they’d done it together and they shook hands with the other team. Joe and his teammates were real class acts. They deserved to with that Superbowl.”

Yes, I’m absolutely idealizing the time and circumstances in my foggy childhood memories. I’m not saying that things were perfect back then. I’m sure there were players, Niners or not, who had the same issues with violence and how they treated women as players do today. And all the other reasons players keep getting themselves arrested.

But that doesn’t mean the ideal can’t be reality.

This isn’t the first time an organization has taken notice that, for some odd reason, they have a higher instance of domestic violence than the national average. One example of an organization that changed its ways is our military. Hmmm… football is a violent sport and our military trains people to kill. I wonder if these activities could have some psychological repercussions we might want to address?

The good news with our military is that they reacted and set in place policies and procedures to prevent this from happening and if it did, to create safe places for abused people to go. They call these Case Review Committees (CRCs) and they are comprised of many different people who are there to help: psychologists, lawyers, substance-abuse counselors, social workers, and many more.

Of all the people in the NFL, I would think Roger Goodell would be for this.

He’s already screwed the pooch a few times over by opening his mouth and letting his personal thoughts on the various matters tumble out. He should really set an example for all the men in the NFL by saying something like, “This is out of my expertise. I believe it would be in the best interest of the NFL to organize a committee to take care of these types of instances. Not only would they give the cases the attention they need but they would know how to help prevent league members from being violent in the first place.” Unfortunately, he did not say that. He’s even sticking around instead of GTFO like he should and silencing anyone who might speak up against him.

The current system of punishment in place is the NFL taking playing time and money from the players. And that’s it. What’s it like when they return? They’re not required to go to therapy or even an anger management course. They just return to the field feeling like a criminal and its back to business as usual… until it happens again. This is not a solution.

The NFL has an immense amount of power and influence.

The Superbowl is hands down the most watched event in the U.S., period. And the best part is that there’s a large population that only watches it for the commercials. Not only can the NFL tap into that power but they can choose advertisers who would support, if not at least not directly oppose, their positions. However, they need to firmly take positions such as treating women right, leaving the physical violence on the field, and setting an example for young men and women. This can be achieved if serious concentrated effort is put into the movement that addresses what has happened as well as preventing it from happening in the future.

Until then, I, along with the other 11 females in my fantasy football league, will continue to watch our Niners and cheer for them while trying not to feel too conflicted about the sport we thoroughly enjoy watching. Because the solution isn’t to stop supporting football. It’s speaking up and attempting to change what we love into something that’s continually getting better.

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(not a random baby, that’s me dressed in my very first Halloween costume. Faithful since birth!)