Take a Knee
by: Ryan Wahl
I can count on one hand, maybe less, friends and family who have ever heard me speak on something political. I’ve seen friendships destroyed because neither person will give an inch to the other when debating a topic. People are so dug in on their beliefs that they immediately go on the defensive instead of listening to what someone else has to say. So I made a conscious decision years ago to avoid discussing or posting about anything in this realm…until now.
|The Denver Broncos silently protest on Sunday|
See, the majority of the things I’ve written about have been deeply personal or sports. It’s where I thrive and also find to least amount of discourse. Yes, there will be debate on my sports opinions, but there hasn’t been a time that caused much strife. Sports are easy to debate, but sports and politics hit a major intersection this past weekend. Players and teams from all around the NFL took a knee or put a fist in the air as a peaceful protest towards the President of the United States. After referring to the players who have taken a knee as “sons of bitches”, the league and its players felt the need to retaliate. After the president tweeted that anyone who knelt should be fired, there was a major groundswell amongst players and franchises to show that they would not be pushed around and demeaned in this way. Players knelt. Fists were raised. Hands were placed on shoulders. It was a beautiful display of solidarity and protest…but nothing is that simple.
Twitter and other online sources exploded in accusations of desecrating the flag, disparaging the sacrifices of solders all over the world and crossing the line between sports and politics that shouldn’t have been crossed. What pisses me off is that none of that is what was going on. That was an individual’s perception based on their opinion without actually listening to what the players were trying to say.
|Puerto Rico being hit hard by a hurricane|
Sunday was not a protest against police. It was not a protest against the military and the veterans who have sacrificed for our freedoms. It was standing up to a bully who threatened their way of life. It was a unified stance against an unqualified, misogynistic, xenophobic, bigot that wastes more time attacking the NFL and professional athletes than doing his job. He spent more time talking about himself and firing athletes than working on helping Puerto Rico, dealing with North Korea, creating jobs…you know, presidential duties. Instead, he spent the weekend dividing the country, yet again, but this time using sports. Sports, the unifier amongst many.
See, we can disagree on sports related topics, but have a laugh while doing it. I have an ongoing argument about LeBron James that has permeated for a decade with a friend of mine. Did that separate us? Well, I officiated his wedding a few months ago. I think we’re okay. Sports is a topic that keeps us together. It’s fun, light-hearted and entertainment. For the president to insert politics into it was another example of him pulling us apart.
I know what your retort will be, “Players started this by kneeling so they inserted politics into it”. Players used the platform that they have been afforded, to call attention to social inequalities that they feel are going on. This is their right, under the first amendment of the Constitution; free speech and the right to assemble. Why were they afforded this opportunity? It’s not what you think. Standing out for the National Anthem wasn’t always a requirement. Most teams would stay in the locker room while the festivities were going on. It wasn’t until 2009 when the Department of Defense paid professional sports leagues to do this, more or less, be an advertisement for patriotism. The government gave them the opportunity to use their powerful voices to express them. If they knelt during a Bud Light commercial, who cares? If they kneel during the National Anthem? They’re the worst people on the planet. How dare they ruin the commercial for patriotism the government paid for?! They likely didn’t realize it at the time, but they enabled this generation to speak and act in a way that makes some uncomfortable. You have to make people uncomfortable and talk to get any change. You don’t know something is wrong until someone shows you something is wrong. Don’t you think it’s time to listen to their grievances and figure out how we can adapt and overcome them?
During this time, though, so many comments kept popping up that were so bothersome to me. I have to address some of them individually.
The obvious starting point was that everyone needed to be standing and salute the flag. When the players were on a knee, some with fists raised in the air, what were you doing? Were you standing in your living room? Did you have your hat removed, with a hand on your heart, paying respect to the flag? Be honest. You were sitting on your couch, probably playing with your phone to adjust your precious fantasy team or tweeting about how disrespectful these players are. Take a look in the mirror and look at your hypocrisy. You are no better. Yours is more disrespectful to what the flag stands for, but it’s your right to sit there and not acknowledge the National Anthem. That’s the thing, you can’t call out others when you’re doing something similar. At least the players on the field were kneeling for a cause. You’re on the couch with your phone not fighting for a cause, but bitching online about those who do.
One of my favorite things that I saw read, “Do it on your own time and not while you’re at work!” So taking a knee at home, in the most silent form of individual protest possible, is going to accomplish what? Public protest is what sparks change, not keeping silent where no one can see. Athletes have a worldwide platform that can be used to accomplish great things. Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Muhammed Ali, Jackie Robinson were all great men who stood up something. They didn’t hide in their homes and hope for change. They were catalysts for change. They questioned the status quo and made it known that inequality in any form was wrong. They were tired of it. They spoke out. They were vilified and attacked, yet became heroes. We speak of them with great reverence. In my lifetime I haven’t seen anything like this. I wasn’t around for Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. I wasn’t around for Muhammed Ali standing up for racial equality. Colin Kaepernick is this generation’s voice for equality. I questioned his motives at the time; I truly thought he was just trying to use it as a way to not get cut or traded (big rumors at the time). Turns out, he opened up the doors that has sparked this movement for change. It’s obvious that not all protests and protestors are of the peaceful variety. Players taking a knee on Sunday before a game is powerful, peaceful and needs to resonate with those that can begin the wheels of change. Hopefully, it won’t take decades before we appreciate the movement he started.
On a related/unrelated note, so many people seem to throw around that they are “overpaid” and should just be grateful to be in their position. More or less, just shut up and be happy you get to play a game for a living. I ask, though, grateful for what? For sacrificing time with their families? For destroying their bodies and brains for YOUR entertainment? For being constantly scrutinized and attacked for doing their job? Does that sound like anything to be grateful for? You think they’re overpaid, so I ask you, where should that money go? This money that is generated on the backs of their hard work, shouldn’t be given to them? You say they don’t deserve it. You’re right. They don’t deserve it. They fucking earn it! Let’s take it a step further. You want them to work hard and not make any part of the funds they generated for their teams and owners. You don’t want them to pick where they play. You don’t want them to get the fair amount of funds that they have generated. Let’s just say it; you’re asking for slavery. I guess that explains the jersey and memorabilia burning I’ve seen. Instead of burning crosses, in 2017, they’re burning merchandise.
|Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman|
I’ve read people say, “Stick to football,” which is one of the most ridiculous comments out there. What makes it okay for you to tell them that their opinions don’t matter? Why are you allowed to voice your opinion, but want theirs silenced? One of the more outspoken players in the NFL is Seattle Seahawks star Richard Sherman. He’s not a guy that I’m particularly a fan of on the field, but I appreciate what he does off of it. Whether it’s his charity to help low income families provide clothes and school supplies or his master’s degree from Stanford, he’s an all-around good guy. His opinions, while I may not always agree, are always thought out and researched. That’s more than I can say for a good number of commenters from this past weekend. He takes the time to educate himself on the situation before speaking about it. We all should do the same. The great thing about this country is that we can all have the same information, but perceive it differently. As long as you have an open mind and are open to constructive dialogue, progress can be made. Unfortunately, too many go in with a set frame of mind and refuse to acknowledge the other side. That’s why progress and change doesn’t happen. Too many uninformed people yelling and not listening, or just putting people in a box. “He’s just an athlete” is no different than other stereotypes placed onto people. No one in this world is defined by one part of their personality. It’s those differences and that uniqueness that makes this country great…as long as you’re not closed to them.
Another thing that made me shake my head was a lot of people giving NASCAR credit for demanding their drivers and teams stand during the National Anthem. Why do they get any credit? Is anyone from the demographic that is protesting and asking to be heard involved in that so-called “sport”? NASCAR is over 90% white. Their “stance” is a joke but a clear example of how many people are out of touch with the inequalities in this country. NASCAR, golf, hockey are filled with the majority being white. They’re not seeing inequalities as frequently, nor are they open to them. They’re not looking to help, not because they’re bad people, but because it would affect their bottom line. Why get into a controversial subject, and possibly lose sponsors, if you’re not forced to?
I’m proud of those who are taking a knee in peaceful protest. The unfortunate thing is that the outraged people aren’t asking the right questions about it. The question isn’t, “How could they?” The real questions are, “What are they trying to say?” and, “How can we fix this?” Unfortunately we lack the presidential leadership to address this intelligently. He’ll keep dividing the country, as he has done since the day he started to run for office. The American people who voted for him made a major mistake. That’s okay. Mistakes get made every day. Let’s just hope that in a few years, when the next election takes place, this mistake is learned from and not repeated. It’s not too late to save this country from a power hungry tyrant with zero experience in his job. He has proven that rhetoric and bluster are not enough to carry this great nation. He destroyed the USFL back in the 80’s, what made people think he could run the entire country? Ironic that 30 years later, his name is tarnishing another professional football league.
Some will read this and attack my patriotism. To that I say, fuck off. I love living in the United States and appreciate the freedoms I have that aren’t afforded to other nations. I stand for the anthem when I attend an event. I teach my son to do the same. I have friends who have served this country, and have a level of bravery I simply don’t have. I have friends who are active police officers that I have the utmost respect for. I thank all of them for protecting my family, myself and my community. They have the single toughest job in the country and I can’t imagine dealing with what they do daily. I thank the soldiers and military who keep us safe and protect our freedoms. It’s because of these groups that we feel safe and enjoy the freedoms our forefathers wanted for us.
At the same time, they are protecting the freedoms of all, whether everyone is in agreement or not with what a protestor stands or kneels for. It’s time to stop yelling and engage in constructive discussion. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening until there is a change in leadership. Strike that, until we actually get a leader back in office of President of the United States.