Baby and Bathwater

I played football in high school, and to a limited extent, in college. As such, I am a fan. I actually watched the Trump speech that led to today’s NFL national anthem upheaval, and as I usually do, I have tried to understand the cause and effect loop.

I have heard it said that the players who have been sitting out the national anthem are protesting, but I have yet to see a cogent explanation of what the protest is actually intended to say. The word ‘injustice’ seems to be a common highlight, but I still can’t quite grasp what they are trying to say. Is it about cops shooting black people? If someone could point me to the definition of the protest, I would appreciate it. It seems that the bulk of protests these days escape me, and I can’t help but conclude that I am missing something, or I am just getting old. Get off my lawn!

Up until today, I would have said that there are technicalities of the protest that were problematic. In other words, if you are being paid by someone and decide to protest on the clock, you are forcing the organization in question to adopt your position, and that doing so is a fire-able offense. Apparently, the coaches, owners, and perhaps the NFL itself is in support of the point of view of the players who are protesting by sitting out the national anthem, all of which adds up to throwing the technical argument out the window.

That leaves us with a number of ideological arguments, most of which I will ignore for brevity’s sake.

First up is Trump’s point of view. As the long-time boss of a large private organization, it’s not too surprising that he would have problems with the idea of employees taking advantage of the NFL platform to make an ideological or political protest. If someone forced his own business into a corner in that way, he would be forced to fire people to avoid having an individual’s opinion form the opinion of the entire business. As usual, I do think he could have said it much better. He could have avoided the SOB label on those NFL Players, and he could have avoided the general insult of talking about why the NFL is losing viewership. What is the NFL position on America?

Second is the follow-on to Colin Kaepernick’s protest. As far as I can gather his point of view from news reports, he is making an argument for which he is the worst spokesperson. He has had every advantage in life and to claim an aggrieved status is not within his experience. To take it further and extend it into the point of view of other players is baffling to me. NFL players live at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid. Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt, having been a minor part of the process, that NFL players have worked amazingly hard for their position in life. They are the best of the best, and they work at a level that most of us would never even imagine. However, no matter how good they are, NFL players are part of an entertainment industry. Case in point: I am watching Washington vs. Oakland right now. I am entertained by Marshawn Lynch.

Third is that we have culturally imbued our entertainment icons with some kind of authority that they are not qualified to deserve. As a rule, I would rather give authority to a top level athlete than say… a Kardashian, but the fact of the matter is that we live in world where the authority we give to our entertainment icons has gone to their heads. This is not to say that entertainment figures cannot think. It is more about our lending of credibility to them and the power that they apply to themselves. Does J-Law’s position on the world matter? No. Hopefully she spends her time improving her craft rather than trying to solve the world’s problems. The same applies to political figures. If political leaders do not understand that they have thrown their moral authority out the window at this point, than we are truly lost from a top down perspective, and it falls to you and I to re-inject some reality into the equation.

But back to the NFL… If you are an NFL player, you have a huge platform in America. You also have a disproportionate amount of financial power to make your point. If you feel that there is an overriding injustice in this country, you have the ability to speak to the press, to start a foundation in your cause, to spend a lot of well financed off-clock hours, and to make your position clear to a very large audience. You don’t need to take it to the level of sitting out the national anthem.

Why is it a problem for me? The simple fact is that as an NFL player, you are taking massive advantage of the same ideals that the national anthem symbolizes. If so many people had not sacrificed for those ideals, the framework for your multi-million-dollar lifestyle wouldn’t even exist. Your ability to convert that advantage into a political message wouldn’t exist. By protesting against the larger picture that America represents, and how the sacrifice made by countless Americans confers to you, you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If you want to say something, fine. Say it within the bounds of what your employers will abide, but please don’t lose sight of the fact that your right to say it was paid for by countless people who gave undying allegiance to the flag and the anthem that you are grinding beneath your heels, in front of a paying national audience that would not be possible without the advantages bought by those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to an ideal that allows you to disrespect it.

Is America perfect? Hell, no! Anyone who would make that argument would not only lose, but would happily ignore human nature to their own detriment. The American experiment is simply the best that we as flawed humans have been able to make to this point. However, without it, none of us would even have the freedom to form an opinion, much less express it. If you have point to make, then by all means make it, but do not throw out the ability and liberty to make it. Do not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.