Yes, I’m chiming in on something sports related. And something political. But, being me, I’m doing it a couple of days late since the biggest arguments over this were over the weekend. But I have thoughts swirling in my head that I need to get out. Warning, this will be long and will go back a few years.
Normally, I don’t follow sports, but I have started to enjoy football. I’ll take any football game, but it is more background noise; I have it on while doing other things and often even have the sound down. I joined a fantasy football league with some friends, including several former roommates.
I blame this softening to my roommate Daniel. He’s a huge football fan. Back when he was my roommate, Tim Tebow was the quarterback for Florida. (See, I couldn’t tell you which college or university in Florida it was. I’m still not a diehard sports fan.) It was his senior year, and he’d go on to win the Heisman Trophy. Then he’d be drafted to the Denver Broncos as their backup quarterback. When Peyton Manning got injured, Tebow managed to lead the team to some playoff victories before the team was eliminated.
However, Daniel, who was a fan of Tebow in college and a Broncos fan, didn’t think Tebow made a good NFL quarterback.
And then Tebow became controversial for kneeling. After his team scored a touchdown, he’d briefly kneel on his own on the sidelines while the rest of the game was going on to give thanks to God. The man had always been under scrutiny for being an outspoken Christian, and this just brought things to a boil. There were calls for him to be fired.
Tebow was eventually traded and then cut from his new team. However, Daniel’s perspective that Tebow was having a hard time making the transition to NFL quarterback kept playing in my mind. Could the controversy surrounding him have helped with him losing his NFO job? Sure. But I submit that if he’d been winning games, he’d be a starting quarterback somewhere.
Fast forward a few years. I join the fantasy football league with Daniel and some other friends. Being the Northern California native I am, I snag Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers as my quarterback. And I didn’t win a game all year. Now, I’m not blaming it all on him, but I had a front row seat to his performance as a quarterback. He’s okay, but not all that great. Lesson learned, I let auto draft help me in the future.
But I kept an eye on the 49ers as they continued to struggle.
Then Kaepernick started his protests last year. It started with him sitting on the bench during the anthem, only kneeling when his lack of standing was called out. And he became controversial. And yet, he never became a great quarterback.
The calls for his firing started from some of the same people who had been defending Tebow. And those who called for Tebow to be fired were defending Kaepernick. And I watched the 49ers lose games under his leadership.
And here is where I feel sorry for the NFL as a whole. Kaepernick was let go from the 49ers. And immediately, people started to call for the NFL to be boycotted. Could the controversy surrounding him have had something to do with his being let go? Yes. But I guarantee you that if Kaepernick were winning games and leading his team to the play offs consistently, he would still be a professional quarterback.
You’ll notice I said the exact same thing Kaepernick and Tebow. While they were controversial in their own ways, they weren’t playing at levels that justified having them on teams. If they were, they would still have jobs. It’s as simple as that.
Yet, people were calling for the NFL to be boycotted this fall because Kaepernick lost his job. Sorry, but if you aren’t good at your job, you will lose it. That applies to sports just as much as the rest of life.
This is when those defending Kaepernick cited the First Amendment and his freedom of speech. He absolutely does have freedom of speech, but let’s look at the First Amendment again. “Congress shall make no law….” It says nothing about a private company. And it says nothing about a job when you aren’t very good at your job.
Of course, freedom of speech issues seem to be everywhere these days. People are defending it or trying to take it away from others. Yes, riots against a speaker are trying to take away someone’s freedom of speech. You can disagree, but they still have the freedom to speak even if you disagree with them.
So I do support his right to speak, and he has a platform to speak. I happen to disagree with what he is saying. Remember, this started because of his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The statistics don’t back up the movement. Not to say that the perception doesn’t mean anything, but when we look at facts, this movement started from the news media blowing something out of proportion and then fed into perceptions. Instead of trying to get to solutions, we started having protests.
But Kaepernick still has the right to speak up on this whether I disagree with him or not.
I am bothered by the means he chose to do so, however. As an American, the flag and the National Anthem mean something to me. I try to show them respect, although I probably fail at times. The flag stands for Kaepernick’s right to speak his mind on any topic he wants, for one thing. And it is clear in our society that we get that flags stand for something. Over the summer, we’ve had how many discussion on what the Confederate flag stands for and what statues stand for. Those who want statues taken down say that his taking a knee isn’t a huge insult and those who defend the statues are the most offended.
My feelings on the flag and the anthem were solidified back in the 90’s by Adventures in Odyssey. For those not familiar with it, this is a radio drama done by Focus on the Family, so it is conservative in bent for sure. They invented some ways for the kids in modern time to go back and experience history, both Biblical and American. (They were imagination enhancing computer programs, but they were really just plot devises.) This particular episode sent two kids back to the battle during the War of 1812 when Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.” They are by his side during the long night when the British are shelling the fort, and they watch for the flag to still be flying, meaning that the fort has not surrendered to the British. It really showed me just how powerful a symbol the flag is.
Last year, one of the highlights of my day as a tourist in Washington DC was seeing the flag that inspired the song in the Smithsonian. Thinking again about the story and where the American flag has flown over the years moved me to tears.
So, while I support Kaepernick’s right to speak his mind, I was off put by his actions. And, frankly, I am a little surprised that the NFL didn’t step in last year. After all, they threatened to fine players on the Dallas Cowboys who wanted to honor Dallas police officers who had been shot in the line of duty by a sniper. And they refused to let players honor the victims of 9/11 on Sunday, September 11, 2016. So why they couldn’t have told Kaepernick to find another way to make his point is beyond me. And if you are upsetting the people you are trying to reach with your message, maybe you should find another way to speak your mind that will help build a bridge.
Flash forward to this weekend. I missed what started the entire controversy this particular weekend, but I certainly heard about Trump’s tweet calling for the NFL to fire any player who refused to stand for the anthem. Now, while I find kneeling for the anthem to be disrespectful, let’s go back and look at how the First Amendment begins again. “Congress shall make no law….” Okay, if we want to split hairs, Trump is the President and wasn’t making a law. But the meaning of the First Amendment is clear, and Trump overstepped. Period. End of discussion.
So, honestly, I was left feeling unsettled this weekend. I find the practice of kneeling disrespectful since it is our country’s tradition to stand at attention. (Ironically, at other times kneeling show great respect, like kneeling before a king.) The way the practice has been growing over the last few weeks in other sports and even in kids’ leagues is bothering me. Yet, I can understand why players felt compelled to do it this weekend to stand up to Trump.
Of course, then there’s the Steeler’s player, a former Army Ranger, who did stand and was made to feel so foolish that he apologized today for letting his team down. He shouldn’t have had to do that. It was his choice, and he should have been allowed to make it. And to answer another comment I saw, the people in the stands booing the players that were kneeling wasn’t racist. It was their free speech back to the players showing their free speech. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is part of living in a free society.
But this entire weekend has saddened me yet again. I saw so many knee jerk responses with very little time for anyone to think things through. I’ve probably gone overboard with this post (which is currently just over 1500 words), but there is a lot of complexity and hypocrisy on both sides.
I’m also thinking about an observation my brother made in his sermon this Sunday about how easy it is to get people to protest things today, but how hard it is to get people to actually do something productive to make a difference. I honestly feel like this entire issue, which has been building for the last year, is the perfect example. Nothing has truly come of this but bad feelings and calls for boycotts (which we do at the drop of a hat).
And lost in all of this is any effort to try to see the other side or try to get along. Everyone knows they are right, and posts things that only inflame those they disagree with while reinforcing the belief on their side that they are right. If we want to find a way to get along again as a country, we need to stop talking in memes and think. Listen to each other. Think about this story in the context of other stories that have happened in the last year. 5 years. 10 years. No we can’t solve everything in one day, but at this point, I don’t think that the majority of the country is even trying.
And that saddens me most of all.
As does the fact that something that could be used to bring us together and help us relax and forget about politics for a while is now a political football.