On May 23rd, 2018 I woke up to an ESPN notification on my phone alerting me that NFL Owners had gotten together and decided that it be mandatory for players to stand for the anthem before games if they were on the field. This didn’t surprise me much. Sure it disappointed me, but I came to expect it. Let’s be honest, the NFL is a microcosm of the country. A few dozen aging white men making decisions based on their bottom line rather than the good of their players, cheerleaders and other employees. Whether it be the fact that cheerleaders don’t even make minimum wage or a complete disregard to what minorities in this country are dealing with, it’s the little snow globe version of the United States of America.
Like I said though, this was expected. For two seasons now, owners have been blaming declining ratings for the once seemingly invincible league on player protests when in all reality that’s only one part of the story. They failed to factor in the other sides as well. The Over half of this country who didn’t vote for Trump who grew tired of the constant attack on what is, in fact, one of the more peaceful protests you can demonstrate. They also failed to factor in that cable prices and premium channels just aren’t practical or more importantly, affordable for many people anymore. It’s worth noting that there are significant numbers of the 18-35 age group who admit to following the games on social media and watching the highlights that way. Of course, you also have games that turn into total duds, especially on Thursdays where nobody wants to play. And finally, there are many viewers who are tired of how involved the refs are during games now. Whether it be protecting the offense to a point where it’s bordering on Arena Football or blurring the lines between what’s a reception and what’s an incomplete pass, people are just plain tired of it. CTE being brought to light hasn’t helped either. That alone has cast a dark cloud over a sport that might as well have been a religion here in America at one time.
Now I am not going to lie. I am still an NFL fan. Us “12’s” are hated by most of the country up here in Seattle, but I was born during the preseason of 1986 and have been a Seahawks fan the whole way. It’s the sport that kept my brother and I close through tough times and along with college football and hockey, it’s the distraction I so desperately need during the doom and gloom that is fall & winter in the Pacific Northwest. I have also mentioned in a previous opinion piece here that I have always stood for the Canadian and American anthems with my hand over my heart. I have family from both countries and I stand because I want to….”want” being the important word there.
I liken it to a Birthday party. If I invite people to my party and tell them that they must bring me gifts, what is the point in that? The genuineness is lost. However, if someone brings one out of the kindness of their heart? That’s special. That means that in some way, shape, or form, that person cares enough to offer a gesture of love and celebration.
I don’t agree with the current administration whatsoever. In fact, I can’t recall a time when I have felt so let down. Like I said though, I still stand for the anthem. Again, because I want to. My background has shaped me into someone who sees the anthem as a representation of what’s good in America and the fact that we will meet those who wish to dull our vibrant colors with great resistance. People like Donald Trump and Mike Pence. At the same time you have to remember that although many of us have varying backgrounds (for another day), I am perceived as a white male. I was born with that privilege. I might not feel as though that tells my story, but it doesn’t matter because that’s how society sees me and with that, I have an advantage that many don’t.
My story is different from Colin Kaepernick’s, my story is different from Michael Bennett’s, their stories are different from Travis Kelce’s and Malcolm Butler’s and all of our stories are a hell of a lot different than Donald Trump’s and Mike Pence’s. Their American experience is their own and that’s what this country is all about. We wouldn’t be what we are without dissent. It has almost always taken some form of protest, someone willing to go against the grain to get people to finally listen and make the changes that hopefully lead to a better America.
On May 23rd, 2018, after I received the – not so shocking – alert from ESPN, I was also made aware of a tweet from Vice President Mike Pence regarding the NFL’s decision. Along with a link to the story, the Vice President added “#Winning” to the tweet as a jab in the eye to those who silently and non-violently called out racial inequality and the wrongful murders of several African-Americans at the hands of those who took an oath to serve and protect them. The man who sat for North and South Korea’s historical show of goodwill at the 2018 Winter Olympics while the rest of the world stood, was gloating on Twitter regarding a decision made on the hiring practices of a private entity. A decision that the President and Vice President most certainly had a hand in influencing despite it being illegal to do so. Here’s the thing though Vice President, you didn’t win anything.
I have been fortunate enough to know several people who have served their respective countries in the military and every single one of them has, at the very least, supported the right to protest regardless of their personal feelings. Now I am not crazy, I realize that not every single serviceperson has the same exact opinion as the ones I know, but at the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to. An opinion. For the life of me, I can’t understand why conservatives seem so hell-bent on creating carbon copies of themselves. Whether it be gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, or what it means to properly be American, the majority seems to think it’s their way or the highway. I mean literally, just this morning President Trump told FOX and Friends that players who don’t stand for them anthem shouldn’t be in this country. All that says to me is that there is a whole lot of insecurity on their part. You don’t agree with gay marriage? Don’t marry the same sex. You are against abortions? Don’t get an abortion. You believe true patriots stand for the flag? Then stand for the flag and don’t worry about what anyone else does, but understand that not everybody has to be just like you. That’s not a country, that’s a facility.
When Colin Kaepernick first started these protests, he spoke with Green Beret, Nate Boyer formerly of the Seattle Seahawks. Boyer even admitted to feeling some anger in the beginning, after hearing of the protests. But after meeting with Kaepernick and hearing his point of view, he decided to try and understand what Kaepernick was trying to accomplish as much as he could. He suggested that rather than sitting for the anthem, that protesting players kneel instead as a show of respect to the men and women who have fought for this country. We all know what happened next.
You see that’s the problem with politics in America right now. If you sat me down with Nate Boyer, it’s possible we wouldn’t have much in common when it comes to politics, but the fact that rather than pile on Kaepernick, he had the patience and decency to listen and try to understand the situation, speaks volumes. That gesture alone instills a respect and a trust. The politicians in this nation do have a choice. Even if all of our ideologies don’t match up, an attempt to listen and to understand our worries and struggles could go a very long way. Sadly they choose a different route. It’s not even that they think they know what’s best for us more than we do (that would actually be an improvement), instead they take us for fools when in reality they only really care about themselves.
I doubt we’ll ever see Colin Kaepernick on an NFL team again and honestly that’s ok. What Kaepernick has accomplished goes well beyond football. Not only has he donated his own money to civil rights causes, but he’s inspired a discussion that has lasted nearly two years and motivated people like me and fellow athletes to help out if at all possible too. Despite the venom, the skewing, and the exploitation of our anthem, flag, and those who fought to protect it, Kaepernick’s decision in the preseason of 2016 to kneel in protest of racial oppression sent shock waves around the world and it will go down in history as something that changed it.
In football, when a team has the ball and is ahead with only seconds left to play, most of the time the team will go into what is called a “victory formation”. A formation in which the ball is snapped by the Center to the Quarterback and the Quarterback kneels to run out the clock. Boyer may not be a Center, but it’s sort of fitting that the two men – albeit of very different backgrounds – who were involved in the start of this protest were a long snapper and a Quarterback. So no, Vice President, you haven’t won. Colin Kaepernick may have taken his final knee in the game of football, but at the end of the day, he and those who supported him were in a victory formation.
Editor in Chief of Lemonade Magazine