I don’t fancy myself an advice columnist. I rant and rave and spew. Every once in a while, usually when I haven’t tried being clever, or haven’t over edited, something I say finds traction — engages readers. It happened today, and I share the entire exchange, largely unedited, because what grabbed people seems to be my visceral response, not my technical editing, caveating, where-as-ing, etc.
Dear Robby, (She didn’t actually write me, but I’m going with the Dear Abby motif until it dies an unseemly death)
“On a purely ethical, moral and/or philosophical level, I support any player taking a knee to protest injustice. On another level, … nothing earth (or country) shattering has occurred because of it, and it’s changed nothing (sadly). What is it that makes these people lose their minds over a gesture? What are they really afraid of? What is so threatening about a man on one knee? He must be pretty powerful.”
Allow me, a former heavy watcher of many things sporty, to offer a hypothesis?
For most people, it seems, sports are a layer of abstraction — a perfect, near religious world, one step removed from reality where everything has tidy answers, because there are rituals, boundaries, epic struggles between competing forces, time limits, and a functional judiciary (referees).
Abstracted tribalism. You don’t have to kill the other guy when they disagree. It’s just sports. Nothing lost in real terms.
Sports allows those so inclined to look away from a troubling world they can’t explain, don’t control, and would rather NOT spend time engaged with.
Sports viewers have the privilege of escaping to their game, ignoring the world around them because it does not truly affect them.
So when Kaepernick shows up bringing “real-world” politics into this peaceful fantasy world, they can no longer look away. Their CHOICE TO IGNORE, which they believe is their God-given right… choice of what to pay attention to… is literally taken from them. Poor babies! Pobrecito!
“How DARE someone force me to look at something I have chosen to deny the existence of and ignore on a daily basis, when I’m in my predictable, ritual world of microcosmic tribalism?” (None of them would actually use those words. 🙂 )
Kaep’s protest, attempting to draw attention to racial inequality in our justice system — particularly as it manifests in unpunished police brutality — truly IS a big deal. A lot of other people have tried, in a lot of other venues, but they kept asking the same question: “Where is everyone? Why does no one care?” Turns out, they were at the football games. Kaepernick, and now his supporters, took the protest to the game because the marginalized can’t get the oppressor to engage meaningfully elsewhere.
Drag the rotting corpse up on the doorstep. Maybe then the neighbors will come to the table and talk about appropriate disposal techniques.
Kaep succeeded briefly in getting engagement. But his original point is being deflected — with Trump’s involvement, and military families, and flag supporters — they have successfully made it all about themselves; converting a protest calling for justice, into claims that the protest disrespects our troops, our flag, our anthem, our nation.
Keep your eye on that ball: The oppressor immediately tries to claim victimhood and become the oppressed. “How can YOU do this to US, Kaep?”
Now the other half of your question comes in: What are protesters actually doing to change inequality, police brutality, and the dysfunctional justice system?
A lot. If the sports watcher (or others unaware) care to go the next step and actually engage in fixing the problems being reported. If you’re already engaged, bless you. You’re the exception, and I indict my own lack of actual involvement in making this horrendous situation change for the better. (Horrendous situation: our justice system is not providing “equal justice for all” on many levels.)
That’s why this is much more than a tempest in a teapot. Black activists are forcing the white ignorers to face an issue they simply choose to not face. Kaep is holding up a mirror, and football fans are slapping it out of his hand because they do not want to look.
And the faux, “locked-arms-in-unity” posture adopted by NFL owners on Sunday was another predictable attempt to mollify the protesters while cleverly discarding the original protest. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can kneel showing he supports his team member’s free speech, when the protest is not about free speech, or the flag, or respect for the troops. But Jerry can say to his players, who he threatened to fire weeks ago if any of them individually joined Kaepernick’s protest, “There, there, it’s all over. Now get back to the business of making billions for me,” off of credulous “church-goers” attending their civic/sports religious events (aka football games.)