There are many differing opinions and as many different ways of expressing those opinions. Most people who grow up in America learn there are behaviors that are expected (and some that are not accepted) of those who choose to live in this country, as a matter of course.
Who doesn’t understand that one doesn’t go to a worship service and turn on their music or carry on a loud conversation during the service? Who doesn’t know that one doesn’t start spouting political opinion out loud — and without being asked — on a bus or in a waiting room? And who would think that all those who have paid to see a football game with their family should have to be subjected to personal opinions expressed on the field — verbally, silently, or physically — whether they agree with the concepts and beliefs behind those opinions or not? No child in the stands with his or her parents should have to ask, “Daddy, why are the players kneeling? Are they asking God to help them to win?” or “Mommy, where are the other team members? Shouldn’t they already be out on the field to hear the national anthem?”
We have often heard that politics and religion don’t mix — do we now have to add sports to that short list? If we were to be a guest on a public radio show and were specifically asked to keep our comments focused on the subject at hand (that subject of sports), but instead of following that request, we started spouting our opinion on certain politicians, or what we think of the Pope, we would have defeated the whole reason we were asked to be on the show. (Chances are we wouldn’t be asked back.)
Perhaps there are rules for what is expected and/or required of players for such things as just walking out onto the field or what to do or not do during the playing and singing of the national anthem, but if that were so, wouldn’t one think at the first sign of a player breaking the rules, the consequences would be applied?
Of late, there has been a lot of controversy over various NFL players causing dissension among other players, the fans, and just about anyone who’s heard of the situation. Either a sports arena is for the various sports teams to play their games for those who came — and paid — to see them play, or it is now an okay forum for players to express their personal opinions on issues of importance to them.
I am all in favor of peaceful and necessary protests, but just as one would not expect a person to stand up in a mosque and expound on their personal views (it is not the place), one would not expect a sports figure to take the mic and make an announcement about his personal views on anything, no matter how strongly he feels. Matters of protest that have nothing to do with football — even the silent or “coded” protests — have no place on a football field.
For those who somehow may not have been aware of this issue, it may have started last year with Colin Kaepernick, who said he felt compelled to use his platform as an NFL player to call attention to police brutality and broader issues of racial inequality [both of which could easily fall under the political umbrella]. So during one preseason game a while back, as everyone in the stands and on the sidelines rose for the national anthem, Kaepernick remained sitting, which likely sparked many others to join the would-be protest “movement” on the football field.
When NFL.com reporter Steve Wyche asked Kaepernick why he did that — after seeing him do it more than once — Kaepernick replied, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Those words set off a national debate about police brutality, protest, and the role of athletes in making political statements. Those words explained his behavior, yet I believe he chose the wrong time and place to make his stand. Rather than showing the world what was in his mind, it gave the impression that he was disrespecting all those who died for his very freedom to do what he did. After a few games, as we now know, his protest changed from sitting down during the anthem to taking a knee as a sign of respect…or so he felt. But many saw what he did as anything but respectful; he obviously did not see it as a sign of disrespect for military veterans.
The flag that he was choosing to ignore, along with the country for which it stands, are not people and did not do the things that caused Kaepernick to protest. His protest ought to have been directed at the individuals and the systems (run by people) that have allowed such inequality to exist. While some people may still harbor ugly and ignorant prejudice and ill will toward the black race at large, even they would rather live in a world of equal rights for all.
While we can admire doing something to show outrage for totally unacceptable behavior toward a particular group of citizens, we (I am assuming most of us) would not condone protesting in unacceptable places. Would we accept such protests in our classrooms, our places of worship, or at our senior centers or hospitals? Why then should we accept those protests at our sports venues? Don’t we go there to enjoy the game and remove ourselves from the harshness and divisiveness of the everyday world around us, choosing rather to unite ourselves — if even for just a few hours — with those who merely root for the same team?
In today’s world, there is much room for protesting in appropriate places, not the least of which would be TV and radio guest spots that allow and encourage expressing one’s personal views.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft, a friend of Trump and a donor to his campaign, said he was disappointed by the president’s [strongly-worded] remarks [about the issue of sitting during the national anthem]. “There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics,” he added. I agree with that statement, which — in my book — does not contradict the intention of what Trump said, but I do have to add that Trump seems to have a way with words that can frazzle the hairs on the back of one’s neck.
Although Trump said his comments about this issue had nothing to do with race, and were made out of “respect for our country and respect for our flag,” the point of taking a knee was and is about race, since the reason behind it was to protest police brutality very particularly to those of the black race.
We can well understand the feelings behind such protests when we read about the incident with Michael Bennett, a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks. While Bennett was in town to watch a boxing match, gunshots rang out after the event. Naturally, the crowd scattered in fear, but a policeman singled Bennett out and told him to get on the ground. “As I laid on the ground,” he wrote in an open letter a month later, “complying with his commands not to move, he placed his gun near my head and warned me that if I moved he would ‘blow my f***ing head off.’”
Bennett said he felt he “would die for no other reason than I am black and my skin is somehow a threat.”
Las Vegas police described the situation differently, insisting the officers were acting on the limited information they had. The incident is under internal investigation by the LVPD. This very confrontation, he said, was why he would continue to protest at NFL games.
“…Equality doesn’t live in this country and no matter how much money you make, what job title you have, or how much you give, when you are seen as a ‘Nigger,’ you will be treated that way,” Bennett wrote. “…I can only imagine what Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Charleena Lyles felt.”
How sad that the NFL players’ protests are directed at the country at large.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at email@example.com.