Thanks to our divisive and publicly potty-mouthed president, apparently I now have to think about professional sports, which doesn’t interest me in the least. And apparently, I have to choose whether to side with some athletes over others, which I thought could avoid by ignoring the tribalism of pro sports. Oh, well. Fine. I’ll side with the athletes taking the knee.
America isn’t about a flag. It’s about what the flag represents. And I can tell you, living overseas as I do, that the First Amendment is a hugely important part of the American tradition that should be celebrated, not shut down. You do an enormous disservice to the American promise when you demand mindless nationalism. Any country and its leaders in the world can do that. We’re supposed to be different.
Now, two things more:
First, just because you have the right to speak does not mean that you are free from the consequences. So, if the players face blowback, so be it. Of course, at this moment, it’s unclear if those delivering the blowback aren’t just getting drowned out themselves.
Second, regarding Pres. Trump’s call to fire the players, I can only thank him for pointing out that, really, you have zero free speech at the workplace. In fact, many of the values we cherish in our politics – free speech, free right to organize, the right to challenge authority – are for all practical purposes dead on arrival in the workplace because you can be fired. Thankfully, unlike other countries, free speech in the political sphere in the US is largely free of severe consequences. But in the economic sphere, free speech can destroy your life. Along this line, I applaud the many owners who have chosen to stand with their employees and colleagues, rather than stand with someone who is simply trying to stir up trouble for his own gain.
Some other thoughts:
Regarding the substance of the protest – that blacks in the US face persistent disparities in policing, justice, income, wealth, education, and health and that we should do something about it – well, of course! These disparities are real, and we should address them. It’s what Americans do for one another.
I know that many whites think and say that it’s the blacks’ own fault. You can’t be a white American and not have heard this line of argument before from family, friends, or acquaintances. Some of that, of course, is true. Like all people, we create problems for ourselves, and it can be hard to accept self-blame. But I think that fact is swamped by the tidal wave of history and more recent events that show that whenever the black community tries to stand up on its own or play by the rules, some fraction of the white community is there to push it back down. Just look through past events to find the many examples of black middle-class communities that have been destroyed by white riots or public policy. One riot even happened in the adopted hometown of Abraham Lincoln himself. The American north is not immune here.
Now, whether the take-the-knee protests are the right way to bring people around to this history and these discussions, I don’t know. Maybe. Look at what I’m doing right here. I guess that’s proof.
By the way, I think the best way to address many of these disparities is by focusing on universal values and programs and less on race. But that’s a post for another day.
On a petty point, can anyone explain to me why the heck we reaffirm our patriotism at sports events, anyway? What in the world does that have to do with it? I’ve had one European acquaintance tell me that such a display would actually be considered anti-patriotic in some countries there because a celebration of nationhood should be treated with reverence. Instead, we use it to open events where adults play children’s games and many people spend and earn obscene amounts of money watching them do it.
Finally, what disturbs me the most right now is that, while this knee controversy was stoked by Pres. Trump, he moved us closer to a nuclear war with North Korea and has effectively ignored the plight of our fellow Americans on Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has more than 3.5 million people. That’s more than 20 states. Ignoring the disaster there is unpatriotic and immoral.