Some Random White Guy’s Thoughts on the National Anthem Protests in the NFL

Image taken from:
https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/08/22/national-anthem-protests-list-players-kneelnfl-players-protest-list
Hey readers. Apologies upfront for the humongous gap in posts (last one was in January). I have been working hard to finish my dissertation and am almost finished. Also, apologies for the simple fact that this post has very little to do with Church History. I wanted to pause in that work today to post about all these national anthem protests going around the NFL. I am sure you’ve read about these from thousands of angles and mine will undoubtedly not blaze a new trail. That said, I do want to address it as a lifelong NFL fan, a white man, and as an aspiring academic. Many of these protests address issues of race (and a lot of the division in response to them is along racial lines);  therefore I think acknowledging my own race and perspective at the outset is important.

13jj1g0oxtelhH2Vx8rAYCg-1
First of all, the responses:

By now you’ve probably read a lot of tweets, Facebook posts, seen the memes, watched videos, or have even seen the protests being covered on NFL pregame shows. During last season, there were sporadic instances of players either taking a knee or raising a fist in the air during the national anthem, beginning with Colin Kaepernick. Many people weighed in on whether or not players should be allowed to do so throughout last season. In the preseason and first weeks of the regular season of 2017, many more players began to join in, such as the Browns in the first picture (that was from the preseason). However, probably the biggest catalyst on all of this was Donald Trump’s response to the issue. Trump basically intimated that players who protest during the national anthem ought to be fired. His comments, including some made at a rally in Alabama last week, provoked massive numbers of players protesting, with over 200 joining in this past week in the NFL.

Some consumers have even pledged to boycott the NFL over the protests. DirecTV has even begun issuing refunds for the NFL Sunday Ticket package for customers who want to boycott the league over the protests. Many people have come out in support of the players’ right to peacefully protest during the anthem. However, others have responded in a much more despicable way.

In order to not give too much of a platform here for such hateful responses, I will just urge the curious to do a simple google image search for “anti-Kaepernick memes” or something related to that. It’s horrendous, often racist, and hate-filled. There have even been some national anthem singers at NFL games who have protested. The singer at last week’s Lions game took a knee at the end of his performance. Meghan Linsey, the singer at the Titans game, also took a knee during her performance. She received support, but she also had people say she should have been executed on the field or that they hope she gets cancer. Many of the players have been receiving death threats throughout this movement, and Delanie Walker even had someone threaten him and his son over his part in protesting last week.

webp.net-resizeimage_10

Here are my thoughts on the whole thing:

Again, I’m not claiming to have some breath-of-fresh-air take on this, or some ground-breaking approach to the issue. I have several responses which I will spend the rest of this blog covering.

First of all, and this should not have to be said, but it’s never okay to issue death threats to someone else, no matter how much you disagree with him or her. Just because you think they are trampling on everything you believe or support does not mean that they deserve to be executed, or get cancer. Shocking, I know. If you have ever tweeted something like this to someone, even as an internet troll/ joke, please don’t ever do it again. These are real people with real families. Imagine what it would be like to see a tweet like that.

Aside from the common human decency argument, I think something more ought to be said to those who are so vehemently opposed to the protests. It’s been stated over and over again, but the players and others who take a knee are allowed to protest. It’s freedom of speech/ expression. Now, as employees of the NFL, they could face fines, suspensions, or termination for taking part in these protests. Free speech is one thing, but freedom from the consequences of free speech is another. This is the argument of “you can say what you want, but you might lose your job over it.” Free speech just means you can’t be thrown in jail for telling your boss you hate his or her guts. He or she could fire you over it, though. The NFL has chosen to allow it’s players to protest. Therefore, if you have a major issue with the protest movement, your gripe is with the NFL, not the players. If you feel the need to make your disgust known, write to the NFL–not the players.

Furthermore, and this is one of my biggest issues with the responses, people need to actually listen to the players’ themselves over this. Most of the anger towards the protests takes the line: “You are spitting in the face of those who fought and died for your freedom;” or possibly the most common: “You are disrespecting the flag, your freedoms, and this nation.” This should not have to be said, but the players are not taking a knee with the goal of “disrespecting the flag.” They are largely protesting inequality, injustice, and police brutality in this country. The national anthem is just the forum that has been chosen. And it has pushed the conversation forward to a great degree. Say what you want about the protest movement, but it has certainly gotten people talking about these issues. This is why I think people need to actually take the time to listen to the players themselves about all of this, or read their posts and blogs addressing why they are taking a knee. Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Jenkins, and Rashard Matthews have all offered very thoughtful comments regarding the movement as a whole, as well as their own personal messages.

The fact remains that in this country, white people have advantages that people of color do not. As a white man myself, I often forget about this. Systemic racism and injustice remain. Regarding the police, black men are still much more likely to be perceived as a threat first, and a person second. That’s injustice. That needs to end. That’s one of the main reasons these players are protesting. If you don’t believe me, read their thoughts and comments. Some people in this country actually believe that racism isn’t a problem anymore. As we’ve seen over the last couple of years, it’s as present as ever.

colin_kaepernick_vet_protest_ap

Also, there is yet another element to this discussion: the anthem, the troops, and the flag. There are some people in this country who have responded negatively to these protests on the grounds of “disrespecting our nation’s values.” I think one of the strangest elements to this whole thing is how much people want to “defend the flag” in the face of these protests. While I am incredibly thankful to be an US citizen, I also do not get the obsession/ exaltation of the Flag by some. This argument has been made by others, but people need to realize that tablecloths, clothes, underwear, and even dog bandannas make the Flag more of a pattern akin to polka dots or stripes than a symbol of freedom. Furthermore, some Christians in this country need to do a little self-examination on how much they exalt the Flag, or the Constitution, or their political party. If it’s even remotely close to how much they exalt God or the Bible as authoritative in their lives, then it’s a problem. But I digress…

One final thought: I also think it’s fine to push back on these players and their protests. Ask them what more they are doing. Ask them how they hope to effect change other than causing rage on Twitter. Much of the arguments you hear are, “The troops did not fight and die so that these spoiled millionaires can spit in the face of this country.” It’s true that most of these athletes get paid more than you or I ever will. However, many of them are using their money and platform to support numerous programs focused on creating opportunities for people or on helping poor kids get out of poverty. Regardless of  your feelings on the protests, please applaud actions like those. By the way, Colin Kaepernick has given away $1 million towards various charities and other organizations which seek to help underprivileged kids and young adults. That’s a pretty high price to pay when you aren’t on an NFL team anymore.

I want to close by just offering a couple of “quick hits” to sum up. 1. If you want to not watch the NFL anymore because of this, go right ahead; but before you do, maybe stop and examine exactly why the protests really bother you so much. 2. Even if you want to keep watching the NFL but vehemently disagree with the players’ actions, read their comments and articles on why they are protesting. 3. Do your part to effect change for the better in this country. If you’re tired of “hearing about these whiny millionaires” (which is what many people say), then go out and take action in your own community. 4.Realize we’re not yet at a place where all people in this nation have the exact same rights and opportunities. Some people have systemic challenges that put them at a disadvantage. Don’t take my word for it, research these issues for yourself.

I am not naive enough to think I have this all figured out. I have appreciated some of the players’ messages about why they kneel. I also think that it’s a good thing for people to say, “Well so you took a knee that cost you a commercial, but what else are you doing to back up your message?” It’s a great question for people to pose to these players. If they want to be a catalyst for social change, they do need to do more than just take a knee at a football game. Many of them are. I applaud them for that. Also, their actions have moved the conversation forward greatly. That much is to be commended as well.

What are your thoughts? Do you disagree? Are you opposed to the players no matter what? I am open to hearing from all sides on this.

Advertisements

The Love of the Spirit in an Age of Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter Black Friday

Greetings, everyone and apologies to my readers for the lengthy gap between posts. I was working on a chapter for my dissertation over the last few months. Usually this blog focuses on figures from church history. We have examined men and women from throughout church history, from the beginnings of Christianity up through to very recent examples. Today’s post, however will look at two very recent, very polarizing events in the United States: the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I want to frame a discussion of these events in light of the popular Bible passage on the “fruits of the Spirit.”

This past Sunday at my church, the pastors began a new series on the fruits of the Spirit. If you are unfamiliar, these are found in Galatians 5.22-23. This passage notes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (NIV). The pastors at my church are going to take a week-by-week look at each “fruit,” and this past Sunday’s focus was on love. The sermon covered a lot of elements of love and community, especially examining Jesus’ image of the vine and the branches (John 15.5-12). I really enjoyed the pastor’s linking to Jesus’ picture of love: between Jesus and God and between fellow humans. However, I found myself wondering what Galatians means when talking about love.

As the pastor was giving context for the passage of the “fruit of the Spirit,” I was looking for passages nearby that include the word “love” (in the NIV at least, which I had open at the time). I found 5.13-14 to be helpful. It says, “Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Okay, so humility is important. Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is important (this one is pretty well-known). These didn’t really blow the roof of my doors, so I turned to chapter six hoping for something more. Galatians 6.2 says “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (NIV).

Now we’re talking.

This passage set my mind spinning in a number of different directions. Full disclosure: I am a white male. I spent the first twenty-eight years of my life living in Ohio, the last 6 of which were spent in a town that was about 10,000 people and probably 95% white. My high school (in the suburbs of Cincinnati) was mostly white. I went to Ohio State, which was a pretty diverse place, especially compared to the two aforementioned towns. I now live in a very diverse city (Los Angeles), and have for about 5 years now. However, I might be as confused as ever about the plight of African Americans in this country.

Back to Sunday. After I read Gal. 6.2 I began to get really frustrated, even angry. I spent a little bit of time last week dialoguing on social media about the two murders of black men by police officers. However, sitting in church and reading a passage that said I am supposed to show love by “bearing the burdens” of my black brothers and sisters caused me a great deal of consternation. How on earth can I bear that burden? How can I, as a white male living in a world of white privilege bear the burden of others in this country when I don’t have to deal with the same fears and realities that they do? This past week we saw a black man who was selling CDs wrestled to the ground by two cops, get shot several times, and killed. Then just a day or so later, a woman live-streamed a video on Facebook after her boyfriend had been shot four times by a cop (who was still pointing the gun at the victim) as the victim was reaching for the requested license, proof of insurance, etc. The ensuing outrage of the country was provoked, and several protests arranged (one ending in a horrible circumstance in Dallas after a lone gunman ambushed police). The Black Lives Matter movement organized, and continues to organize, protests. Some of these protests have resulted in viral videos of camaraderie between police and protesters, between white and black individuals. While this is a good thing, it has yet to solve the problem.

This brings me back to my questions from Sunday. How can I as a white man in a world of white privilege bear the burdens of my black brothers and sisters? Is it possible? I have never left my house fearing that I might later that day be killed. I have been stopped by police before (for speeding, at random sobriety check-points, and even after I swerved across a lane line on a freeway because I was getting drowsy). In each and every one of those interactions with police, I have never for even half of a second worried that one of those cops would pull a gun and shoot me several times. This is sadly not the same reality for black Americans. Black lives don’t matter enough in this country, and that’s a major problem. That is something that needs to change, but how? What’s the answer?

I have been wondering this week what I can do to bear their burdens. Do I need to protest at Black Lives Matter rallies? Do I need to support legislation and/ or call my senator? Do I need to “just pray?” None of those seem like enough. I would love some of my African American readers to provide insight on how white people in this country can help, because we have to. In fact, a recent Christianity Today article addressed this very topic. All I know is that we can’t keep responding with statements of “Hold on, let’s wait and find out all the details before we charge the cops with murder.” That allows the problem to continue. That shows just how systemically racist this country still is.

I want to close with a quick account from later in my church service on Sunday. Our church sang the song “You’re a good, good, Father” at the close of service. I found myself wondering if songs like that in a time like this would cause pain among African American Christians. I also found myself starting to think, “Yes, God you are good, but please help this country.” I found myself pondering Psalm 13.1-2: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Again, I am a white male, and I find myself greatly outraged. How do my black brothers and sisters read this Psalm?

So I end by saying, I don’t actually know what to do. I don’t know how the “love fruit” of the Spirit can be evident in my life when I live in a world of hatred. I pray for change in this country. I pray for justice, for mercy, for peace. Most of all, I pray for African Americans to finally be treated equally with white Americans.

I welcome your thoughts on this with the goal of having a discourse.