Take a Knee?

If your social media timelines are anything like mine, yours blew up over the past weekend with people commenting on both sides of the divisive issue over NFL players taking a knee during the singing of The Star Spangled Banner. It’s gotten out of hand and several friends of mine told me they are de-friending people right and left on social media over their feelings on the issue.

My initial reaction — with all the stuff going on in the world — People suffering and dying after a trio of destructive hurricanes, potential nuclear holocaust on the Korean peninsula, the debate over health care for millions, etc — is this the real issue that we should be focused on? I don’t think so. But, if our President discusses it, then it must be important, right?

I didn’t grow up in the 1960’s but I did grow up in the 1970’s and I have a lot of family members who were involved in causes and activities in the 1960’s and they impressed upon me a spirit and an understanding of the era of civil rights and the fight for equality across gender, racial and sexual lines. Those cases and issues that people fought and died for in the 1950’s and 1960’s still resonate today. I see the shadow of that era alive today in the NFL players — and the MLB player — taking a knee over the weekend. It is in the spirit of making their voices heard on a global stage, shining a light on a problem that continues unabated, namely the way that segments of our society are mistreated, belittled, marginalized and discriminated against.

A buddy and I recently engaged in a discussion about the kneeling phenomenon. He is appalled by it, to the point of not wanting to support the NFL. For him, it minimizes America, disrespects our flag and spits in the face of all those who fought and died for our country. I get that. I remember being about 12 years old and walking across a field at a park with my dad after a Little League game. The national anthem started playing and I kept walking. My dad yelled for me to stop. In that moment, he quickly explained that whenever The Star Spangled Banner plays, you stop, remove your hat and pay attention to the song. It’s the right thing to do.

For me, I wish there were another way for these players to advocate for those who do not get a fair shake at justice in America. But I respect their right to protest and their right to exercise their opinion. From the foundations of this country there has been a place for civil disobedience. The Boston Tea Party ranks right up there with the greatest acts of civil obedience in all of human history. Those colonists were made as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore. In the 1800’s the writer Henry David Thoreau refused to pay taxes to protest slavery and the Mexican War (thanks, Wikipedia). In the 1950’s and 1960’s people held sit-in’s and welcomed arrest to spotlight their cause of civil rights, equal rights and voting rights. It was also during this period that Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to give up her seat on a bus. To that history you can now add the taking of a knee during a major sporting event in protest of the treatment of blacks at the hands of the police. Do you have to agree with their position? No. Should you respect their right to protest? Yes.

Another element of this is the increasing polarization in our country. There’s a sense that “if you’re not with me, you’re against me.” Friendships are being lost over political issues that divide not only our elected officials but our neighbors, fellow churchgoers and family members. It saddens me to no end. In fact, my wife and I were out with some friends over the weekend who share completely different political views than us. They don’t hide their beliefs and values and neither do we. Yet, we’ve maintained a friendship because we care about each other. We can listen to each other’s viewpoints and engage in vigorous debate and not take it personally. That’s a skill I’m proud of in 2017.

I will continue to watch the NFL. Like most people, I watch sports to get away from the negative drumbeat of problems plaguing our communities, country and globe. I wish that we could keep politics out of sports but that’s neither the world we live in nor the leaders we have. This is our reality and I’d wager that we’ll see more of this going forward, not less. In the end, that’s ok. We are all part of the world and we need to find a way to coexist. I’m not naive or foolish enough to think that a few rich athletes taking a knee is going to solve or change anything. Change like this requires time and thought. However, I do believe that sometimes we all need to have our basic beliefs challenged. Taking a knee certainly does that.

(Photo credit: Prachatai via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND)

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The Beginning
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