America, Football, Race, and… Listening??

A pretty cool story has been developing here in the US over the last couple of months, and it has evolved in a way that warrants us talking about it for a bit. Because people of opposing viewpoints actually sat down and talked. And listened. And changed, evolved. A cousin of mine has been lamenting for years how everybody just seems to hate each other these days. If someone disagrees with you, they attack you. It’s all personal. He’s a very intelligent, thoughtful person, and he likes to discuss things like politics and the like. He’s seen this type of respectful discourse go by the wayside in recent years, though. So let’s talk about a situation now in which it is happening. And it’s been all over the news, so I’ll try to get to the point as best I can without rehashing the whole thing.

So a quarterback of the San Fransisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, decided to sit during the national anthem before a football game. It was about two months ago. He was sitting in silent protest of the way people of color, especially African Americans, are treated by police in the US. There’s been a rash of shootings of African Americans at the hands of police over the last year or more. Well, it’s probably always been happening, I’m no expert here, but the profile has been WAY higher in this last year. Many athletes have been vocal about this as well, calling for justice, discussion, change, reform – anything.

Kaepernick is apparently a pretty quiet guy, so after months of thinking about it, he decided to sit during the anthem, and he didn’t tell anyone. In fact, I think it went unnoticed the first time he did it. And then the next week it was noticed. And while he had a good amount of support, overall it seemed like he got pretty crushed. He stood his ground, though, saying the state of affairs was not okay and things needed to change. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “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.”

What rubbed many the wrong way was protesting the flag and thus the military men and women that have died for our right to protest. This freedom of speech thing can be pretty tricky! But the fact is, he absolutely has the right to do what he’s doing. He said, “I’m not anti-American. I love America. That’s why I’m doing this.” And he says it was never his intention to offend the military. So here’s where it gets cool, and here’s where our interest comes in. A former Army Green Beret and professional football player named Nate Boyer wrote an open letter to him, saying he wanted to understand his position. He said that as a member of the military, he’d be offended if he looked over and saw a teammate sitting during the anthem. So Kaepernick read the letter, and you know happened next? He called Boyer to sit down and talk. What? You can do that?? Yes, apparently you can!

So they met and talked, listening to each other and actually trying to HEAR what the other was saying, where the other was coming from. This is totally different than what my cousin above has noticed, in which we don’t listen but rather just wait for the other person to shut up so we can make our pre-determined point (because we’re right and they’re wrong). As a result of their meeting, Kaepernick decided to kneel instead of sit. This was his way of saying he loves the US and respects and appreciates the military, but he still has a very important message to deliver. So it was his attempt at a win-win. I love win-wins… And I think that’s just awesome. He’s trying, folks, so let’s at least give him some credit for that.

He was also getting crushed for being a rich football player that doesn’t put his money where his mouth is. I heard some people I know say this, and I was thinking to myself, “Since when do you have a clue where this guy’s money goes?” So I was glad when he said he was donating a million dollars to various charities and organizations to help improve the situation. Then sales of his jersey skyrocketed due to all of this attention, so he said that all of those proceeds would be donated as well. Ands then the owner of the 49ers, Jed York, said he’d donate a million dollars as well.

Isn’t it cool how this is developing? We have opposing sides talking and listening, coming together, and trying to understand each other. And we have change, too. It’s okay to acknowledge that the first attempt (sitting) could be improved upon, and then to change it (kneeling). Radical concept! It seems like everybody holds us to it when we screw up these days, rather than letting us be imperfect and evolve. That’s called being human. We’ve just gotten so caught up in beating the opponent and being right, though, that this has all been thrown out the window. So THANK YOU! Thank you, Colin Kaepernick, for doing what you felt you had to do. For not knowing if it was perfect or not but going forward with it anyway, because your heart gave you no choice. You finally had to do something, so you did the best thing you could think to do. And thank you, Nate Boyer. Your letter was awesome. Freaking awesome, and beautiful to read. You set the tone, brother. And thanks again to Kaepernick for reaching out and talking, listening, and evolving. For being strong but not rigid and unyielding.

And you know what? This is working. I don’t know if anything concrete will change as a result, but this silent protest has been an overwhelming success by any measure. Megan Rapinoe, a professional women’s soccer player, has knelt before games to show support. And this brings in a whole new demographic to the conversation, because she’s white, female, and lesbian (Kaepernick is mixed race, Caucasian and African American). And now  entire football teams have done various displays before the anthem. And when basketball season starts, NBA teams are planning on doing the same thing.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, actually a Pensacola native (my wonderful hometown), demanded that the Attorney Generals of each of the fifty US states review their policies and procedures. Are police officers receiving the best possible training that’s available to disarm situations? Are they receiving the best possible training that’s available to interpret if they are indeed in danger? Baldwin’s father is a longtime police officer and said that he’s received a certain type of training that not all states have. And Kaepernick has pointed out that to be a police officer it often takes six months of training, while to be a cosmetologist it often takes a year! That’s nothing against cosmetologists at all. In fact, I’ve always been in awe about how people can cut and style hair which grows every which way. Seriously, I’ve always been mesmerized by this, and I’ve said it many times. But one person is being trained to hold a gun and the other is not. Well, the Attorney General for the State of Washington responded to Baldwin to sit down and talk. The state of race in the US is now being talked about much more openly, with people referring to it as the elephant in the room. So maybe it won’t be the elephant anymore. Or maybe it will.

Again, I don’t know if anything concrete will result, but that’s not really the point. The point is that these people are demonstrating how to disagree. Listening to each other has been lost, so maybe it’s starting to come back. We need it now more than ever, too, with the world as polarized as it is. And it’s my opinion that something like this is “doing stuff” whether we can see it or not. Before there’s concrete change, there are usually lots of “failed” attempts laying the groundwork, preparing the way. So they aren’t failed at all. And regardless of what happens on the field this football season, maybe we already have our real win.