Opinion: Athletes are Americans, too


As a child born in the 80s, I grew up in a time where we were supposed to witness the eradication of racism in America. We were integrated, we were sons and daughters of a family united, beyond the borders of the societal bedlam we were leaving behind us. We were supposed to be the new world, a place where such things didn’t matter — the content of one’s character was to be the primary defining factor, as per the Kingian ideal.

I will turn thirty-five next month. I am a full-fledged adult, with a wife, two small children, a house, two cars, and bills to pay. And I am sad to report that we have not achieved something that is quite simple, both in theory as well as execution. We are standing on the exact same precipice that my parents had a front seat to when they were my children’s age, overlooking a chasm of our own design. Except now, we have two things going for us: awareness and education. At least, I thought we had them. I’m not so sure of that now.

I have never seen something more ridiculous than people getting angry over how someone who plays a professional sport protests the treatment of another member of their own race. Not a black / white racial thing, but a human race thing; go ahead and remove color from the equation for a moment. There’s people calling for league-wide boycotts over the fact that people have the unmitigated gall to protest the deaths of their fellow countrymen. The people who decry this are adamant that their demonstrations of kneeling during the national anthem are a slight against America, and especially the soldiers that have bled and died to defend her. They are, of course, free to feel this way. They are American, and you’re free to believe whatever you want to when you’re an American, for better or for worse.

But if that particular freedom is universally available to all Americans (like our founding documents state that it is), those athletes are free to kneel, and there’s not a goddamn thing you can say about it. Some people, myself included, would argue that taking a knee in protest is the most American thing you can do, since it exercises a right that most other countries don’t give their citizens. I personally believe that American soldiers fight and die for the ideal of this country — that all men are created equal, that “liberty and justice for all” isn’t just something we say, it’s something we live. The flag is merely a representation of that ideal, a symbolic icon that encapsulates a complex set of concepts that guide and govern our logic as a society.

But that’s not how it works in 2017.

American flag

In 2017, the icon is more important than the substance behind it, and our choice of leader pretty much proves that. It’s not about justice, it’s about knowing your place. It’s not about freedom, it’s about absolute compliance. It’s not about whose lives matter, it’s about spectacle and entertainment being more important than the lives of the human beings providing that entertainment. It’s about a group of people so disconnected from the clearly-stated American ideal that they feel more in touch with a piece of fabric in the sky and a ritualized mass karaoke session than they do about keeping the things those icons supposedly represent intact and uncompromised.

If you want to talk about disrespecting the sacrifice that our servicemen and servicewomen have made, are making and will continue to make, look no further:

If you are the kind of person that feels seething rage at athletes protesting a flag that doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain for people who are guilty of being born brown, guess what: you’re the “bad” American. You’ve just successfully placed a flag and a song at a higher level of importance than the innocent lives of your own countrymen, the same countrymen that our soldiers (call it a hunch, but they’re probably the same ones you may be using to justify your own hypocritical stance) fought and died to protect. If you are placing a flag and a song higher on the priority pedestal than protecting innocent American lives, you are what is wrong with the country, not the people protesting against that. You’re obscuring the truth, denying justice, and are actively invalidating the “American way.”

If you truly honor what our troops sacrificed for us, you’ll be good stewards of your fellow man, and you’ll take a minute to step back and realize that these athletes don’t hate America — they’re wondering why America is abandoning those who look like them, because that’s not the way this is supposed to work. By railing against them for that, you’re becoming a literal part of that very problem, and not only are you denying them their place in the land of the free, you’re denying a home to those brave enough to exercise the sacred rights that our people have sacrificed to protect. You’re actively stopping them from being American.

Maybe the protests aren’t about you, after all. Sure, you might get annoyed at the fact that people aren’t participating in the jingoistic ritual we’ve been conditioned to hold so dearly, but maybe they’re not speaking to you. Maybe their kneeling is taking place because it’s in plain view of millions of people, and in that group of people, there’s a few that look like that man kneeling. Maybe it’s about speaking to them, saying “don’t be afraid, you are not alone, because we are Americans that are just like you.”

Chris Calder / Fort Bragg Advocate-News / AP

Step outside of yourself for two minutes and imagine what it must be like to be two-point-five times more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer, regardless of whether or not you committed a crime, solely because of the skin color you were born with. I would imagine people like that could use a few more sympathetic friends in high places. When you see professional sports teams employ large numbers of brown men — the NFL and the NBA in particular, although MLB seems to have its own similar predispositions — those players are likely to feel a connection to those cultures that are being treated as expendable, and for very good and plainly obvious reasons. We shouldn’t act surprised when black players give a damn about how black people are treated, and we shouldn’t denigrate them when they decide to protest that mistreatment in a peaceful and nonviolent manner.

In fact, it is their inviolable right to do so as natural-born United States citizens, and it’s provided by the First Amendment to our Constitution for a damn good reason. No amount of beer commercials, hot wings, dancing cheerleaders or potential brain injuries should be more important than that, and yet, here we are. We stand semi-united, focused more on the artifice in front of us than we are on the substance underneath, obsessing over colorful paint jobs instead of worrying about the condition of the engine that powers us as a society.

I find it incredibly ironic that the ones who like to call protestors “snowflakes” care more about how this act of defiance makes them feel, instead of even considering the feelings of another for even the briefest of moments. If you choose to stand, do so. It’s your right. If you choose not to, do so, for that too is your right. What you are not free to do is tell someone to “get out” because they don’t do what you do or subscribe to your beliefs. We left England almost four hundred years ago to get away from that shit.

If this is ruining your football watching experience, examine how snowflake-fragile you are, because these athletes are Americans — just like you. Boycotting them doesn’t make you right, it only confirms the fact that you don’t give a shit about the suffering of your own countrymen, which makes you the biggest hypocrite in the room when you start using the valor of dead soldiers to defend your selfish, weak, and fraudulent position. They died to protect the people you have turned your back on.

You might not like someone kneeling for the anthem, but they’re still winning, because at least they didn’t abandon their nation’s kin over a ritual meant to celebrate them.

Try and separate a man from his soul
You only strengthen him and lose your own
But shoot that fucker if he walk near the throne
Remind him that this is my home, now I’m gone

Brother Ali, Uncle Sam Goddamn

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Disclaimer: The opinions of Grant Patterson may not necessarily reflect the opinions of Basement Road Show or any member of its staff.


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