Fall is the very best season because the leaves are at the peak of their beauty, the latte flavor variety improves, and of course my personal favorite reason, football.
One of this season’s hot topic’s is the football players taking a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, our national anthem.
I think this is really important to talk about.
My initial reaction was to find this act completely and utterly repulsive. I am a diehard supporter of our military, and that demonstration was not how freedom was intended to be used. It is important to honor that which gives you the privilege to be disrespectful, and this certainly wasn’t a way to do it. I sat there and thought, “There are very few things I believe should bring a person to their knees, and entitlement isn’t one of them. Freedom wasn’t bought for you to use it like this. Where has your pride gone? Do you know how many people have died for you to have the ability to never have to serve, while simultaneously collecting a radically stacked paycheck? Do you know how many families are temporarily and permanently dismantled because of the carnage of war? Do you know how many spouses can’t find work because they are supporting our troops? Do you know how many soldiers have missed their child’s first crawl and walk and word and kindergarten graduation for you to act like an over-entitled whiny athlete? Do you know how many years soldiers spend away from their extended families, missing Christmas after Christmas, Friday night outings after barbecues? Do you know how bad that hurts to miss those things? Do you know what it is like to watch your family move on without you? Do you know what it is like to live with constant uncertainty in order to give you this freedom? Do you know how many veterans are now unemployed? Do you recognize that this freedom is a privilege, purchased for you in blood, in joblessness, in mental illness as a response to stress, and in time that is given while away from family? Do you know how many people fought for your ass and yet you CHOOSE not to stand up straight and honor them? Do you know?”
Then I wondered how on earth it was possible that they were allowed to take a knee, and make this big statement, and it was never considered misconduct, but heaven forbid they make a rude gesture in the end zone because that shit would get flagged really quick. How was this not getting flagged? If you cannot make crude gestures in end zones, if unsportsmanlike conduct is not acceptable, then why is there any place for this?
But then I stopped.
I stopped and thought about the child I worked with during my time in the South. He was an eight-year-old black male who was ornery, foul-mouthed and incredibly moody. He never knew where his next meal was coming from, lived in a home without electricity as far as we knew, and we didn’t entirely know who he belonged to. We bonded over football originally (until he fell in love with soccer), and I taught him how to read. When I had to leave it damn near split my heart in two.
Now, I was raised on football. Mind you, my household wasn’t one of football, but we had dear friends who became family over the years, and Sunday’s were dedicated to Champagne and pigskins. Football season holds many dear memories for me, but I was never more thankful for having learned the love of football than the moment I could talk to this child about his football idols.
When I first met this child, the first thing I learned was that he wanted to be a gangster. That wasn’t an uncommon answer for a lot of our kids because the local gangsters were the ones who always had food. He told me if that didn’t work out, he wanted to become a football player.
When I thought back to this child my heart softened for the gestures that the players were making on the field.
Growing up I never remember seeing black leaders. To be honest, I never looked for them either, because I wasn’t taught to see that as abnormal until much later in life. The celebrities were white, the President was white, my teachers were white. I never thought twice about it because I am white too. This is the definition of privilege, never having to think about ugly truths because they don’t affect you. Fame, money, and power were all embodied by people who looked like me.
I never paid attention to how few black leaders we have until the day I started trying to find people for my child to look up to. When I told him about all these people he could aspire to be, people that I was inspired by, he told me, “I can’t be that. I don’t look like them.” It was one of those moments that made my head turn sideways. When I started looking for strong black leaders, I could find a few, but the funny thing was, I too started looking at the athletes, just like my child had done. My child was not just seeing an all-American game on the screen the way I was; when he watched football wherever he was going to watch it, he saw men who he could look up to, men who were talented and capable, men that he could be because he saw himself in them.
And what really softened me to the take a knee movement, was that they were kneeling in order to bring awareness to the disparate in brutality towards black people in our communities. I thought to myself that there is probably a really good chance the child I was working with could easily be the child who became the target of brutality later in life…a child I loved very much.
What I came to believe, after a very contemplative few minutes in my head, was that these football players are among the ranks of black leaders in our society, and what they were doing, was making a peaceful statement about injustice in our country and our community. I know that this is exactly what they said they were doing, but I couldn’t understand it by just reading the headlines. To me it looked like a sign of disrespect.
When it comes to injustice in our society, I too want to see leaders speaking and problem solving about it. The problem is that we have seen so much about the police brutality in the news, but we still have a narrative heavily influenced by writers and leaders who haven’t experienced the type of oppression they are writing about, so it’s likely going to take on a different voice than the story written by someone who has seen and felt it first-hand.
What these leaders were doing in taking a knee, was standing up for a community that has been marginalized…the same community that the kid I loved comes from. The same community that in many ways still needs more voices.
As a supporter of our military, I absolutely wish there was a way to get the same message across without gestures that seem to disregard the blood earned freedoms given to all Americans. The truth is that though all freedom is bought with invaluable sacrifice, not all Americans experience that freedom equally. It is my hope that these players are being active in their community, encouraging conversation about the issues they are representing, and not being people who only take a knee without putting work in on this issue elsewhere. I would like to think that if I had both a privilege and platform like that of the players who took a knee, that I too would use my privilege to increase awareness for the people that do not equally share in it. It is the job of those who exercise these freedoms bought on the backbones of our soldiers to fight to make that freedom equal to all. It is one way in which we honor their sacrifice.
I sat and wondered what I would do, if I were the leader of a marginalized community with people actually dying from violence, crime, neglect and brutality. What would I do if the brutality on the news was only a fraction of what was actually happening in this country? There seems to only be notice of the brutality and disparity when it crosses out of inner-city limits or forgotten rural areas into places where violence seems out of place. Would I be told to shut up, do my job, and know my place?
I don’t think so.
Love and Light,