The National Football Letter

It’s times like this that I wish I was better at articulating my thoughts. Inside my brain, everything seems to make sense. The thoughts flow with cohesive sentences that formulate a robust argument. For me, writing has always helped me understand things in a more coherent way. There is power in taking thoughts from the brain, sorting them out and trying to formulate how you feel about something. Unfortunately, I’m not a great writer. This is part of the reason I have tried to make a more determined effort to write at least three times a week, with hopes that I will see improvements as time goes on.

With all that said, here is my take on the NFL issue.

I am confused and conflicted. Which, in the world of hot takes, that require you to plant your feet firmly in the ground, is not the words people want to see.

If you dare, stay with me as I attempt to sort my way through this madness. Maybe we can both learn something together.

A year ago I was strongly in camp Anti-Kaepernick. So much so that I would make arguments that he was only doing this to guarantee he kept his job. By kneeing and protesting racial inequality he protected himself from the 49er’s dropping him. He basically created a discriminatory case around him if they did drop him.

After he doubled down on the protest I started to change my rhetoric. I felt that Kaepernick needed to backing up the protest with actions. Granted this was around the same time he came out and said he did not vote in the election.

I was frustrated that protest happened during the national anthem. It seemed disrespectful to the country and service men and women. This was also before I read about how Kaepernick talked with a Navy Seal. At the time Kaepernick was sitting during the national anthem. The Navy Seal told him that it would go a long way if Kaepernick would kneel instead of sit. Kaepernick said of course no problem. Because for Kaepernick, the protest has never been anti-military.

A year later and it is somewhat unnerving how different the climate of the country is along with my feelings on the issues. We are a little more than a month past Charlottesville. Two weeks ago, one of YouTube’s biggest “stars” had to issue an apology after using the n word during a stream. On top of all that, the endless amounts of bigotry comments and defense of these three separate actions led me to take a serious look at how I felt about these protests.

I just had an ignorant argument that racism and prejudices was in large part nonexistent. Likely I was just hopeful. More likely though was that I grew up in a small town in middle of the Bible belt that is predominately white. I benefited from being born in a middle-class white family.

I did not grow up in the inner city. I did not have to ever wonder if people thought of me differently because of my skin color.

It took me a long time to realize this, but I was not and am not the most qualified person to talk about race issues. It feels a little factitious for me to tell black Americans that racism does not exist in this country. Because how would I know?

So, I am not going to speak about it. I am not qualified to talk about. There are many qualified individuals that have and continue to speak on that issue. It is a conversation that needs to happen though.

What I will talk about is the NBA players, the President (you thought I was going to leave him out), the protest itself, and the conversation about the protest and protesters.

Bill Simmons had an interesting take on the President on his Monday podcast. He wondered if President Trump is actually the smartest President ever when it came to crafting perfect distractions. Health care reform is in a stalemate, North Korea is publicly testing his administration, and Puerto Rico has been devastated by the recent hurricane. With all this going on President Trump decides at a rally Alabama to speak about the NFL players who had been protesting during the national anthem. Immediately after saying football wasn’t dangerous enough.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

He then doubled down on his comments on Twitter.

This was all after President Trump had a statement in regards to Curry and other Warriors players who have voiced concerns or flat out said they would not be attending the White House.

In some ways, it is slightly discerning that President Trump gets extremely riled up when athletes take sides against him. I have nothing factual to go on this, but possibly it frustrates him because that is a group that he feels he belongs in. You know the locker room talk, the macho man athlete. I also cannot help but think of the irony in the fact that Trump skipped on the Kennedy City Honors for the arts and entertainment and the Correspondents Dinner. Which people applauded him for. But, when athletes refuse you hear the peanut gallery chime in on how disrespectful that is.

That is beside the point though. After Trumps son of a bitch comment we witnessed what had to be one of the most bizarre weekends in sports I may have ever seen. Athletes from all sports took to Twitter and the Players Tribune to express their repugnance in the President’s comments. This set the stage for Sunday which everyone was watching, or not watching due to the few minutes before the game.

Teams had different ways they protested. Some stood side by side with players, coaches, and owners locking arms, some stayed in the locker room, and some took a knee during the anthem. It also led to many owners, some of whom indorsed President Trump during the campaign, to produce a statement over the comments.

Here is my stab at it.

During the early 2000’s the sports world had many athletes that were habitually getting in trouble on and off the court and field. I distinctly remember the conversation being that these athletes needed to realize that they were role models and that millions of people were watching them including kids. They were encouraged to get involved in the community and become a leader. Players in 2017 are consciously aware of their brand and social image. The community involvement of time and money seems to be more now than ever before. This includes players in the NFL that have protested.

Considering the past weekend, one of the comments I have seen repeated in some fashion or another is that these players should basically shut up and go play their sport. One comment I saw a few times is that “these players have one job, entertain me, so shut up and play.” Seems like a slight contradiction.

While we are there let’s go ahead and dismiss the idea that our high school athletes should be leaders for the school. Just go ahead and shut up little Timmy, we don’t want to hear about kids getting bullied, just run the ball. Sadly, I don’t think I am stretching too much. I just wish we would remember that this type of dialogue is forming the future generation of athletes. Just as we had a generation of athletes that heard the fans asking for players to be role models, we will have athletes that heard the fans say shut up and just play.

You will see other comments that talk about how these players are being “spoiled millionaires.” The other argument, one that Trump leaned on, is that these players should not be doing this at work. “If I did something like this at work I would be fired immediately.” Let’s just stop acting like any of our jobs are like theirs. I don’t know about you but I generally do not have a camera that follows me around my job. Thankfully, because I likely would be fired along with many others I feel. I also am not accumulating extreme amounts of brain damage like some of these football players. Ultimately, this argument just falls flat especially considering the role model plea.

What worries me is the overwhelming theme of the comments. Callous. Or even worse that what these players are feeling is just an illusion. When people just simply disregard what protestors are trying to say as falsehoods I get a discomforting feeling in my stomach. I guess I have never understood why it is so hard and wrong to just listen to what others are saying.

I want to say though that I understand and hear where some fans are coming from that have a tough time with it happening during the anthem. What other time do these players have that would allow them to get a message and point out. The anthem is practically the only time you see players without their helmets on (another whole issue in its on). I personally cannot think of another time or place that would allow for as much coverage.

Monday night the Cowboys players and owners kneeled prior to the national anthem. Then as the anthem played they stood up and joined arms. And yet people were pissed, clamoring for others to join them as they turn off their TVs in disgrace. “How dare they disrespect the flag like that, not putting their hands over their heart.” Proving that the issue was not players kneeling during the anthem, but that they had decided to protest anything in the first place.

I agree with Bill Simmons who said what started as a protest to police brutality and racial inequality was about free speech on Sunday. I was moved by some of the protest. The Jaguars locking arms with one another which the Browns opening weekend this year did as well, alongside local police as the anthem played. The week before Browns players had voiced concerns that they would not participate in the anthem at all, and only after a meeting with the local police.

I am convinced that Americans find the greatest sense of unity in division.

And that is incredibly depressing.

Perhaps it’s human nature.

It is certainly nothing new.

Then again nothing about this story is.

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