It’s On All of Us: A National Anthem Story

Yesterday I took my car in for its regular maintenance. I typically just wait in the dealer’s lounge because they have WIFI and coffee, so what else do I really need? This dealer even has chairs with little desks you can pull in front, like I’m back in a college lecture hall.

Of course choosing to wait in their lounge also means you are there with other random humans, and being an #undercoverintrovert, I find other random humans to be challenging. Will someone try to strike up conversation with me? Will someone be doing something I find EGREGIOUS in a public space? Like have a phone conversation on speaker phone? (check.) Like sit next to me even there are tons of empty seats further away? (check.)

Like say explicit or implicit racist things while watching the TVs in the lounge? (And…check.)

Yesterday this lounge had both ESPN and HLN playing, and both channels were talking about the weekend’s National Anthem protests non-stop.

Now, for context, a little about my position on this (and I know you’ll be shocked). I live in the Bay Area. I have been a Niners fan for thirty years. Some years that was great. Some years that was challenging. A few years ago Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick made it great again, taking us to the Super Bowl and NFC finals, consecutively.

A couple of years ago, though, I saw the movie Concussion. And it tied together some recent deaths of football greats from the same time as the Niners’ golden era, like Junior Seau from the Chargers. I started to feel guilty. I started to feel like I was watching a snuff film. And I decided the NFL as a league and its owners were the tobacco companies of this generation. I decided I really couldn’t watch anymore.

But Colin’s stand against police brutality last season brought me back. I admired that stand. I admired the team backing him up in words and dollars. I admired his teammates backing him up. (They gave him the Len Eshmont Award…Google it.) I admired him being willing to stand up by kneeling, and how he evolved his approach and his contribution over time.

So I watched. And Colin, coming back from surgery and only rarely getting off the bench, got better and more like the player he was a few years before in the last few games. Don’t get me wrong, the team pretty much sucked, but even the commentators had to admit he was doing as well as could be expected with a weak line and a defense gone to hell (and wracked with injury).

Unfortunately the NFL lost me for good as I watched Colin get blackballed this season. Don’t argue with me about it. He’s willing and able to take a slot, even a back-up slot. He’s got the record and the stats to deserve one. And his own coahces and teammates refuted wholeheartedly the stupid “distraction” argument.

Well, talk about a distraction now, huh? P45* (my moniker for the current, but temporary, President, for those of you who may be new here) guaranteed it would become even more of a distraction. Who knows what he wants to distract from? I do think it’s a fucking shame that HLN spent more time on the National Anthem issue than our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, at least during the two hours I sat in that lounge.

So. Back to the car dealership lounge.

The woman who chose to sit next to me despite numerous seats with emptiness around them starts muttering at the TV during a segment on the anthem protests. Muttering at the TV in a public space is just never good. It is never people with whom I agree that do the muttering, I’ll just put it that way. Pretty soon she kicks off trying to talk to another woman sitting across the lounge, saying that it’s disrespectful, and she has two grandsons in the military, and they’re willing to put their lives on the line for these people, and so on. And that this wasn’t the place to complain about Trump. The other lady seemed uncomfortable, like a) she didn’t want to talk about it and b) she might not really agree. But she said at one point, “I agree it’s disrespectful.”

And that’s where I had my moment of decision. I could write these two (let’s just say it…white) women off, stay in my little bubble listening to music and stay out of it.

Or I could butt in.

Usually staying out of it wins for me. But we’re past the point of staying out of it, aren’t we?

So, I took out my ear buds and shared that I disagreed it was disrespectful. And that the protest wasn’t actually wasn’t about Trump, or even free speech. It is about police brutality.

I also mentioned that Colin started taking a knee (vs. sitting in the bench) after talking to military folks. In sports, taking a knee is a sign of respect when someone is injured on the field (as I just learned myself).

Both women said they didn’t know that about how he evolved to taking the knee, and had never thought about taking the knee has a sign of respect for someone in trouble. (Like our country, right?)

(We also talked about how the football players hadn’t even started coming out on the field for the Anthem until 2009, and only then because it was a paid promotion to increase military recruitment.)

By the end they both agreed, oh, OK, I guess it’s not disrespectful.

The lady with military grandsons said that she grew up being told to stand, and she would always stand, and she wasn’t going to change her ways at 76, and I said, that’s the beauty part…you don’t have to. It’s your choice.

I also said, hey, BTW haven’t certain religions never stood and taken the pledge in school? Which they conceded had always been true.

So, we all agreed we had a personal choice. And that it wasn’t really disrespectful.

And then I listened to lots of stories about the lady’s grandchildren :)

Here’s the thing. This took effort. And a conscious decision. Not only to butt in, decision #1, but to butt in in a kind of conversational way. I did my best to come at them from a place of positive kindness and open heartedness. But to be clear: Inside I assumed they were racist Trump voters, those people I say I have no patience for and don’t care anymore about trying to convince.

But there in a real world, human space I called on my experience as an actor, and as a facilitator, and just shoved down my own judgement and rancor, so they might possibly, maybe, hopefully HEAR me.

I felt like it had impact.

I say nearly daily at this point:

Women can’t end sexism.
People of color can’t end racism.
Jews can’t end anti-Semitism.
Muslims can’t end Islamophobia.
The LGBTQ community can’t end homo- and trans-phobia.

We can never be good enough, respectable enough, non-threatening enough, but powerful enough, in just the right combination, to eliminate what is in someone else’s heart and mind.

Only men can end sexism. Only white people can end racism. And so on.

And I have to walk my talk. If I’m going to tell YOU to speak up, then I have to speak up, even if it feels nerve wracking. You CAN make a difference. You CAN change minds. I believe it matters.

So, that’s my national anthem story.

What kind of conversations have you had about it? (Because PS: #KudostoKaepernick…we’re ALL talking about, aren’t we?)

And BTW: I’m still Team #BoycottNFL.