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Flag Football

Or ‘Why I’m Dropping Tyler Eifert From My Fantasy Team In Memory of Pat Tillman’

Update Sept 25 4.46pm: President Trump has joined Tyler Eifert in misappropriating Pat Tillman’s memory in the name of not protesting in the NFL this morning, retweeting this:

We’re set to see more bent knees than a Game of Thrones binge marathon. Donald Trump’s decision to pick a fight with the NFL is likely to mean the national anthems in today’s games feature a record number of player protests.

Already this morning a large number of Ravens and Jaguars players took a knee during the anthem in London. Most who didn’t kneel linked arms in support — including the Ravens coach and the Jaguars owner (who donated $1m to Trump). Even Ray Lewis, who was critical of Kaepernick, took both knees.

It’s spreading, too. Last night the MLB’s first player took a knee during the national anthem when Oakland’s Bruce Maxwell joined the movement started last year by a now-unemployed Colin Kaepernick. In a touching moment, colleague Mark Canha, who is white, held Maxwell’s shoulder during the protest. And Stevie Wonder lent his support, taking “both knees” on stage at the Global Citizen festival (hardly as tough a crowd there as Maxwell faced: 83% of MLB fans are white).

Even Rex Ryan, who introduced Trump at a campaign rally in Buffalo, has said he wishes he never supported Trump — saying how “pissed off” he is.

But there’s one player who won’t be taking a knee. Won’t be voicing his protest, or supporting his fellow players: Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert.

In an answer to a question nobody asked, Eifert played his white privilege card and joined the ‘All Lives Matter’ blowhards with this missive:

First, a disclosure: I’m not American. I acknowledge there’s a very strong cultural layer over the worship of the flag, the anthem, and that immense civic religion of ‘support the military’ that I will never fully understand. To me, the whole idea of playing the national anthem before a game between two cities inside the USA doesn’t make any sense. The rest of the world plays national anthems before games between two nations.

I mean, I would fully understand if players in the London game had to line up before this song, as the Baltimore men represent:

It’s a catchy tune for sure, and no doubt raucous fans would revel in its belting out, but my point is: playing the national anthem before NFL is by its very nature politicizing the event.

Eifert in a way is acknowledging this fact. Despite no-one asking, Eifert feels the need to clarifying that not only is he failing to kneel, he choosing to stand.

“I stand because I love my country.”

The implication is that everyone who kneels doesn’t love their country. That they do not “want to honor the people putting their lives on the line for me on a daily basis”. It’s a false dichotomy that Trumpists and All Lives Matterists flog all the time: your protest to highlight that some folks may not be doing ok makes me so uncomfortable it threatens all I hold dear in this world.

The irony is in the name Eifert chooses to invoke in support of his argument: Pat Tillman.

“I am writing Pat Tillman’s name on my cleats.”

Tyler Eifert’s cleats for his first game. (Source: Medium)

Pat Tillman doesn’t get spoken about much these days, so it is well worth retelling his story. In 2004, the George W Bush White House was doing its best to tell Tillman’s story as far and wide as possible: all-American hero Pat Tillman was a star college football and NFL player, who gave up a lucrative contract to join the army after the 9/11 attacks as a poster boy for the War on Terror. He served with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan before being killed heroically by an enemy ambush in Afghanistan and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star.

There’s only one problem: it’s a lie.

Tillman was killed by his own troops, quite possibly murdered because he was gearing up to use his profile to speak out against the war in the lead up to the 2004 election. The Bush Administration used his death to distract from the failing wars by holding up his sacrifice as a propagandistic beacon to others, and holding a nationally televised memorial service saying so, all the while deliberately covering up his fratricide.

Tillman’s motives for signing up were his own, but this we know: he was an atheist, strong critic of President Bush, thought the invasion of Iraq was illegal, and had scheduled a meeting with anti-war activist Noam Chomsky on his return from Afghanistan.

The cover up included the highest levels of the military and the White House, who happily let his death obscure his ardent opposition and reluctance to be used as a propaganda puppet by a regime he opposed.

It allowed white supremacists as much as hawkish politicians to latch onto the idea of a glorious aryan poster child for all that people who oppose these NFL protests hold dear. Ann Coulter lauded him in thinly veiled eugenic terms as “An American original — virtuous, pure and masculine, like only an American can be.”

Here’s how Tyler Eifert invokes Tillman’s name:

“Pat wasn’t fighting for himself, he wasn’t fighting for one group vs. another; he was fighting for Americans.”

I’m not going to indulge in another case of ‘What Would Pat Tillman Do’, but I will leave it to you to decide how he, an outspoken social justice advocate, would feel about another white conservative using his name to further oppression.

So as every NFL player wrestled last night as they went to sleep with their moral dilemma of what to do during the anthem today, and indeed many professional sportspeople are doing, maybe we should leave it to Tillman to give them the last word of advice:

“Somewhere inside, we hear a voice. It leads us in the direction of who we want to become. But it is up to us whether or not to follow.” — Pat Tillman

Today, hundreds of young men will hear that moral calling and do a brave act. And it doesn’t mean they don’t love their country or their fellow man or woman. In fact it is out of compassion and empathy that players will act, following the example set by Pat Tillman to have the courage to follow their convictions.

Everyone, that is, other than Tyler Eifert. He’ll be standing.

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The politics of sport. Weekend Caucus is the new constituency — sports fans who want to go behind the scores, stats and standings to explore what it all says about our society.

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Ed Coper

Ed Coper

Click-ass #campaigns. Covering the sport of politics & the politics of sport. Founder, Corelab www.corelab.co Weekend Caucus www.weekendcaucus.com

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