Christian Martin & Jordan Marabello
“Get that son of a b**ch off the field!” roared the President, met with raucous applause from an overwhelmingly white audience. To them, the protests of Colin Kaepernick and so many others were a direct attack against American soldiers and America. A few whiny, overpaid athletes were attempting to steal a bit more fame by embracing ungrateful and hateful rhetoric. According to a Public Broadcasting Service poll, 63 percent of white Americans agree with this line of thought, saying they disapproved of NFL players decisions to protest during the national anthem by taking a knee; however, when Reuters surveyed black Americans, that number dropped to only 17 percent.
Why the divide? The answer is the same one that is dividing our country into black and white America, red and blue America, and coastal and middle America: an empathy deficit. New Yorkers are unable to see the plights of the Minnesota factory worker, no longer able to pay for his daughter’s college because wages have not risen in decades; Republicans in Texas are unable to feel the fear of Democrats in Pennsylvania, afraid that the new president will take away their health care; and whites in Alabama are still unable to empathize with the blacks in their own communities who have been traumatized by police brutality. Obviously our country is in desperate need of some introspection.
The United States was born when a few brave protesters, feeling angered by their voices not being heard, boarded British ships to throw crates of taxed tea into the Boston Harbor. Those brave patriots were doing what Americans do best, voicing discontent. Kneeling during the national anthem does not disrespect our flag, it embraces the values our flag stands for. Whether by voting out the incumbent party at the ballot box or by kneeling during the national anthem, dissent is American, and make no mistake, our national dialogue benefits from such dissent.
How are Americans to empathize if they do not even realize there is suffering to empathize with? Players like Colin Kaepernick believed that something wrong was happening in America, and they used their platform to make people aware of what was happening:; black people across this country feel marginalized, and the evidence suggests they are not exaggerating. Blacks are more likely to face tougher crime sentences and suffer more scrutiny from police officers. Yet according to a YouGov Poll, 56 percent of white Americans feel racism is not a large problem in their community, compared to 90 percent of blacks who say racism is a very serious problem. There is a huge disparity between the visions of justice white America has compared to that of black America.
This is partly the cause of deteriorating race relations over the last decade, exacerbated by a commander-in-chief who calls white supremacists “very fine people.” Now is the time for dialogue. If it needs to be engendered by a kneel, so be it. A protest during the national anthem is not an affront to our national values. It is an embrace of them in the most American of spaces — the football field.
Nowadays, sports mean way more than just the score at the end of the game. Athletes, specifically in the NFL, have brought their personal political views into the playing field, which has caught the attention of the media and the public. This recent movement took root approximately a year ago in the 2016 preseason, when players began to kneel during the playing of the national anthem, to address perceived racial injustices. With Trump adding his take on the situation, more players have begun kneeling during the anthem, further politicizing the NFL.
While it is true that effective protest requires publicity, the type of publicity that the NFL protests is not beneficial to their cause. In a recent CNN survey for Americans, 49% of those surveyed say the protesting players are “doing the wrong thing”to express their political opinion when they kneel during the National Anthem, while 43% say it’s the right thing. 87% of Republicans say it’s the wrong decision while 72% of Democrats say the opposite. Essentially, the NFL protest has only fanned the flames of an already incredibly polarized American political landscape.
Sports have the power to unify us in a country that has recently been torn apart by hatred, violence, and division between opposing viewpoints and ideologies. However, just as how sports can cause two strangers to fight over the teams they root for, the same devotion can drive the wedge further into the political divide. Absent of politics, sports has an amazing uniting power. We, as Americans, can talk to each other about teams, players, rivalries and upcoming games in good faith and jab at each other for our team loyalties without infringing on our political beliefs. We can watch with each other, or we might share videos on the internet. In the end, our shared interest in sports, and maybe even our team rivalries, bring us closer together as Americans. As a result, we would gain a greater appreciation for one another, and we would not hold such negative views of each other due to differences in ideals.
With clearer minds and mutual understanding of each other, we can hold more in-depth and nuanced conversation about the unique matters each and everyone of us feel like should be addressed, ranging from racial issues to American manufacturing. This would only be possible if Americans on all different sides are willing to listen to each other. Due to the uniting power of American pastimes, including but not limited to sports, people can engage with each other without feeling attacked or alienated. Therefore, the message that many protesting athletes want to send would actually be communicated much more effectively if left off the playing field and was instead sent in a true political setting. In this shared space, athletes, fans, and Americans in general can hold serious and sincere conversations, working towards changes and goals that they’d like to see. These are the civil dialogues that we as Americans don’t currently have, but must regain if we wish to live in an America for all.