November 24, 2017

Taking a Knee

Below is my response to the letter about NFL players that a friend emailed to me. The letter was obviously written by a conservative person who supported President Trump’s position on NFL players taking knee during the playing of the national anthem. I provided an alternative view.

I’m sure your friend, a former Air Force pilot, served and protected our country admirably and meant well when he forwarded a screed about “spoiled” NFL players protesting. But what was he protecting when he served in the military? You and he might say that he was protecting “our way of life” or “our freedoms.” One of those freedoms is freedom of speech, and not just freedom to speak about what most people agree with, but freedom to speak about what most people might not agree with. 

So the issue the writer of the letter deals with comes down to prioritizing our basic values as humans, family members, tribal members and Americans. What values come first? Freedom or equality, self-interest or collective interest, the greater good or protection of minority rights, integrity based on telling the truth or winning based on “the end justifies the means.”  

Different people have different values, and people with similar values often have different priorities for their values. 

Considering my values, I agree with the letter writer, that we should boycott the NFL — don’t watch NFL football and don’t buy tickets to NFL games. Ignore the NFL. Why? First, because the NFL is denying its players a basic freedom that is high on my list of values — freedom of speech. Second, because the culture of the NFL promotes violence — encourages and rewards violence, meanness and uncompassionate behavior. Our society cannot grow or even survive in a world that will populated by 12 billion people by 2050 if we tolerate a culture of violence, meanness and lack of compassion.

To blame NFL football players for making too much money is irrational, based on emotion not rationality (see a book by Richard Thayler, who just won a Nobel prize for economics. The book is Psychology of Choice and the Assumptions of Economics). NFL players make money based on the free-market system for gifted football players. If you support a capitalistic free-market system, you should be pleased that athletes, CEOs, movie stars and professional fighters and wrestlers make a lot of money because that’s what the market thinks they are worth. If you think NFL football’s violence is fun to watch and think that protesting racial injustice is unpatriotic, then in my view, your values and the priorities for your values are far different from my values and value priorities.

I stopped watching NFL football three years ago (boycotted it) because I did not want to encourage or support any sport or entertainment or literature that promotes violence, meanness and lack of compassion and because I don’t want to live in a society that encourages those base, harmful, immoral, in my view, values.

I do want to live in a society that honors diversity, favors equality, fairness and social justice not only in racial and religious (and agist) terms but also in economic terms.

I hope this coming Sunday that every NFL player that feels inclined to take a knee do so in order to defy a lying, manipulative, dishonest, greedy, narcissistic, sociopathic president and not give him a win for tramping down freedom of speech, especially for African-American NFL players. Trump’s position is clearly racist, not patriotic. His position is the same as his and Steve Bannon’s has always been: Wrap the flag around veterans, the military, gun ownership and white supremacy and call it patriotism and protection of freedom. Only people who share these hawkish militaristic, NRA-supporting, racist views believe that Trump and the white supremacists are in fact appealing to patriotic values, not white-supremacist values.

And the rich NFL players? They are finally getting paid for their hard work and talent after many of them were completely exploited by NCAA schools, exploited by the coaches and recruiters who wooed them, exploited by agents who bribe some coaches and exploited by sneaker companies, corporate interests and crooked boosters. It’s naive to think these concussion-addled players have it easy. You don’t hear much about white NFL players being ungrateful, overpaid or spoiled. The white NFL players who took a knee to support their black teammates’ call for social justice should be honored for recognizing their brother warriors’ concerns and supporting them and their right to free speech. I’ll bet these white players want to live in a post-racist world as I do, but which Trump and his supporters are dead set against.

So raise the flag, play the national anthem and then kneel and raise a fist in protest to show a white-supremacist president and greedy NFL owners and league officials that compassion and brotherhood and freedom of speech trumps hate, divisiveness and autocracy.

Below is the hateful, negative, stereotype-filled letter that I responded to:

You graduated high school in 2011.  Your teenage years were a struggle.  You grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Your mother was the leader of the family and worked tirelessly to keep a roof over your head and food on your plate..  Academics were a struggle for you and your grades were mediocre at best. The only thing that made you stand out is you weighed 225 lbs and could run 40 yards in 4.2 seconds while carrying a football.   Your best friend was just like you, except he didn’t play football.  Instead of going to football practice after school, he went to work at McDonalds for minimum wage.  You were recruited by all the big colleges and spent every weekend of your senior year making visits to universities where coaches and boosters tried to convince you their school was best.  They laid out the red carpet for you. Your best friend worked double shifts at Mickey D’s.  College was not an option for him.  On the day you signed with Big State University, your best friend signed paperwork with his Army recruiter.  You went to summer workouts.  He went to basic training.

You spent the next four years living in the athletic dorm, eating at the training table. You spent your Saturdays on the football field, cheered on by adoring fans.  Tutors attended to your every academic need.  You attended class when you felt like it. Sure, you worked hard.  You lifted weights, ran sprints, studied plays, and soon became one of the top football players in the country.  Your best friend was assigned to the 101stAirborne Division. While you were in college, he deployed to Iraq once and Afghanistan twice.  He became a Sergeant and led a squad of 19 year old soldiers who grew up just like he did.  He shed his blood in Afghanistan and watched young American’s give their lives, limbs, and innocence for the USA. 

You went to the NFL combine and scored off the charts.  You hired an agent and waited for draft day.  You were drafted in the first round and your agent immediately went to work, ensuring that you received the most money possible. You signed for $16 million although you had never played a single down of professional football.  Your best friend re-enlisted in the Army for four more years. As a combat tested sergeant, he will be paid $32,000 per year.

You will drive a Ferrari on the streets of South Beach.  He will ride in the back of a Blackhawk helicopter with 10 other combat loaded soldiers.  You will sleep at the Ritz.  He will dig a hole in the ground and try to sleep.  You will “make it rain” in the club.  He will pray for rain as the temperature reaches 120 degrees.

On Sunday, you will run into a stadium as tens of thousands of fans cheer and yell your name.  For your best friend, there is little difference between Sunday and any other day of the week.  There are no adoring fans.  There are only people trying to kill him and his soldiers. Every now and then, he and his soldiers leave the front lines and “go to the rear” to rest.  He might be lucky enough to catch an NFL game on TV.  When the National Anthem plays and you take a knee, he will jump to his feet and salute the television.  While you protest the unfairness of life in the United States, he will give thanks to God that he has the honor of defending his great country.

To the players of the NFL:  We are the people who buy your tickets, watch you on TV, and wear your jerseys.  We anxiously wait for Sundays so we can cheer for you and marvel at your athleticism. Although we love to watch you play, we care little about your opinions until you offend us. You have the absolute right to express yourselves, but we have the absolute right to boycott you.  We have tolerated your drug use and DUIs, your domestic violence, and your vulgar displays of wealth.  We should be ashamed for putting our admiration of your physical skills before what is morally right.  But now you have gone too far. You have insulted our flag, our country, our soldiers, our police officers, and our veterans. You are living the American dream, yet you disparage our great country.  I am done with NFL football and encourage all like minded Americans to boycott the NFL as well.

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National boycott of the NFL for Sunday November 12th, Veterans Day Weekend. Boycott all football telecast, all fans, all ticket holders, stay away from attending any games, let them play to empty stadiums. Pass this post along to all your friends and family. Honor our military, some of whom come home with the American Flag draped over their coffin.

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