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Why Everyone is Wrong About the NFL "Protests".

This whole taking a knee stunt has more than worn out its welcome.  From the start it was missing the point of the playing of the National Anthem to begin with.  But so was almost all of the reaction to it.

First let’s clarify what the “protest” has been from the beginning.  It was a stunt to get camera time by a few players who can’t seem to get enough attention just playing a kid’s game for money.  But when a fuss was raised, the me-too middle school stunts began to spread.

First we were told the players were protesting police brutality (far below 1% of the interactions by police that are actually confrontational.  Even less than that of the total interactions police have with civilians.)

Then when that got laughed off the stage, we were told they were sitting on the bench or taking a knee to protest racism in general.  That didn’t make a lot of sense coming from people who were making tens of millions of dollars and hadn’t heard the word “no” since early puberty.

When so challenged, one player said it wasn’t protesting, but praying.  Anything wrong with praying?

Uh…yeah, right.

When the NFL Commissioner started to make a little noise about it, it was back to protesting racism again.  Only this time we were told we needed to feel sorry for the players, by that great philosopher, Shiela Jackson Lee (who should be kicked out of Congress because she is named after two slaveholders).  She said the players were actually being treated like slaves.

With a name like that?  She’s such a hypocrite.

The fluid reasoning Is Its own lie.  By simply acknowledging all the different explanations we can rightfully dismiss the whole charade as just getting camera time and doing the whole me-too routine.

When the Cure Is Worse Than the Disease.

Enter the critics.  I am not disgusted with the people spouting out against the players childishness as I am with the players and their cowardly employers.  But I completely disagree with their reasoning too.

I have heard and read repeatedly that the biggest offense ongoing here was the lack of respect for the sacrifices made by our military.  If you protest during the playing of the anthem you must hate America and not care about veterans and our war dead.

Sorry guys, but you can’t know what anyone including NFL players think about that.  And the playing of the anthem was not intended to be a salute to the military.  If, when it is played, you are moved to remember such sacrifice, that’s a good thing.  But that is your reaction.  You cannot correctly criticize anyone for not thinking about battles and death when the anthem plays because you do.  That’s projecting your wishes on the motivations of others.

Some criticize the disrespect to the flag itself.  If you feel the flag is something venerable, people who are religious might take issue with that because they only know one thing that rises to such a status.  But that’s okay.  Your reaction to the song and the National Ensign is none of their business anyway.  And again, that’s a good thing…for you.  But for many, including myself, the flag is just a pretty piece of cloth symbolizing the nation we are feting in the anthem or pledging our allegiance to (far too infrequently).  It isn’t the flag so much as nation; the incredible experiment it represents.  In that, a real protest, one in which people actually knew what they were protesting, gains legitimacy.  So to dismiss it on the basis of  patriotism defies logic.

So Why Is the Protest Silly?

The playing of the National Anthem during a sporting event goes as far back as 1862.  By World War I it was pretty much a tradition.  The playing of the song, as a tradition, was never intended to make a values statement about America per se.  It was not a way to, game after game, declare our pride in our military.  It certainly isn’t intended to stoke martial feelings against the rest of the world.

When played at large gatherings it is intended to remind us, despite our differences, that we here, gathered on a happy occasion, no matter our creed, race or other differences, are all a part of something larger than ourselves.  Even larger than our military.  Literally, despite whatever is going on outside this arena, we remember now that we are still one people.

No matter what your pleasure or grievance with society, today we are here to enjoy an events together.  The playing of the national anthem simply places the only all-encompassing umbrella over the arena.  Unless you are a visitor to this country, you are undeniably a part of this group.  For this moment, before the players take the field, we have a happy way to appreciate this oneness – fleeting though it may be.

As I said before on this subject there may be a gay man in the stadium who will tomorrow be marching for gay rights. There may be people who think the President is an idiot.  There may be military people who worry that the country is going to hell on a rocket sled, and so on.  But we still occupy the same soil.  We still face the same challenges on some level, day in and day out.  And like it or not, we indeniably share a history.  We all have far more in common than we have differences – despite what you may hear outside the ball field.  That is a simple fact.

So when the players turn their backs on that, it is out of ignorance and misses the point of the moment.  When people angrily say their interpretation of the moment is being ignored, they too are missing the point.

For people, especially our challenged President to call them sonsofbitches, is unhelpful.  For the players to keep making up stories about why they play up for the cameras is laughable.

Freedom of Speech?  Yeah, Not the Point At ALL!

Finally, the whole “freedom of speech” thing has been the most perverted argument by both sides.

Here are the facts:  Rules governing the play of the game in the NFL are silent on this issue.  However, the NFL team manual states unequivocally that the players will be on the field before the anthem and will stand respectfully during its playing.  This is not a suggestion.  It comes with penalties which include loss of revenues and draft picks.  It’s a rule.

The cowardly silence by the NFL and team owners is an example of why we are the society we are.  We only follow the rules when it is convenient.  Worried that a star player might get his panties in a bunch has kept league leadership silent on the issue, other than a few non-committal non-statements.

So, until the team owners come up with a pair of gonads between them, the players are INDEED free to express themselves contrary to the manual. But at any time, the team owners can assert their correct authority and tell the players that while they wear the uniform, they will represent the club as instructed.  If a player has the courage of his convictions and thinks he needs to exercise his free speech rights on matters of race or anything else, he is free to remove the uniform, forego his pay, go out to a public space and on his own time make his best case.  But in a private relationship, where one is paid to follow rules, public speech rights do not apply.

It is for the same reason, military members are not permitted by law anyway, from public protests against any level of government in uniform.  It is wrong to represent your service while making such statements for your own reasons.  This has been abused often in the last decade.  Most frequently, I’ve seen members protest over gay issues while in uniform.  Again, afraid of an empty outcry, leaders didn’t enforce the rules.  I don’t have a problem with gays in the military.  But the rules say, quite correctly and for good reason, that when you are protesting, you are not a representative of the U.S. Armed forces and should not be in uniform during a public demonstration – or even in a media interview.

So the free speech cries from the NFL kneelers get as much sympathy from me as the cries about being treated as slaves.

C’mon gang.  The tantrum has played itself out.  Your fans now see you as drama queens.  If you believe any of what you claim I would expect to see you all on the streets carrying signs and fighting the good fight.  But on game day stand up, rejoin your fellow citizens, enjoy the moment and then play some ball.

If we can’t do that, none of what you claim to be protesting will ever be solved.

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The NFL. Children. Ignorant, Petulant and Overpaid

I’ll put the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF as my old boss used to call it). The playing of the National Anthem at sporting events has always been for one and only one purpose. It was a way of saying, in a feel-good way that we are all in this together. The Baptist in section C row 5 seat 16, the lesbian in A 15 4, the disabled vet in F 22 12 and the Muslim in P 11 2 are all Americans. Tomorrow the Lesbian might blog about gay rights. The vet will be fighting red tape at the VA. The Baptist will decry the lack of god in schools. And the Muslim may decide to march against the travel ban.

But right now, in this place, at this happy time, we are all a part of a larger picture. Let us just for this brief moment enjoy knowing that and enjoy being together. THAT is why we play the national Anthem at ballgames. There is no other reason. There never was.

It wasn’t about wars. It wasn’t about race riots. It wasn’t about the imaginary grievances of college snowflakes. The flag itself was just a focal point; a rather pretty visual the good feelings were built around.

Well…until entirely un-oppressed, professional athletes decided to get camera time and headlines by ruining the moment for the rest of us.

It’s Not FSC’s Fault

As I read the social network comments regarding the NFL’s National Anthem controversy, I am struck dumb with the level of ignorance from which people argue. Clearly, many of the arguments are made up from whole cloth. I read one post that the National Anthem was written by an attorney who worked to free slaves.

[insert loud game show buzzer here]

Sorry! Francis Scott Key was a slaveholder who, it is said, wrote of the inferiority of the Negro race. Yes, he did represent slaves seeking legal manumission as well as slaveholders seeking return of their “property”. If he thought his client had a case, he argued it. But he was no paragon of abolitionist virtue.

I hate revisionist history worse than cooked carrots.

I read repeatedly that the song “celebrates slavery” or “celebrates the murder of African-Americans”. Leaving aside the impossibility and self-indulgence of the label in the latter example, the song does neither.

Sadly, the ignorance is not limited to silly tweets or Facebook trolls. Mark Clague, a musicologist (here defined as someone who can say anything he wants and declare it valid) is a shining example of what has become of American learning and intellect.

Clague works at the University of Michigan and is founder of the Star Spangled Music Foundation (no agenda there, right?). In a particularly non-intellectual and self-contradictory interview with the NY Times[i], Clague says the lyrics are not a celebration of slavery.

So far, true enough. They are specifically not that.

But then Clague goes on to damage a simple and true statement by slathering on his own disjointed views and projecting his own wishes and feelings on things, 200 years hence, into the minds of people who simply did not think as he does; people who did not think the way educated people think today.

In his reference to “freemen”, Clague asserts, Key was including white people AND black slaves who remained loyal to the U.S. during the war.

In other words, according to Clague, an attorney, and the author of a rather well-penned verse, had no concept of the meaning of words. At the beginning of the 19th Century, a freeman was specifically NOT a slave. Period. If I were a merchant in Philadelphia and was introduced to a Black man with whom I might do business, he would be introduced to me as a freeman to specifically delineate him from those who were slaves. This was by no means an uncommon occurrence, even in major southern cities.

Key would have not confused the two. Clague does so intentionally to burnish the image of the Anthem, which is clearly his goal.

At the same time, Clague and any other literate person who reads the lyrics and knows of the history of the time, knows the terms “hireling” and “slave”, in the context of defeating the Brits, was a reference to the mercenaries and slaves who fought for England during the war.

If you are a 100% pacifist and believe that all war is murder, then you could read into the words of FSK a justification for the murder of slaves and mercenaries in the Anthem. But that would be projecting YOUR beliefs onto the words written by another person.

Key clearly believed in the cause being contested and did not quibble about the morality of war in his verse. So in his mind, and therefore his words, there is no celebration of murder. There is only the statement that the enemy is not free from what American forces might visit upon them. This included people who lived here and fought for the Brits. The “controversial” phrase is neither celebration nor condemnation of death in war.

All I will say further about the birth of the Anthem is that it was a verse that reflected it’s time. The modern approach to that reality is to deny it by saying things like, “Don’t tell me about the morality of the time! Don’t confuse me with facts! XYZ is wrong and everybody knows it!”

Well, isn’t that just too convenient for you? The fact is, that for several millennia, it was accepted as correct that one people should enslave another. If your state went to war with another, one of the most valuable and common spoils of war was the acquisition of slaves. If you marched your god into a foreign land and they rejected that god, you could do to those people anything you wanted to.  While the Greeks and Romans would happily nuance the concept to win the loyalty of this tribe over that, the common thinking was that the conquered could be used as the conqueror sees fit. There was no moral argument against it.

We are a mere 200 years into a world where slavery is seen as a blight. Many places in the Muslim world have a lot of catching up to do to eliminate slavery all together. That’s to be understood since they actively rejected the Age of Enlightenment, where old cultural and religious nonsense started to be peeled away in favor of critical thinking.

But is it a process. One we worked through, quite painfully, 150 years ago.

There is more to Clague’s unhelpful interview, mostly about newer versions of the song written over the years by people with various axes to grind, including abolition. But they are not germane to the argument at hand as they are not Key’s words. But Clague is a “musicologist”. So perhaps I should show a bit more respect.

Meh…nah.

So What of Today’s NFL Anthem Squabble?

It might have been smart if Woodrow Wilson and Congress, when they made the Star Spangled Banner our official Anthem, had reviewed all of it. If they found controversy in the various stanzas, it would have certainly been within their power to say, “We adopt this stanza and reject the rest in the use of the verse as our anthem.” That would have been quite prescient. However, there would be no way Wilson could have possibly read anything sticky about the third verse. He was a racist. He was completely and utterly tone deaf to issues of any minority.  So talk of defeating slaves and mercenaries fighting for the enemy would have meant nothing to Wilson.

But at this moment, the Anthem is still our official song.

There is no law that requires the playing of the Anthem at sporting events. Nor should there be. This is a tradition, and a nice one.

People are free to sit, stand or chew gum while it plays. People are free to protest during it’s playing. After many decades of this without these circus stunt “protests” do I question the motivation of players who are protesting a benign song? Of course I do. These are spoiled, overpaid, prima donnas who haven’t heard the word “no” since the first scout visited their schools. Not a single one of them could articulate a true statement in favor of their “protest”.   Talk of “oppression” coming from their mouths should be an anathema to any mature adult in this country.

Even if their erroneous view of the Anthem’s lyrics were correct, there isn’t a single person alive who has actually suffered through the time in question. Not a single living American has had to deal with the issue of slavery. Only the oldest among us had to fight for civil rights. And they won! The only emotion we should feel about any of that is gratitude!

But They Disrespect Our Veterans!

If you’ve read my stuff, you’ve read that I don’t use my time in uniform as a reason to criticize protestors. I wore the uniform for 23 years to uphold the right of anyone to peacefully protest anything they want. That includes the actions of stupid, spoiled men getting paid to play a kids’ game.

But as they are free to make phony protests, you are free to counter them.

I hear talk of boycott. That might do it. But be sure to make your actions clear and accurate. They lose their meaning if you don’t.

This is my take. Player A sits on the bench, collecting camera time during the anthem. Let’s not pretend it is really anything else. That is his right. BUT he is in a uniform. While wearing that uniform, and in the performance of his duties representing the ball club, it is the club’s reaction that is the key.

The owners and stockholders of the franchise have freedom of speech as well. If a player sits out the anthem and the club doesn’t penalize him, or at least scold him publicly, the club is making one of two possible statements.

  1. We agree with the actions of Player A and believe the National Anthem and the United States are bad things.

OR

  1. We don’t agree but will coddle the spoiled brat because we care more about how much we pay him than we do about patriotism or national pride or whatever label the observer thinks is appropriate here.

But take care where you point your finger and be prepared to make your own mea culpa. Who was it, after all that made these “protestors” into more than overpaid meat hired to play a game?

Who was it that paid good money to make sports entertainment into a multi-billon dollar activity? What a waste of resources! Who is it that allows our institutions of higher learning to be football clubs and snowflake villages rather than institutions of higher learning? Who stood by and watched as our government created a publicly subsidized “bread and circus” industry we now know as professional sports?

That’s right. It is you. I would wager some the people most angry with the protestors these days are season ticket holders or viewers that never miss a game each week. But in attempting to admonish the “Frankenstein” we’re angry with, don’t minimize your role in creating it.

Still feeling passionate about your argument? I hope so. Now go out and make a valid one.

Note: The fact that NFL players in exhibition in England stood for God Save the Queen and took a knee for our National Anthem shows their complete ignorance of the history of the anthem and the history of this nation. And it demonstrates the total lack of seriousness in their “protest”.

Children!

[i] The National Anthem Racist? Beyond the Debate over Colin Kaepernick by Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, 2 Sep 16. The Times actually refers to Clague’s emotionalist, self-serving meanderings as “scholarly”.

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