Why The Fuss?

As pretty much everyone knows by now — even our good friend Lisa in far-off Ecuador — growing numbers of NFL players are refusing stand for the national anthem before football games and this has caused a great uproar. The roar was barely heard until the President stuck his oar into the mess and decided to stir it up. Most recently he has threatened to eliminate all tax breaks for the NFL to hurt the owners where they live and force them to insist that their players behave themselves. This has brought about a quantum leap in protest, much of it directed to the President’s insensitive manner of addressing the issue.

In all this confusion the central issue has somehow been lost. The President himself fails to make the distinction, as I mentioned in a previous post, between protesting the flag and protesting racial injustice. The latter is the real issue here and it has become lost in the emotional reaction of a great many people, including refusal to attend or watch games and even the burning of team jerseys, to what they regard as “unpatriotic” behavior.

The obvious question is why the hell do we insist on saluting the flag and singing the national anthem at sporting events? But I shall ignore it to focus instead on the reason there is protest, a protest that started with Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem in a pre-season football game over a year ago. Kaepernick has apparently been ostracized from professional football as a result and, in any event, is currently unemployed. But his protest started the ball rolling and it got a huge push from the President’s mindless threats to the players and owners.

We need to bear in mind the sort of prejudice the Blacks face every day. Think of the Jim Crow laws in the South that would disenfranchise them from the body politic; the existence of the KKK and white supremacists and their loud support of our sitting President who is himself a Racist (with a capital “R”); the  looks these folks get every day and, if the have the courage to marry or even date a white woman or a white man, the thinly veiled hatred they see all around them, especially in the South. And, of course, there is the seemingly random shooting of unarmed Black men by anxious policemen that seems to have become a growing problem in our Inner-Cities.

When I was in high school in Baltimore many years ago I worked in a grocery store after school each day with two Black men who drove the delivery trucks. We had a number of interesting talks and for the first time in my life I began to see the world a bit through their eyes. They would tell me, calmly, about the glares, the derision, and the contempt they experienced every day, and I recall one of the men saying in a plaintive voice how he just wished he could take his family out to a meal in a nice restaurant, so many of which had “No Colored” signs in their windows — even in the mid-1950s.

This was Baltimore, folks. Not the deep South. Maryland was neutral during the Civil War even though their sympathies were for the most part with the South — after all there was a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore prior to his assuming office which ended with him entering Washington in disguise and protected by Pinkerton men. It became a standing joke, but it was no joke. In any event, Baltimore was a Southern City and even in the 1950s there was wide-spread prejudice against folks of color. When school integration was ordered by the Supreme Court in 1954 there was considerable unrest and protest by groups of white people in the streets of Baltimore which reflected a deep prejudice that had been agitating just below the surface.

There is no way I can fully understand what it is like to be a Black person. But I can imagine, and I can sympathize. The current protest is over injustice and whether or not we agree with the methods that have been chosen to make that protest we need to keep our eye on the central issue. And we might want to recall that it is a peaceful protest and that this country was founded on protest and a concern for justice. There may have been a better way to draw attention to the problem, but at the very least the manner chosen seems to have brought about a discussion that was simply not taking place. And steps are being taken, small ones, but steps in the right direction. There is now dialogue occurring in many cities across this land to erase the tension between the police and the folks they are sworn to protect and serve, and in general to see what can be done to make things better for those who have to carry the burden of prejudice with them throughout their lives.

Eventually the dust will settle and folks will start going back to NFL games — after all they crave diversion! But one must hope that the steps this protest have initiated will get longer and stronger and the injustice that is being protested will be at least somewhat abated. It may never be totally eliminated (Lincoln thought it would not),  but we need to live together and America, we are told, stands on the principle of fairness to ALL.

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23 thoughts on “Why The Fuss?

  1. Very well said, Hugh.

    As whites, we have to — we have an obligation as members of this society, where we, as you write have to live together — take a step back and think even a bit about what the experience has been, and still is, for blacks, Latinos and other minorities. The treatment they receive in general has never been pleasant, often has been horrible if not criminal. In the early 1990s, I did some newspaper stories in Marshall where I interviewed black athletes at Southwest Minnesota State. These were successful athletes, a couple of all-Americans among them, going to college in a Minnesota city. You’d think it would be a situation much more enlightened and better for them than 1950s Baltimore. Yet, they said they were routinely the subjected to racist behavior and attitudes — finding it hard to get part-time work in the summers, running into a lot of excessive questions when they sought apartments or “college” houses to rent, hearing racial slurs in bars, often finding informal but still real segregation on campus, even when they ate meals in the student center.

    This was not as bad, of course, as other situations or incidents have been. They weren’t shot by cops, the apartments they lived in weren’t systematically allowed to lose electricity, let water damage persist as happened to many blacks in Trump’s apartments in New York, etc. But racism, even if mild, is still racism and it was part of their everyday lives.

    As far as the flag and anthem, I wonder if it can be argued that the NFL players who’ve protested actually take the flag and anthem very seriously. It is where they’ve chosen to make their protest, because they know it is a high-profile moment and symbol. Even though there’s no legal requirements for it, the flag and anthem symbolize America, and the NFL protesters are saying to all of America that something is wrong. They’re certainly taking it more seriously than the buffoons who talk through the playing of the anthem at ballgames, who wear flag apparel, including segments of flags sewn on the pockets of their pants meaning they sit on the flag, those who use the flag at holidays to sell furniture, cars, refrigerators, booze, etc. The NFL players are centering their protests around the flag for something a helluva lot more meaningful than a 4th of July sale on Laz-E-Boys.

    • Well said. I do think the sense among the protesters is that the country has failed them and this makes the flag (as a symbol of the country) an appropriate target. But my point is that we need to get away from the gut reaction to deal with the substance of the issues this protest raises — and your comments help move the discussion along very nicely! Thanks.

  2. Hugh, this is well said. I encourage folks to watch 49er Eric Reid on “The View” this week. It can be found on You Tube. Reid is the first player to kneel with Kaepernick. He articulated well the reasons for the protest. He also comes from a military family, so their protest a slight on our armed forces. Well done, Keith

  3. si.. even with one or two hours of internet per week, this continues to make the headlines when i’m online…..

    i continue to flashback to my elementary-school daily recital of our pledge of allegiance and the words, ‘one nation under God…’ and that’s where I think our nation has fallen.. God no longer presides – in fact, the sports are often held in higher esteem than God — but my vantage point is a very long way away, and I know there are many who still put God first – but there are many who don’t reflect a religious code of honor.

    • I do think the fact that most NFL games are played on Sunday is a clue!! Our one true religion in this country is sports! That’s why folks will soon get over their concern over the protest about racial injustice. They will want to return to the games. And I fear the central issue will be forgotten (if it was even learned).

  4. Dear Hugh … THANK YOU!!!! Thank you so much for this insightful post! I have been fighting this fight for a long time … since my childhood, really, though my skin is not black … and I am, these days, so depressed to see this nation, under Trump, turning back the hands of time. So many otherwise intelligent and sensitive people just do not understand. This post stands out, and I shall re-blog a bit later today, con su permiso. Many thanks, for you have put it into words far better than I have been able to do, what needed to be said.

  5. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Much ado has been stirred by the silent protest movement that began with Colin Kaepernick and his decision to ‘take a knee’ rather than stand for the national anthem in a pre-season game last year. Since then, other players have followed suit in this non-violent, silent form of protest … protest against the systemic racism that has become a part of our society, a part of our very government. I have been trying to form the words to write more in depth about this, but our friend Hugh has done such an excellent job expressing the same thoughts I wanted to convey, that I am sharing his post, rather than re-invent the wheel. Please read this one … it is so important. Thank you, Hugh, for your excellent writing and permission to share.

  6. Pingback: Why The Fuss? – The Militant Negro™

  7. Really insightful and well-though-out. I haven’t read much about this controversy, but just can’t understand why knealing during the national anthem is all that bad a thing. It seems like a pretty polite way to raise an important issue. Thanks for the post.

      • It’s been going on a long time and was probably instituted during the Second World War — if not before. It is clearly jingoistic and the government now spends millions of dollars to see to it that the ceremony is a large part of the start of every professional sporing event. I can’t see it stopping, but I do question why it is done — except, as you suggest, to instill an unquestioning love of country in all who attend. It seems to be working, but it has nothing whatever to do with the events themselves.

  8. Saluting the flag and singing the national anthem at sporting events is a form of indoctrination – blind obedience to our gov’t, another form of slavery. Do you remember in grade school to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America? Program the kiddies when they’re young, they’ll do anything authorities tell them to do when they grow up.
    To be fair all gov’ts do that to their citizens, a cheap and easy way to reinforce compliance.
    Am i wrong? Donny boy here wants to enforce his belief system on the rest of us – or else!

    • I suspect the adulation of the flag goes back at least to the Second World War. It is clearly jingoistic, but it is not new. The problem these days is that the US Government spends millions of our dollars each year to promote the flag waving and it will not stop any time soon. But it is seriously out of place in the grand scheme of things!

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