Giving Back

Much ink has been spilled and much air has been let out of bloated lungs regarding the decision over a year ago but Colin Kaepernick to kneel during the national anthem before one of his football games. Many have attacked the man himself and he has been virtually ostracized by the NFL because of his stand — despite the fact that he is an able quarterback and could help a number of teams who will have nothing to do with him.

I defended him in a post early on and I still think he has been largely misunderstood by those who can only see his actions as insulting to flag and country. But the bottom line, as an article in this month’s Sports Illustrated makes clear, is that he has had a positive impact on the issues he wanted to raise, namely, human rights, equality and fairness — all worthy concerns, indeed.

Kaepernick’s ostracism has already cost him a small fortune in lost salary and endorsements, but he has given $900,000 of the $1 million he has pledged to various charities around the country that focus on repairing some of the damage done by our long-time lack of interest in the plight of those who are chronically disadvantaged. At a time when professional sports figures are pilloried for their lack of social conscience — much of it deserved — it is heartening to be informed that not only Kaepernick himself but numerous other athletes are doing something more than kneeling at sporting events. They are doing what they can to help eradicate social injustice.

Among those who have given of their time and money are the following:

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long who gave $375,000 so far to fund scholarships in Charlottesville, Virginia and has promised more than $650,000 to his “Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign which will help make education more easily accessible to underserved youths.”

Steeler’s Left Tackle Alejandro Villanueva is donating proceeds from his jersey sales to “military nonprofits — just as he has done in the previous three years.”

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has helped raise more than $35 million for “New York March for Babies ” to fight premature birth. And his work with “Tackle Kids Cancer campaign has led to more than $1 million in fund-raising.”

Seattle Seahawk’s defensive end Michael Bennet has pledged half of his jersey sales profits to inner-city garden projects “and all of his endorsement earnings are tabbed for s.t.e.a.m. programs [science, technology, engineering, arts, and math] and charities focused on empowering minority women.”

And Cliff Avril, another Seattle Seahawk, has promised to build a house on Haiti for each sack this season — of which he has had 11 1/2 so far this season. “He and a group of NFL players built a dozen homes in the offseason, provided clean water to an orphanage and renovated a school.”

In addition, one of the two “sportspersons of the year,” J.J,. Watt of the Houston Texans has raised over $37 million for hurricane relief after a hurricane ravaged the city of Huston earlier this year. This included a $5 million donation from a billionaire and an average of $177 from over 209,000 donations.

At a time when we hear so many negative things said about professional sportsmen, this is good news indeed. We can only hope this is not a “one-off” as the Brits like to say and that it will continue as we all become more aware that there are people in need and many who are disadvantaged in a country that prides itself on its “greatness.”

Advertisements

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.

The Sublime

The great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, thought there were two things that were sublime: the starry sky at night and the moral law within. Increasingly, it seems to me, we are losing sight of both. Our collective attention is drawn away from the starry sky toward the electronic toys in our hands and the TV sets in our living rooms; and our introspection, such as it is, is directed toward getting in touch with our feelings. Kant thought we might capture the sublimity of nature by looking outward; we have decided it is more interesting to look at ourselves.

But, more to the point, the moral law that Kant speaks of is the single point of differentiation between animals and humans. We know a great deal more about animals than Kant did but none of our knowledge suggests that they have a sense of duty, a moral imperative to do the right thing. Oddly, some do it instinctively — like the macaque monkeys who refuse to subject their kind to pain even when promised a tasty reward, whereas humans most often do not refuse if an authority figure prompts them. But no animal other than humans, so far as we now know, can reason about right and wrong and determine which is which (whether or not we do so is another matter entirely). Kant only says that we have this capacity. It is a capacity, it seems to me, that we are increasingly unwilling or unable to exercise.

Morality for Kant consists in making choices, doing our duty, what we are called to do as rational beings. We have the capacity to determine what we want to do and distinguish between that and what we ought to do. The two are often in opposition to one another, most often. And there’s the rub! Most of us tend to focus on what we want to do and seldom ask ourselves what it is we ought to do — or so it seems. We are, as Martin Luther King might have it, losing sight of the moral high ground. This is true of us as individuals and as a nation. This is what Colin Kaepernick’s protest is all about, though few seem to realize it and see only a desecration of the American flag.

According to Kant the determination of what in a particular case is our duty is determined by the “categorical imperative,” which sounds a good deal like the Golden Rule when you come right down to it. It requires that we adopt rules that would apply to anyone anywhere. John Rawls, the Harvard philosopher, referred to “the original position.” What would we do if we were not privileged white folks with silver spoons in our mouths? What would we do in the original position when we have no idea what is to become of us, whether we will turn out black, white, red, as wealthy or as homeless people on the streets? If we adopted the perspective of the original position when faced with choices we would most often do the right thing: the thing we would have others do as well.

As it happens, of course, in this sophisticated age of ours we have reduced the starry sky to a puzzle to be solved and tend to ignore the moral law within just as we seem to have lost sight of the moral high ground — preoccupied as we are with the here and now of immediate gratification. In any event, all of this philosophical palaver is far too complicated for people who increasingly eschew reason altogether and prefer to simply go with the flow, do what feels right. Who’s to say? we ask.

My answer to this question has always been: anyone with a brain and the willingness to use it to ask the pivotal moral question, what should I do? Animals, it appears, cannot ask themselves that question. Growing numbers of humans refuse to do so. But in that refusal and our insistence on grasping the mysteries of the universe in a mathematical formula we lose our grasp on the two things that make our world sublime. And in doing so we reduce the glorious world and the better part of ourselves to dull, flat surfaces.

Beyond The Protest

As we all know, Colin Kaepernick has drawn the ire of thousands of people around the country for having the audacity to kneel during the National Anthem before football games because of what he sees as social injustice in this country. Lately, we are told, he has even received death threats, as have others who have followed his example; this underlines the fact that most people are more upset about the protest itself than they are about the injustices that the protest is designed to call to our attention.

That there are serious issues between the black communities and the police forces of many cities is beyond question. Recently a black man in Charlotte was shot because his car broke down and the police who arrived on the scene thought he had a gun (doesn’t everyone these days??). Countless other examples could be pointed out, including the recent shooting in Tulsa. And this suspicion and fear between the people and those paid to protect them is the root of the problem that Kaepernick’s protest is supposed to highlight.

It does appear, fortunately, that finally there is some movement beyond the protest itself to bring the two parties together for dialogue and an attempt at mutual understanding. Clearly, there are two sides to this issue, as there are to any complex problem. And the only way the problem will be solved, if indeed it can be solved, is if the parties who fear one another come together to present each other with their legitimate (or illegitimate) complaints  — Donald Trump’s mindless stop-and-frisk suggestion to the contrary notwithstanding.

As has been well said, we do not need fences to keep us apart; we need bridges to bring us together. Above all else, we need to bring the fear out into the open and try to understand the grounds for it and determine whether or not there is a way to uproot it and replace it with trust. This will not happen unless the two sides, in this case, come together and talk.

I never thought much of Kaepernick’s gesture in itself. It is disrespectful of our flag and this is insulting to a great many people. But as a symbol I thought it praiseworthy. If, as appears to be the case, it has made real dialogue possible then we could defend the protest not only on the grounds of the First Amendment, but also on the grounds that it has opened lines of communication that appeared to have been blocked by unreasonable fear and distrust. There would, then, be two reasons to applaud Kaepernick’s actions — as well as that of the other athletes who have had the courage to demonstrate with him.

Too often in the past athletes have refused to get involved in social issues when they are in an excellent position to speak out and act with courage. I will not attempt to speculate about the motives that have kept people like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods silent in the past, but it is good to see that others are willing to stand up (or kneel down) in the face of serious social issues that affect us all. And Jordan is finally putting his money where his mouth should have been all this time.

The heart and soul of moral responsibility is that those who are in a position to effect change act and not remain silent. Kaepernick has shown great courage in taking this step. Let us hope this leads to real solutions and that those who would pillory the man turn their attention away from the protest itself and reflect on the actions that have brought that protest about.

Colin’s Sit-Down

I admit it: I have never been a huge Colin Kaepernick fan. I don’t like all the tattoos and I have thought him a bit of a doofus when he has spoken to the media — like so many of his fellow N.F.L. players. Colin is, of course, the wannabe  quarterback of the San Fransisco Forty-Niners football team. Before the last two pre-season football games he has refused to stand during the national anthem as a protest  against what he perceives as injustices in this country, particularly injustices involving minorities. He also includes in his protest, as I understand it, the inaction of those paid to “serve and protect” the minorities and other disadvantaged persons. This topic has been very nicely discussed in a recent post by Jill Dennison that I reblogged. It is well worth reading.

The interesting thing about Colin’s protest is that the protest itself has drawn more attention (and ire) than the injustices it is directed against. It is seen by many as unpatriotic despite the fact that the First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees each of us the right to speak our minds and express ourselves as we see fit. I would argue that he is being a bit of a rebel in the true American spirit. This country is guilty of a great many injustices against minorities, increasingly of late. And we have seen the police reluctant to step in and even to over-react when they do step in. Theirs is a difficult role to play in neighborhoods where the tempers are at the boiling point and violence is just a word away. I don’t envy them in the least.

But the fact that this young man would choose to draw attention to a situation that needs to be addressed should be applauded, not condemned. It takes great courage these days to stand up for what one believes, and for that alone Kaepernick is to be praised. Whether or not his action will have the desired effect is doubtful, and there is always the possibility that it will have a reverse effect — especially in today’s political climate. But as an action in protest of an injustice it is not to be condemned as “unpatriotic.” After all, the flag he chooses to refuse to salute does represent his right to protest. And the actions he is protesting against are not those of a country that prides itself on taking and holding the moral high ground.

As a nation we have much to answer for of late and we have never fully accepted the equality of the races. Lincoln thought we never would. And with a major politician with a mouth far too large raising temperatures and tempers around the country, waiving red flags in front of bigots and racists, the injustices Kaepernick is protesting against become all too visible.

We need to pause and reflect just what it is this country stands for. If for no other reason, Colin Kaepernick is to be lauded for his stand.