This morning, I noticed a Facebook status that’s gone viral in the wake of our exhaustive national conversation on a San Francisco back-up quarterback’s disposition to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s by a Carrie Sutherland, who seems to be a Kansas undergrad with an elaborate in-progress tattoo and a standard left-leaning feminist, social justice warrior worldview.
Here it is. It has been shared and and liked (or, more accurately, sad-faced) on Facebook many thousands of times (language warning).
I didn’t see anyone burning Ray Rice jerseys when that mother fucker knocked his girlfriend out on camera. I didn’t see anyone burning Tyreek Hill jerseys when that bitch pleaded guilty to punching his pregnant girlfriend. I haven’t seen anyone burning one of the forty-four jerseys worn by NFL players who have been accused of rape. But you guys keep burning the jersey of someone who is protesting the injustices in this country, while not giving a fuck about the disgusting shit your idols do. Just once I wish y’all could care about some shit that actually matters. Buncha bitches. All of you.
It has been memefied and tweeted because it is a perfect encapsulation of a left-leaning, feminist, social justice warrior’s views about anyone who dares disagree and NFL fans (But I repeat myself. Har, see I can paint with a broad brush, too!). It’s written with the brusque and self-righteous certitude that is the style of modern meme activism. Like much modern meme activism on both sides, it’s just wrong.
All it takes is one Google search to determine that, yes, people did burn Ray Rice jerseys. They burned quite a few Rice jerseys— so many there was an organized burn-your-Ray-Rice-jersey online campaign sparked by this YouTube video by Ravens fan Brandon Simmons:
The Ravens and the NFL also offered a nearly unprecedented trade-in for fans who owned Rice jerseys and wanted that of another player instead after his abuse came to light. Roughly 7,000 NFL fans took them up on it:
BALTIMORE (AP) — More than 7,000 fans showed up to exchange their Ray Rice jerseys for those of other Ravens players during a two-day event at Baltimore’s home team officials said Saturday.
The Ravens handed out 5,595 new jerseys before running out before midday Saturday, then issued more than 2,400 vouchers for fans to pick up their jerseys once new shipments arrive in October.
Team spokesman Kevin Byrne said the Ravens spent ‘six figures’ on the trade-in. He declined to disclose an exact figure.
‘We anticipated over the two days getting about 5,000 people, so we got about 2,000 more,’ Byrne said. ‘We just felt it was the right thing to do, and that’s why we did it.’
I suppose one can argue that the Venn diagram circles for people who burned or discarded jerseys for Rice and Kaepernick, respectively, might not precisely overlap. But it’s hard to make the argument they don’t overlap at all. The YouTube videos and interviews with Ravens fans are not solely with feminist Internet activists. They’re with bros and Baltimoreans and football fans of many types.
It’s possible, even likely, that a fair number of them both took issue with Rice hitting a woman and with Kaepernick electing to stay seated during the national anthem (or the more problematic move of wearing pig-cop socks to practice). One could also easily argue Rice’s offense is more deserving of jersey-burning than Kaepernick’s (and there have also been plenty less deserving). It’s also worth noting sales of Kaepernick’s jersey have gone up, and he has vowed to donate his part of proceeds.
But it’s impossible to make the argument people didn’t care enough about Rice’s violence to burn his jersey. They obviously did. This doesn’t erase the sins of any abusive or criminal NFL player or the NFL’s lackluster responses to them. But the universe of people this meme’s sharers imagine are cursing Kaepernick’s name but shaking pom-poms for the glorious upper-body strength of Rice despite its occasional use to render women unconscious is not vast.
They want to believe it is, because it makes them feel better. Self-righteous certitude, confirmation bias, and memefication feel better than realizing you might be a bit uncharitable about the half of the country that doesn’t share your political views.
But let me put in a word for the simple Google search. When all it takes is three seconds to learn that half of society doesn’t live down to your worst expectations, that’s a pretty good feeling, too. If more people on both sides valued that thrill over memeification, it might even breed—dare I say it?—tolerance. Internet activists, you live on the Internet. Use its tools for good.