I am of course not the first to compare devotion to sports teams to an interpersonal loving bond. Many elements are similar, from the senseless affection to the exuberant passion and the irrational devotion to an entity likely to spear the heart. But the athletic Ludus affair carries other components, such as unaccountable emotional reactions. I had one this past weekend.
The debut of the NFL football season is a long-anticipated moment, and not just for fantasy football general managers. Many casual fans have been awaiting the chance to set aside the contemptuous and disconcerting election cycle to focus on some mindless athletic diversions and the cathartic release of innocuous contests. But then a backup millionaire quarterback had to ruin everything when he decided to get the cameras refocused on his dimming nameplate.
As anyone with even a passing—sorry, fleeting—interest in the game knows, San Francisco’s once-promising quarterback Colin Kaepernick has rebranded his career downturn as the face of social protest during the national anthem. During the preseason he said he was doing so as a reaction to the oppression blacks face in this country. As we’ve had drilled into our psyche, everything is a problem these days—including being famous and wealthy, it seems.
It is stark understatement to say it is difficult to swallow messaging on social inequities and the unfair structure of our nation from someone blessed with more wealth and fame than I can dream of enduring (I hear it’s a chore). To grasp my resistance to this particular lecture, take a moment to conduct a search engine query: “Kaepernick + Shoe + collection.” That anyone has the temerity to invoke the word “oppression” while possessing enough shoes to shame a Footlocker distributorship proves he is ignorant of the definition for another word: oblivious.
May I Carry that Water for You, Sir Colin?
Once the media got a whiff of what Kaepernick was selling they unsurprisingly acted in a fashion more predictable than an Oakland Raiders post-season. Sports “journalists” are more sycophantic towards their subject matter than even entertainment scribes. Thus when Colin began spouting his regurgitated social justice bromides, the minor-league journalists gasped, nodded, and dutifully looked solemn as they repeated his quotes.
Uniform was the coverage hailing his rights, how heartfelt his statements, and the support he received. Completely lost on these Walter Peyton-Cronkites has been that Kaepernick is a particularly dense individual for a mouthpiece.
Kaepernick’s press conferences echo the warblings of those neophytes in college who got wide-eyed hearing agitprop for the first time, swallowing the messaging without the slightest critical thought. To wit, just one cerebral nugget from the 49er: “Yes. I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change and when there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent in this country is representing the way that it’s supposed to I’ll stand.” And we were worried he may have vague goals. Just understand that by sitting he is standing.
The rest of Kaepernick’s droning is negative, sweeping hysterics without a trace of nuance or statistical confirmation. He mentions people dying in the streets, alludes to police having zero accountability, and describes a poisonous America that exists mainly in non-profit activism pamphlets. It’s doubtful Kaepernick has balanced claims of governmental oppression of blacks and predatory acts from law enforcement against this being a nation led for eight years by a black president and our last two attorney generals. But then again, I’m just a writer privileged with factual application.
Next, almost as if he set out to prove he is the wrong man for the soapbox, Kaepernick arrived at one post-game press conference in about the most laughably inappropriate togs. The NFL’s newest social justice warrior against institutional oppression stood at the podium wearing a T-shirt with images not of Ghandi, nor Malala Yousafazai, but . . . wait for it . . . Fidel Castro.
Just precious. There is a word for someone invoking criminal charges towards his government while displaying photos of a despot who would jail him indefinitely for saying those exact same words. Hell, there’s many words. Go ahead and choose some of your own—they all surely apply.
Starting Lineup for the Idiocracy
In the wake of Kaepernick’s “bravery,” other players across the league have made a practice of grand-sitting. As opening day approached, these over-compensated “protestors” announced they’d display disrespect on the most solemn of days, September 11. Displaying any contempt for the country on the anniversary of the attacks 15 years ago that galvanized us as a nation is beyond inappropriate. It is the height of ignorance.
The attacks that showed no bias in killing those of all races, creeds, genders, and sexualities managed to bond this country together. Now, a decade and a half later, some use the day as a platform for divisive wedge issues. But I was ill-prepared for what was ahead, even as an avowed cynic.
My day began on the road, as my beloved is a devoted Buffalo Bills fan. We decamped in a sports bar for her game and numerous others, many staging pre-game displays of field-sized flags spread out and numerous players joining military members to hold the banner aloft. Great stuff.
We made it home for the Miami Dolphins kickoff. I had some slight interest in how the Seahawks treated the anthem, as there was talk of organized pro and con symbolic displays, but was rather grateful I missed any unwelcome political stances. I settled in for some good ol’ hometown mediocrity (that’s life as a Dolphin fan).
In the third quarter, my favorite Bills fan came in.
“Did you see the protest during the anthem?”
“Nah,” I said. “What’d Seattle end up doing?”
“Not the Seahawks—the Dolphins were the ones protesting.” Silence from me. I looked into it as the game played. In disbelief I looked at shots of four players—Arian Foster, Kenny Stills, Jelani Jenkins, and Michael Thomas—kneeling on the Miami sideline. I felt immediate visceral disgust. I was staggered that a team I have followed for decades became reduced to this. They chose this day to make selfish, divisive symbolic gestures? I was dismayed.
I was also done. For the first time, I rooted against the team I have followed since the 1970s. My disgust in what I saw was not just impulsive. I want to see Miami go 0-16. Well, maybe not “see.” I have no desire to watch another snap.
This is not a premeditated reaction. This is not some staged act on my part, but purely an emotional reaction. Seeing a team I have backed acting with abject and orchestrated contempt for national solemnity means they no longer represent something I want to support. Even the organization’s equivocating response to the display drew my rancor, largely as the graphic was delivered before kickoff, a sign they knew ahead what would transpire.
To see why I react like this, look beyond the media-favored photo of the team lineup with these four dolts in the foreground. There is another shot, taken from across the field. These players kneeled directly behind a Marine who was wearing his dress blues, “bravely” expressing their right of free expression literally in the shadow of someone tasked with ensuring that right at the risk of his life. I cannot think of a Dolphins highlight from the past five seasons that overshadows this team image, a contemptable embarrassment.
NFL Commissioner Takes Me Further
Then, just as I had written off the entire season of the team I normally backed, the leader of the entire league—Roger Goodell—started me questioning if I will watch any further games, period. In the days leading up to September 11, a number of players announced they would wear cleats commemorating the tragedy of 9/11.
The league issued pronouncements against such displays, yet Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones of the Giants, Avery Williamson of the Titans, and Colts punter Pat McAfee all wore the shoes. After speculation about whether Goodell would penalize these patriotic scofflaws, reports are the league relented, and will not fine the players.
— Giants Nation (@NYG_Nation10) September 9, 2016
Yet Goodell is far less stern about anti-patriotic protests. In an interview with Matt Lauer airing on September 14, the commissioner welcomed these displays: “We play a role in society, an important role in society,” he says. Apparently this includes offending large segments of that very society. Lauer asked Goodell directly if, on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it might be difficult to see a player kneel or sit for the anthem.
“I don’t think so,” answered Goodell. But players expressing reverent support need a talking-to, and should be threatened with reprisals.
While no one suggests these players should have their rights of expression stripped, I do have to question their methods. You may position yourself the ambassador of a message you want me to become aware of to effect “significant change,” in your word-salad mission statement. Yet when you antagonize the entire nation and disrespect the memory of victims of a savage national attack in order to draw attention to yourself and your pet cause, the opposite occurs. You have instead granted me permission to ignore any message you want heard.
The Miami Dolphins have already given me permission to avoid further games. Goodell and the NFL are working on a similar project. I don’t have to expend any more money towards their posturing, nor the league sponsors. Although I don’t drink Bud Light’s tepid product, I am often dispatched to get beer for game-time parties, and have taken pleasure in getting cans emblazoned with the ‘Phins logo for my Bills devotee. No more. The family has also been told to refrain from aqua-colored gift-giving. Load me up with NHL gear instead.
I don’t pretend my stance will impact the league. I’m not staging some economic boycott to bring the league to its knees, or expect that I’m crippling their TV ratings. But I feel incapable of tossing my money at those who are openly hostile toward institutions I support. I’m not rallying a pitchfork crowd behind me. I’m merely walking away, with my wallet intact.
Amusingly, those backing these half-activist protests are bothered by my reaction. I’ve heard some say we need to understand these positions. I’ve been told I need to respect their viewpoint, after they display disrespect to the idea of our nation. That quite honestly produced pure laughter from me.
I especially enjoy when people insist these millionaire mouthpieces have a right to freedom of expression. No argument from me. But please explain: why are you then so bothered when I express my contempt for their actions? When they lecture from a podium, why am I wrong to reject their message?
Sounds to me like only the rich and famous have the right to express their beliefs. Well, now look what has happened—I am the one feeling oppressed and being denied by a system!