Last time I was happy to report on some feel-good meetings and events that were testimonials to there still being some positive news in the world. Now I revert for a moment. Let’s talk football.
This fall has featured many national dramas unseen and unimagined before, including a debate about athletes and the flag/national anthem. By “athletes” we mean mostly African American pro football players. The country is pretty divided on the kneeling, which probably would have disappeared were it not for you know who. Everything has been said about this already. There are many levels to this discussion. I have two reflections that are not so mainstream.
One, I think the athletes have a complete right to protest against problems in our society. Protest is so American. Given the many ways that racism remains a strong poison in our society, these protests are not frivolous. So why does half the country think they are wrong? Some say the players are disrespecting the flag, or the servicemen. Maybe. And maybe it’s just racism (again) – think if it was white players protesting.
My theory on the negative reaction relates to the gladiators of old. From Wikipedia: “A gladiator was an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals. Some gladiators were volunteers who risked their lives and their legal and social standing by appearing in the arena. Most were despised as slaves, schooled under harsh conditions, socially marginalized, and segregated even in death. Irrespective of their origin, gladiators offered spectators an example of Rome’s martial ethics and, in fighting or dying well, they could inspire admiration and popular acclaim. They were celebrated in high and low art, and their value as entertainers was commemorated in precious and commonplace objects throughout the Roman world.”
Don’t a lot of those words fit? I think many of us view football players, especially the professionals, very much as our gladiators. Like the gladiators of old, were it not for their size and athletic gifts, they would likely have no social standing and live pretty segregated lives. Heck, they couldn’t even get a taxi. Though we admire their exploits on the field, and cherish their autographs, nobody seems to care that they are not going to live very long or healthy lives. We pay them very well, that’s enough. In return, we expect them to entertain us, not to point out what is wrong in our society or make waves of any kind. They should be entertainers not prophets, and they should stick to their jobs. That, I believe, helps explain the hostile reaction to these protests. I don’t hold that view, just think it’s a factor.
The other reflection is on the seriousness of the players’ protest. Kneeling for a few minutes is not that difficult, and then they play the game like nothing happened. If the athletes really wanted to make our society pay attention to the legitimate grievances and concerns that they are trying to highlight, they should put their money where their knees are. Let them choose a weekend and in mass not show up for the games. I guarantee that that would get people’s attention, and a positive conversation might result. If not, do it another weekend. As it is, what they are doing annoys some people and isn’t making a bit of difference for those whose plight makes the protests necessary.
Just some thoughts not a sermon. Wishing you a good week. Bill Rudolph