As someone who loves the game of football, I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the events of this past weekend – the national anthem protests which spread across the league. I’ve struggled to decide what, if anything, to say about the controversy that’s erupted.
In truth, I was tempted to say nothing. After all, I’m a middle class white male. And, frankly, I believe that there have been more than enough middle class white males offering their thoughts on the ongoing demonstrations. But, I also realize that to confront these events with silence – to present the next week’s slate of games with no reflection – would be a statement in itself. It would suggest that X’s and O’s are more important than the issues weighing on our country’s conscience.
While the coverage of the weekend’s events has focused on the relationship between the national anthem and sports, these protests are not about them. And, they certainly aren’t about politicians on either side of the aisle. Players across the league joined in solidarity to confront the same evil that first compelled Colin Kaepernick to take a knee: the enduring crisis of institutional racism. They came together to affirm their right to confront that evil on national television.
Given who I am, I won’t pretend to speak for those who have suffered and continue to suffer injustice. Instead, all I will ask is this – football fans, let’s be allies. Let’s recognize the crucial message behind these protests and elevate the discussion above the petty back-and-forth we’ve seen in recent days. Football, for all of its tribalism, is at its best when it binds us together through a shared love of the game. Let’s harness that love, that camaraderie, to push past the other divisions in our lives and lift up the voices who need to be heard now, more than ever. For, as Vince Lombardi said, “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”