Beyond the core sickness of America’s cultural and societal life, personified by such illnesses that riddle America’s collective body, like: the .1% who perpetually erode the overall health and well-being of the other 99%; the massive structural racism, political and economic inequality, gender injustices, violated constitutional First Amendment rights; there lies a potential healing of the nation’s social consciousness and awakening of the peoples personal responsibilities to one another. Thanks to San Francisco’s ex-49er quarterback, #7, Colin Kaepernick, this illness and its healing have come to be known as the NFL’s Take-A-Knee Protest Movement. But, in truth, it might better be called Take-A-Care Movement.
Every healing always begins with all the toxins and poisons rising to the surface, waiting first to be identified, then lanced and cleansed, like President Trump’s demonization of all NFL athletes who continue to Take-a-Knee, Raise-a-Fist or Lock-Arms to show their defiance and solidarity against all the thuggery that Trump, his administration, the NFL’s billionaire tycoon owners and mass corporate media bosses continue to do to assert their power and foist their control over the NFL’s football players and everyone and everything else in American life. Interfering with any real, ultimate healing process is the fact that the greatest penchant of Trump and all those who would ape him is that their greatest penchant, in which they take extreme delight, is to be able to scream at all their perceived enemies “YOU’RE FIRED!”, when, in truth, they would prefer, if they could, to simply render them all.
Lines are everywhere being drawn in the sand by the likes of those like Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboy’s billionaire owner, who contributed over a million dollars to Donald Trump and has signed contracts in the past with players guilty of everything from violence against women to even attempted murder, whose team once even earned for itself the nickname America’s Team. Jones, who never served in the military, nevertheless has threatened to take action against any of his players who in any way show disrespect to the American Flag during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner anthem, stating, in a thuggish bully manner, “If we disrespect the flag then we won’t play. Period. You Understand?” (“NFL Owners and ESPN Bosses Are Showing Which Side They Are On”, David Zirin, The Nation, 10/10/2017).
Trump, himself, has created his own alt-right BDS Movement, calling upon all football fans to walk out of stadiums whenever and wherever NFL players assume any act of protest during the playing of the National Anthem. Trump knows, full-well, that the goal of every BDS Movement is intended to cause advertisers and financial institutions to divest their monetary investments and contributions to whatever the cause in question.
Jemele Hill, the host of the 6PM ESPN Sports Center also knows this as well. It was Jemele Hill who tweeted back in late September, when Trump withdrew his invitation to Stephen Curry and the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to attend a White House ceremony in their honor, but then withdrew his invite when Curry and the Warriors begged off. Ms. Hill tweeted, “You can’t be uninvited to something you weren’t going to anyway.” It was Hill who again later made a similar suggestion as Trump made to America’s sports fans to remember that, “the key is the advertisers. Don’t place the burden squarely on the players. Change happens when advertisers are impacted. If you feel strongly about J.J’s (Jerry Jones) statement boycott his advertisers.” (Jemele Hall twitter.com/SoundCheckMama, 8 Oct, 2017).
Yet in spite of Trump’s proselytizing against the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment Freedom of Speech protections to America’s sports fans, Trump has yet to be brought up on impeachment charges; whereas Jemele Hill has been subsequently suspended for two weeks for violating the multi-billion dollar global media giant ESPN’s so-called social media policy.
In the weeks that have followed Trump’s Tirade to “Fire or Suspend” all players who protest, two separate National Anthem singers have joined the protest and taken a knee. In Detroit, during the Detroit Lions-Atlanta Falcons game, singer Rico Lavelle ended his performance by taking a knee on the field and raising his fist high in the air as a small segment of fans booed; while, in Tennessee, during the Tennessee Titans-Seattle Seahawks game, singer Meghan LInsey also took a knee after finishing her song as the Titans and Seahawk teams remained in their locker rooms during her performance.
As of Week Five in the NFL’s current football schedule, various NFL players continue to speak truth to power about their protest while Trump continues to up the ante and escalate the tension by threatening to cut NFL tax breaks if players continue to kneel or protest in other ways during the national anthem. When Vice President Mike Pence made his transparent PR stunt at Trump’s suggestion, and walked out of the recent Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49er’s game, 49er Strong Safety Eric Reid commented, “This is what systemic oppression looks like.”
For the second week, Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishad Matthew stayed in the locker room during the anthem along with Miami Dolphins players Michael Thomas, Julius Thomas and Kenny Stills, in spite of the fact that Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, said his players should all stand for the anthem. While The New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon took a knee as well with his team mate, linebacker Keenan Robinson standing nearby with a raised fist while the Los Angeles Chargers team on the opposite side of the field stood for the anthem. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions owner Martha ‘Firestone’ Ford, while decrying President Trump’s harsh “Fire or Suspend” tirade, Ford also sought to buy off players taking a knee in exchange for her donating money to whatever charitable cause the players chose if they did not take a knee during the anthem. The disparity that has been revealed on all sides of the argument conveys the serious fractured fault lines that run throughout the gamut of American culture.
One NFL executive calls the protest, “an impossible distraction for NFL football teams”. Yet, in so doing, the executive tellingly reveals how ignorant, if not self-serving, many American football owners, coaching staff, players and their fan base alike are towards the readily apparent, for all those who have eyes to see, how widespread is the sickness of America’s institutionalized racism and ruthless conservative streak that is as wide as it is deep. The same football executive underscored how widespread this collective blindness is among the people when he commented, “Football energy is definitely going into it (i.e the protest) every week on something that’s completely outside of the job you’re supposed to be doing” (Yahoo Sports, Oct 9th 2017, Charles Robinson, “Why the NFL’s protest feud with President Trump Has become and ‘impossible distraction’ for teams”).
But the race question is part and parcel of the job, as It always has been, that NFL owners, coaches and their staff should have long before been doing to resolve the crisis that this protest now has become. For starts, Philadelphia Eagles Safety Malcolm Jenkins has called NFL team owners and coaches “cowards” for their reluctance to sign the now unemployed and blackballed quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Jenkins says, “Other teams quite honestly are cowards, to say that they’re afraid of fan backlash to sign someone to make their team better, when fans’ input has never been in the equation when it comes to signing people in the past.” (Tim McManus, ESPN staff writer, “Eagles Jenkins calls out teams reluctant to sign Colin Kaepernick”) Jenkins goes on to say in the Daily Planet that, “Athletes have a responsibility to keep Colin Kaepernick’s message alive…It would also move the needle if it weren’t just black players taking the baton from Kaepernick. White players need to get involved, too.” But the reality is that only a small percentage of the NFL’s 1600 players visibly support the protest with the divide between them pretty much along black-white race lines.
Yet the ruthless racism and far-right conservatism of the NFL’s 32 team owners and executives also is now becoming increasingly more apparent as each new day of the football season progresses. Steps are currently being undertaken by the owners to once and for all crush the Take-A-Knee protest. To this end, NFL owners are now considering a rule change to the game that, if approved, will not only violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution but will make it mandatory for all team members to no longer remain in their locker rooms during the performance nor take a knee or raise a fist during the performance of the National Anthem or face being fired or suspended.(“NFL Owners Considering Rule Changes Requiring Players to Stand for National Anthem, Jeremy Woo, Oct 10th, 2017)
Following on the heels of President Trump’s threat to cut the NFL’s massive tax breaks for “Disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country” and calling all dissenting players “Sons of Bitches”, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in a subsequent letter to all 32 NFL owners, also asserts that “We believe that everyone should stand…We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, bring people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute on the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us and our players from many of us across the country….The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversation and making real progress on the underlying issues.” But this is just a lot more ‘Business as Usual’ yaddah, yaddah! To put it more bluntly, a right-wing, racist purge is now on!
NFL players have never had any intention of disrespecting the flag or the military. Philadelphia Eagles Malcolm Jenkins stated back in early September, “Everybody wants to be a part of it (the protest), and I feel like it’s no different on our team…We got guys, especially myself, who feel very strongly about this topic. Last week we talked about doing some stuff, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t do anything to take away from the folks, the families, that suffered from 9-11. We didn’t want to mess with that day. So we left last week alone…But moving forward, I’m sure there will be guys that will probably join in.”
De Maurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), in an effort to stand up for his players, recently tweeted, “The NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and New York Giants co-owner John Mara said, in the presence of other owners, that they would respect the Constitutional rights of our members without retribution…I look forward to the day when everyone on Management can become united and truly embrace and articulate what the Flag stand for: Liberty and Justice For All! Instead of some of them just talking about standing…No player is disrespecting our country or our flag. As thousands have shown in the past, it takes bravery and courage to speak out and confront these issues as our players have, especially when it is unpopular with some. There is room for Management to do the same and maybe then players do not have to risk the taunts and threats alone. This is their opportunity to lead as well and will be a true test of their motto that Football is Family. (NFLPA reiterates, “No Player is Disrespecting Our Country”, Shalize Manza Young, Shutddown Corner, Oct 9th, 2017)
But the ignorance among owners, management and coaches alike of what the real issues are that are involved in the players protest is epitomized by such NFL legends as Mike Ditka, former legendary coach of the Chicago Bears, Pro Football Hall of Famer and sports analyst for ESPN. In a recent interview with Jim Gray’s Westwood One’s Monday Night Football pregame show, Ditka said, ”I don’t believe there has been any oppression in the United States in the last 100 years that I know of….All of a sudden it’s become a big deal now, about oppression.” Ditka further added, “Now maybe I’m not watching it as carefully as other people.”
Ditka’s remarks immediately set off a firestorm of blowback. Otis Wilson, who once played for Ditka, quickly stated, “Well, I guess if he walked in a black man’s shoes he would understand….that all lives matter and the rules are not level for everybody. Let’s say the average Joe on the street doesn’t have a platform. Colin Kaepernick has a platform, so he used his platform. That’s his right. Everybody has rights. So don’t knock somebody for when they use it and how they use it because it was against the laws or against the rules…This is America. You should be free to do what you want to do and leave it at that. Is America a lot easier than being in another country somewhere? Yes it is. But, on the other hand, being a black man, there’s a lot of things you can’t do. Not being black, he (Ditka) doesn’t understand that.”
Joe Namath, Former Hall of Famer and one-time quarterback for the New York Jets, further advised those like Mike Ditka to look up the meaning of oppression and they will understand that it’s obviously taking place.” Yet Ditka continued to dig himself into an even deeper hole when he further argued in his interview with Westwood One, that “Americans should be “color blind”. When asked by Jim Gray, “Would it be your policy that either you stand for the national anthem or you don’t play?” Ditka responded, “Yes! I don’t care who you are, or how much money you make. If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football. If you had to go somewhere else to try to play the sport, you wouldn’t have a job. So that would be my take. If you can’t respect the flag and the country, then you don’t respect what this is all about. So I would say, adios!” (ESPN.com “Mike Ditka. “There has been no oppressions in U.S. in last 100 years, Westwood One’s Monday Night Football pregame show)
When this writer heard Ditka utter those last words, he was flabbergasted like so many others and thrown back to those early days of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War when their own protests raged on at the time. Back then, this writer and other likeminded ones found ourselves accosted by those like Ditka who also declared, “If you don’t respect what the flag and all this is about then adios, mother fucker! LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT BABY!” Wow, the more things change the more they seem to remain the same!
A deep-seated sickness clearly lies at America’s core that once again has been dredged up by all the ignorance, hatred and mean-spiritedness that the Take-A-Knee protest movement continues to draw to the surface of the American body politic, like a cankerous pustule, that is crying out to be lanced and healed. It’s the same economic, political, militaristic, societal sickness that has long treated all humans, the earth and all its non-human beings as if they were nothing more than commodities to be bought and sold, used and abused however the .1% so chooses, and the other 99% are prepared to go along with. Since America’s birth, this sickness never has been properly treated but allowed to fester, especially regarding the kind of ultimate healing that the indigenous peoples of the America’s know we all have been put here to do and what they repeatedly continue to call all our attention to when they conclude every important thought of life with the uttered phrase All My Relations. This phrase meant to call to the listener’s attention that everything in this life – humans, rivers, mountains, trees, animals, insects and so on – is a respected relation and so has the same inviolate rights as us all and so is to be equally cared for and honored.
America’s core sickness still prevents it from grasping this simple fact of life, and further grasping what indigenous peoples really mean when they speak of this life and the Creator who made it all, as The Great Mystery; a mystery so great that we humans can never really fully know it, but can only wonder about in total awe and reverence about what it all means and try to stay humble in the process with everything we do.
In America, as it is in every country that suffers from this same core sickness, the issues differ but the same malady of the human spirit remains. Whether the issue is taking a knee on a football field, speaking out against war, gun violence or multitude of other heinous violence to humans, the earth, and all other living things, it is always the same. Donald Trump and those of his kind are aligned against all those who don’t think like them. But the other 99% don’t represent a solid block of resistance either. There are always multitudes of sheep, goats, lackeys, do-nothings, ignoramuses and the fearful among them who are never prepared to take a stand against anything that might jeopardize their “I’m Okay Jack status.
And so the protests come and go: the Occupy Movement against Wall Street; the BDS Movement against Israel’s Apartheid against the Palestinians; the many worldwide movements against guns, land mines, nuclear weapons and on and on. The ruthlessness of it all is now in plain sight for all to see. But will the majority of American sports fans and citizenry at large see it for what it fundamentally represents in the bigger picture of what all is going on all around the world in every country in so many different ways? Will all those who decide to follow Colin Kaepernick’s lead, like a tiny David against Goliath, ultimately end up being also called by Donald Trump and all his followers as being nothing more than “sons of bitches”?
But wouldn’t it be fantastically dramatic if, in spite of whatever draconian, unconstitutional laws that may be passed by Donald Trump and his administration, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or the NFL’s 32 owners to crush the Take-a-Knee movement, that in the coming weeks of the NFL’s football season and beyond, fans in stadiums all across the country will take to heart the slogan that “Football IS Family”, and begin to take a knee, raise a fist, lock arms or however they will along with their fellow football stars on the field. What a healing of America’s core sickness might begin to follow in so many ways as yet totally unimaginable.
Were this to happen than maybe, just maybe, the NFL’s Take-A-Knee Movement, started by Colin Kaepernick, will begin to jar open the door just enough to allow a whole lot of other wonderful things to come to the surface in need of healing in this sick, mad, crazy world.
Jerome Irwin is a freelance writer and author of “The Wild Gentle Ones; A Turtle Island Odyssey” (www.turtle-island-odyssey.com), a three volume account of his travels as a spiritual sojourner, during the 1960’s, 70’s & 80’s, among Native American & First Nation peoples in North America. It encompasses the Indigenous Spiritual Renaissance & Liberation Movements that emerged throughout North America during the civil rights era. In addition to being a long-time political activist and organizer, Irwin has authored over the years a number of environmental, political, cultural, spiritual articles with special emphasis on Native Americans, First Nations, Australian aboriginals, and native peoples of Israel, Gaza, Palestine and Syria. Irwin also is the publisher of The Wild Gentle Press.