On #TakeTheKnee

by Michael Brendan Dougherty

Rich Lowry is probably correct about the political dynamics at work when president Trump said NFL owners should fire players who don’t stand for the national anthem. In his crude way, Trump found a way to activate a majoritarian kick reflex. But, what might be good for Trump in the short term is horrible for the NFL and probably bad for society. 

Although I’ve drifted away from watching football for the past few years for no particular reason, I hope the league has some very creative minds working on what is bound to be an immense problem.  Cultural partisanship is now probably stronger than any other form of affiliation in this country other than family. And its further intrusion into every pre-game ceremony is bound to alienate some portion of fans. 

The president’s comments on Friday have opened up the protests to new meanings. Players can kneel during the national anthem in a way that looks like a protest of the president,  or in solidarity with their fellow athletes. Consequently, more are joining them. But the protests may still be perceived as against the flag or anthem, whether by fans, the local big-wig season ticket buyers, or advertisers.  Probably millions of football watchers will construe these protests as against them in some way, for voting for Trump, or disapproving of Colin Kaepernik’s original protest. This dynamic is a disaster for the NFL. 

The passion of partisanship is now so great, that we seem determined to misunderstand each other. Dislike protests that take the flag or the national anthem as their object? Well, you must really only object to powerful statements of anti-racism. Cheering on the protesting players? You must think your current partisanship transcends the importance of our country and all those who sacrificed for it. It seems as if everyone is falling into the trap set by their opponents. 

There’s also an strange feeling about it all, don’t you think? I don’t mean to say that symbols, gestures, ceremony and protest are unimportant. But this is the sort of outrage news cycle that seems likely to appear in the history books as a way of demonstrating how distracted or innocent we were while some great national challenge or calamity was well on its way to crashing on us. 

Have a great Sunday evening!

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