In 2016, "America Sucks"* turned out to be a loser politically. Big league. As a completely separate issue, it's a false statement. Compare the USA to the Sudan, or to Indonesia, or to anyplace, and you've got a rather larger line in than line out.
America has problems, huge, huge problems. Relative to most or all other countries, America isn't a place where we should be ashamed of our flag, in my opinion.
The party in power is praying, literally praying, that the party out of power will double and triple down on the concept that America Sucks. They believe that if the party out of power triples down on the idea that America was never great for anybody who wasn't a white guy -- while they talk about economic populism -- that they will govern for the next two generations.
Maybe the party in power is wrong about that. But one thing is for sure: they hope for as many of these America Sucks firefights as they can possibly get. That is why Trump double-underlined the issue this weekend. That is exactly where he wants the debate.
Last winter, MTV ran a little video "2017 Resolutions for White Guys." Did you see it? It had a bunch of college kids nicely saying things like, "Try to understand that America was never Great :: finger air quotes :: for anybody who wasn't a white guy. They pulled their ad after two days, with a YouTube thumbs-up thumbs-down ratio of about 187 to 31,000. Seriously, on YouTube. The ratio was really something like that. Don't underestimate the current against America-bashing.
Not that I'm jingoistic. I am not. This is supposed to be analysis, admittedly from a center-right camera angle.
Of course, it is very possible in theory for a black man to kneel during the Anthem, and to mean absolutely nothing by it except "Please reconsider the way white cops treat black men." Personally I suspect that this is exactly what Michael Bennett is trying to say. I highly doubt that it was what Colin Kaepernick's girlfriend was saying, but I don't doubt Bennett's good intentions.
I even suspect that "awareness" of this issue will be raised, in part due to this squabble. I hope and pray, literally pray, that more police will become more aware that we do NOT accept bullying and particularly we don't accept police bullying as a last cubbyhole of protected racism in the USA. PLEASE let that be the result here.
The Vegas arrest of Michael Bennett was shameful, obviously. Not many things can make my blood boil. But as a gun owner, I'm honestly very scared of the image of a loaded gun being pointed at a person's head for ANY reason. Guns can go off accidentally! Much less for a policeman to do that to a compliant, face-down suspect. In 200 years, George Jetson will be showing images like this as an example of how twisted our society was.
The word "traumatized" gets thrown around a lot. I don't object to it here! For me, Michael Bennett gets something of a pass. For me. His protest came after that incident and apparently in response to it. How many other athletes went through something similar, or had a loved one in that situation? If you support kneeling, for me this is the argument with the most traction.
Still, if I'm Michael Bennett and some wacko cop does that to me, I find some other way to protest. American soldiers have had guns pointed at them too ......
But they say there is a difference between acting for TV, and acting on stage. Small gestures, nuance, comes across on TV. Stage actors must make much larger gestures to be appreciated in the balcony. And it is only the broadest visual strokes that will be remembered in this squabble.
On a subliminal level, I worry that our hindbrains will (eventually) reduce this American Flag squabble to:
- One side likes the USA.
- The other side does not like the USA.
Oversimplification? Sure. Our hindbrains oversimplify.
I don't know whether Colin Kaepernick was making a crass bid to be celebrated for his political leadership, or how principled he was, or what. I do wonder whether NFL players are going to sacrifice real money for their "ideals." A 1970's Steeler came out on the subject and said, "This kind of stuff would have been ended real quick by Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene. You come out of that tunnel, it's about more than you at that point." To the extent an athlete really believes in what he is doing, will sacrifice personally, it's easy to admire him. You have to wonder whether that was where Kaepernick was coming from.
Bill James weighed in. Twitter, a couple weeks ago. The reporters were yelling about what an outrage it is that Kaepernick isn't playing somewhere, and James rolled his eyes with "Oh yeah. Every team needs a self-righteous jackass quarterback. AT LEAST one."
With Tim Tebow, nobody had a real big problem seeing the issue with a sideshow backup QB.
Do NFL players have the right to kneel, or to curse the flag even, or to burn little tiny flags, in uniform on the sidelines? I guess Mojician could address that. From a workplace standpoint, I assume that the Starbucks barista does not have the right to hand me a Black Lives Matter pamphlet with my coffee; Starbucks can control its employees' statements during work hours, for obvious reasons.
I also remember when John Rocker made statements about immigrants when NOT in uniform, and most sports reporters wanted him "fired" or punished for it. Now we get pro sports employees alienating (say, 30%) of paying customers while IN uniform, and most sports reporters want them celebrated for it.
Counter-protest is important in a democracy. No, important isn't the right word; vital is the right word. Any institution, especially the U.S. government, in the absence of criticism will become a vehicle to serve itself. Police brutality, unfairness, and racism must be opposed in diamond-hard terms.
When it becomes confusing to tell (1) a protest against police brutality against (2) a statement that America Sucks, my own opinion is that it's worth clarifying. Maybe the athletes have tried to clarify; if so, they didn't succeed. If they'd succeeded in clarifying that, Donald Trump wouldn't be gleefully jumping in to exploit the situation.
Major League Baseball has been mostly free from this squabble. Tuesday, the Mercury News quoted the best managers in baseball on the subject. A.J. Hinch did a good job of stating his own view in positive, sensitive terms:
“Our players, our staff, we’re socially aware of what’s going on. Obviously, sports brings a lot of things to the forefront of people. I’m proud to be an American. I’m proud to have the rights we have. I know who’s fought for those rights and I know they’re very meaningful to everybody in our clubhouse and around our sport. The other issues are all very personal for everybody, and I wish everybody would respect the right that we can all have the same rights but yet disagree and work towards a common goal and a better world. The No. 1 thing for me is we’ve got a lot to do. I’ve seen that through Hurricane Harvey here, and I’ve seen a city galvanized and come together and all the work we’ve done and all the work citizens of Houston have done to help one another. It’s happened in Puerto Rico, it’s happened in South Florida, Dominican. There’s ways to make the world better, and I think we focus on that, we’ll be better for it.”
If you, respected Denizen, appreciate the actions of Michael Bennett, please do feel very welcome to make your case. Some political issues have only one realistic side; this one, I think, has two.
*I almost never use the word "sucks." To me, it is suggestive and vulgar, and probably not a word you'd be proud of your Dad saying in front of his toddlers. In this case it clarifies the issue powerfully, so we made an exception. Hope we didn't offend, in view of our own request that we keep the prose as genteel as possible. Thanks!