sports

Why I “Stand” With Kaepernick

200It was about a year ago when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem and all hell broke loose. Here we are a year later, Kaepernick doesn’t have a job, and this is still a hot issue. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last year. I’ve been trying to assess what it’s all about and why it matters so much, and I’ve been trying to see both sides in the process.

I get why people are deeply offended by him taking a knee. There is something to be said for taking that moment at a sports gathering to remember things that matter more, not the least of which is showing some respect to the country in which we live and which really is a great place to live. I understand that the raising of the flag and the singing of the anthem means even more to those who’ve served in our military and particularly for those who’ve fought and are fighting in our wars. And I get that it’s hard for people for whom that means so much to watch others take a knee during it, effectively sitting out.

But with all that in mind, and having really listened to those points, I’m at a point where I’m with Kap. Everything we’re talking about when it comes to the National Anthem is symbolic. It is something that represents something else that’s real. The blood, sweat, tears and lives given in fighting in our military are real- very real- but the flag is a symbol. The song is a symbol. And I love symbols. As a pastor symbols play a massive role in much of what I do. And what I’ve said about religious symbols also applies to any symbol, and that is that while they are beautiful, they are also dangerous. When our relationship with the symbol becomes more important than human sitting (in Kap’s case literally kneeling) next to me, the symbol has begun to play too significant of a role in our life.

I believe the flag and the anthem have begun to play too significant of a role in our collective lives here in America. And what Kap did was expose it. Kap didn’t take a knee to disrespect soldiers. He took a knee because something in him said, “I just can’t stand up and give myself to a flag that has enslaved and murdered black bodies since its inception”. You see, what people of color have experienced in this country over the last few centuries is real. And though there have been many noble, good and great people who have fought for our freedom, what we white people need to start hearing and getting is that this freedom is one that people of color have (generally speaking) simply not experienced as we have.

The history on this is long, convoluted, and buried, but it’s there. Yet we’ve heard the voices of black America crying out for centuries, and in the last four years that voice has begun to cry out again in a particular way. Every time it cries, white American largely dismisses it. We pat black America on the back and say, “oh it’s ok, honey, it’s not as bad as you think”. No, friends, it’s not as good as we think. As we dismiss the cries for black lives, we not only dismiss the content, but we also critique the form, which effectively silences the cries. No matter how it is that black America cries out for justice, we tell them that they’re means are wrong, so therefore we don’t have to listen.

When I think about Kaepernick’s protest, I think it may just be perfect: First of all, why would we expect him to stand and honor a flag that, though it has given him some huge blessings in the success he’s had in the NFL, has systematically marginalized his race? Furthermore why would we expect him to stand and honor a flag and sing a song to that flag whose 3rd verse reads “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/ From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave/ And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”? The land of the free has slaves?

So Kap decided, “I can’t do it”. He was being honest to what is going on inside of him. To stand and sing would be a charade. I’ll be honest: There have been times in my not so distant pass where my soul has been troubled with enough doubt and sorrow that I could not stand and sing “Amazing Grace”. It would be dishonest. But as a pastor sometimes I need to do that, just as a soldier stands and sings no matter how she/he/they may feel. As far as I know, Colin Kaepernick is not a soldier. So he took a knee.

On top of all that, he did it discreetly. Certainly he knew the cameras would find him (you can only be so discreet on an NFL sideline), but he quietly took a knee on the sideline, and did not make a show of it himself. The media made it a show. And, yes, he probably knew that would happen and is part of the reason he did it, but still, he quietly knelt and chose not to sing. Not only that, he didn’t tell anyone else they shouldn’t sing. he prevented no one other than himself from honoring America, and he simply made a personal choice consistent with his thoughts, feelings, and experience.

In these ways, it’s a nearly perfect form of nonviolent protest: personal, authentic, legal, powerful, and clear.

And he’s gotten black-balled for it. Colin Kaepernick can’t find a job, primarily because he’s not that great of a football player, but also certainly because of his protest. Teams don’t want the distraction. That is a natural consequence of his actions in 2017 America. If he were at a Tom Brady level, he’d have a job. It would be worth the distraction. But what’s also true is if he hadn’t been true to himself and simply stood and sang, he’d also have a job. He’s good enough in a quarterback hungry league to have a job somewhere. (I, for one, would love to see him in purple and gold backing up Sam Bradford. After all, with our offensive line, we need a QB who can run.) But Kap doesn’t have a job. And he doesn’t because he called out America’s racism in a clear and powerful way.

It’s quite amazing. You can rape women, beat your kid, bet on dog fights, and incur numerous DUIs in the NFL and still have a job making millions. But you take a knee during the anthem, and you’re out. The symbol has become valued above and beyond the way we’re treating humans (and dogs). Our relationship to the symbol is out of whack, and Colin Kaepernick called it out.

He called out the god under whom America is one nation: and that god is the stars and stripes. The god we worship is the flag and the way we worship it is by singing The Star Spangled Banner. And Colin Kaepernick gets the credit for exposing our idolatry. It is exposed as idolatry not because we stand and sing, but because of how we respond to those who choose not to.

We have a nasty disgusting sin of enslavement and genocide in our nation’s system, and we need to get honest about it. Don’t deflect it. Don’t deny it. Start really letting in the cries of the oppressed in our midst. It’s there. I get why so many boo him, and if that’s you, you absolutely have the right to do that. I’m just asking you to really examine why you boo. And I’m sorry but I can’t stomach the “men and women gave their lives to protect our freedom” rhetoric. Imbedded in that statement is the notion that every military action this nation has taken has been one to defend our freedom. We’re fools if we think that’s true.

More often than not these days, what so many women and men have died defending is western imperialism. And that is not a critique of those who have fought and died in those actions, it is a critique of the women and men who sent them there to do it. It is a critique of those at the top who exploit soldiers’ loyalty and send them off to protect national interests in the veneer of “freedom”. This is not always the case, but it is enough that we cannot give military operations a free pass. Those soldiers need to be respected and remembered and taken care of, but not necessarily the causes for which they were forced and sent to fight.

All of that is to say, I stand (or rather kneel) with Colin Kaepernick. I hear the cries, I see the pain, and I don’t want to be party to it anymore. I have a ton yet to learn, and a lot of courage to muster to fight for equality in more than symbolic ways, but for now, when I enter that NFL stadium on Thursday, though Kap won’t be there, he should be, and so I will kneel for him. I’ll sit this one out for you, Kap. And if you ever don my beloved purple and gold, I’ll sit one out with you.

#WeHadEnough of Sportsballs Perpetuating Sexual Assault.

A Quick note: So here’s my rant on the situation with the Gopher football team. It’s not brief, it’s not as coherent as I would like, and if you’re thinking, “nah, I don’t want to read all that”, I get it. But then all I ask- if you are a man- is that you at least watch the embedded video at the bottom. At minimum, take that 18 minutes. 

Once again, sports, celebrity, and money keep us from having the conversation we need to
have. I love sports, and when it comes to sports I put my local teams above all others, and as a born and bred Minneapolis kid and University of Minnesota alumnus, I have always loved and cheered for the Men’s Basketball team and Football from my alma mater. In my lifetime both of them have been mostly bad with glimpses of mediocrity and riddled with scandal, but I have decided that they will remain my teams and I will keep waiting and hoping for the day when one of these programs turns the corner. It’s been a bit like Narnia: Always winter but never Christmas.

 

I say all that to say that I am not simply some sports hater, looking for a reason to tear down athletes. I am an avid sports fan, and I love my Gophers. But here we are again, letting our addiction to sports (and in particular men’s sports) overshadow a crucial conversation that keeps getting buried because we are unwilling to adequately go after the destructive, misogynist, and abhorrent culture of sexual assault in sports. And the display the Gopher football team put on yesterday is exhibit A (or perhaps in Minnesota history exhibit Q or Z) in this abject failure. College football players having their way with an intoxicated women for 90 minutes disappears in these poor “kids” “right” to “due process” to play in a bowl game.

Here’s how this works: A woman drinks way too much alcohol. She then finds herself in an apartment with football players engaging in sexual activity. Unsure of what exactly happened after it’s over, she calls the police. Over time the authorities decide they don’t have enough evidence to charge anybody with any kind of sexual crime.

Later the University does its own investigation and decides there is enough to suspend 10

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how frightening must this image be for the actual victim.

 

players. Because there were no legal charges filed previously, these 10 players are now made the victims because they are denied playing in a bowl game. The team calls a players-only meeting in which they pull off a strategic stunt of boycotting all football activities until their teammates are reinstated. Not only that, the team has the audacity to start a Twitter campaign to support using the hashtag #WeHadEnough. Wow.

The players thought it was over. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, and they think it’s over. They’re outraged when it resurfaces for them, while it is likely replayed every day of this woman’s life in her mind, and they don’t give a crap about that. Wham. Bam. Thank you. Ma’am.

With this stunt, we are no longer talking about the destructive culture of sexual assault in
sports. We are talking about whether these 10 players were treated fairly. I went out on Twitter to throw my two cents into this conversation to get the conversation back on this disgusting, decades old culture in sports. What happened?

In no way do I have any meaningful presence on Twitter with my paltry 275 followers, but I did receive 19 retweets and 80+ likes, as well as a series of responses of those challenging me on just one of a handful of tweets. The gender divide was staggering. The 80+ likes and 19 retweets were almost entirely female, and the challengers on that and other tweets were all sports-loving males who continually brought the conversation back to the fact that no charges were filed and this woman back tracked a little: “No rape or sexual assault! Only regret”, was the overarching sentiment.

Well, guys, women seem to feel differently. Maybe it’s time we let women be the primary voice into what sexual assault actually is. How about we let them decide. It’s a scary proposition isn’t it? Because it means that a woman who “regrets” may be able to get us into trouble for something we feel we didn’t do. Exactly. Because as men, we have no idea what’s actually happening (with the exception of those men who have also been sexually assaulted by men). And what it might just do is get us to think twice about whether she really “wants it” or not. It might slow us down in our sexual escapades. It might actually force us to stop taking advantage of women’s “yeses”, because if we let women decide when assault has taken place, if we actually empower rather than silence the victim, maybe we’ll start actually getting into trouble for this abhorrent behavior and systematically perpetuated culture.

In this case, the victim has been blamed again. A group of large, strong men take advantage of an intoxicated young woman and the men are now victims and the woman has all but disappeared from the conversation. If she is mentioned, it is merely as a young woman who made an unwise choice. Meanwhile the Gopher Football coach, Tracy Claeys has “never been more proud of his kids.”

The culture of sexual abuse of women in sports is systemically perpetuated, once again.

What it comes down to is this. We know, without a doubt, male athletes take advantage of women. From Mickey Mantle to Magic Johnson to Kirby Puckett to Johnny Manziel, athletes have used their physical prowess, alcohol, and status to take advantage of women for decades, and nobody is willing to do anything meaningful about it. When these actions get exposed, we twist the conversation to merely a legal one wherein we make the perpetrators the victims: “That poor athlete whose name has been smeared because of some money grabbing, attention seeking, slutty woman.” That’s essentially what we’re saying.

We have to remember that what the law does is reduce things down to the lowest common denominator. The law is designed to tell you what the very lowest degree of acceptable behavior is. When we reduce these matters down to merely what the law decides, what is truly right and wrong goes out the window. Tracy Claeys has never been more proud of his kids than when they rise up and defend their teammates who gang banged an intoxicated women because they merely didn’t break the law. Character, a base sense of right and wrong, respect, self control, being a real man of integrity- none of this matters, none of this is something to proud of because… well… football.

It is time for this issue to be the number one issue in sports, all the way from Junior High to the pros. We need a radical shift in how we talk about this. We need to recognize that we men have a problem, a serious problem, and it’s on us to fix. It needs to be dealt with beyond sports-world, but for now I’m focusing there. We need to listen, learn, and change the conversation. We need to put our pathetic egos and machismo aside, we need shut up, and we need to let women lead us here. We need to come to a moment of crisis about what we have been doing, perpetuating, and sustaining for too long. Let’s get the conversation off of these whiny, entitled football players who think they have been so “wronged”, and look at the ways in which they are not wronged but wrong.

It’s time for men to start holding men accountable. I dream of a day when this info gets out and teammates don’t pull whiny stunts to protect their teammates, but they come to the coach and say, “you need to suspend the guys for what they did”. We have a problem, men. And it’s up to us to fix it. It’s our problem. And shame on us for letting the base level of the law and our addiction to sportsballs be the bar by which we judge ourselves on these matters. Shame on us.