Flag Waving and Hand Wringing

CW: police brutality, violence, racism.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the athlete protests (mostly in the NFL, but in other sports as well) because 1. the internet won’t shut up about it and 2. I can’t believe this is actually controversial. It seems ludicrous to me that the majority of Americans aren’t applauding these athletes taking a knee, considering all of the voices that came out against the white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville.

To be honest, I find it fundamentally difficult to understand what people are so riled up about. I just don’t identify with those who find such deep meaning in the flag and the anthem, especially in the context of a football game. That doesn’t mean that American citizens shouldn’t find meaning it, but I just personally don’t. There are things that I appreciate about my country and some of the values it eschews and opportunities it offers, but much of our history and our current culture is too troubling for me to feel the need to show deep reverence for American symbols at all times and in all situations.¬† And you know, I’m not sure when we decided that we all need to base our behavior on what will or will not offend the veterans. They are the ultimate heroes only in a patriarchal culture that favors traditionally masculine acts of heroism. I also think that teachers, scientists, and social workers are also heroes- can we ask them what they think about police brutality?

If I accept the idea that these fans do care about racism and police brutality in America, and that they are just offended at the time and place the players are choosing to protest, I suppose I can understand why they’re calling on these players to be fired. When we support a team, they become part of our identity. We cheer for them, we mourn for their losses, and we develop an emotional connection that makes it difficult to accept when the team’s values don’t reflect our own. For example, I’ve adopted the Mets as my beloved home team, and I would be calling for a player to be fired if he used racist language or was accused of sexual violence.

That said, the thing about protests is THEY’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE CONVENIENT. Protests are meant to disrupt everyday life to call attention to the issue at hand. In this case, it’s much more important, for example, to talk about the fact that black and brown people are LITERALLY DYING IN THE STREETS. These people are dying at the hands of those who are supposed to serve and protect. Dying for things like taillights that are out, or selling bootleg CDs. Did you know that since 2005, an estimated 12,000 people have been killed by on-duty police in the U.S.? Only 79 of those officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter (note: some of the police killings were justified in terms of the options available to the officers at the time). One third of those 79 charges have resulted in convictions, most due to the officer’s own admission of guilt. Only 14 of those officers have been found guilty by a jury. That’s 14 in the last 12 years. Think of how many police brutality incidents resulting in death we’ve seen in the news just in the three years since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson in August of 2014.

These athletes who have the privilege of some amount of wealth and celebrity are doing what all of us who have any sort of privilege should be doing- speaking up. They join a long history of American athletes using their platform to protest social injustice. Why can’t they do it at another time and place? Because that hasn’t fucking worked. An overtly racist man has been elected president, officers who shoot black men and women are still being acquitted or avoiding charges altogether, and neo-Nazis are marching with torches blazing, using their cars as fatal weapons.¬†People are dying in the streets, and these players are silently, respectfully, protesting.

Protests also aren’t necessary supposed to be liked. If everyone agreed with the idea being presented, there would be no need to protest in the first place. I really hope that these athletes don’t lose their jobs. I especially really hope that the nameless cheerleaders and the athletes from less widely viewed sports don’t lose their jobs. But we’re going to keep protesting until this broken system changes. No justice, no peace.

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