Another Letter From The Left Coast
By Jerry Gervase
I know your lovely little publication is a first rate regional magazine. But sometimes national issues, like ideas, have no patience with boundaries and ignore state, county, and city lines. Football players taking a knee and/or sitting during the National Anthem is one of those issues.
A few weeks ago I was too wrapped up in the Presidents Cup golf tournament from Jersey City to pay much attention to the National Football League. Plus, I wasn’t excited about tuning into the ‘49ers to see what new and creative way they could find to lose a football game. After all, I suffered through decades of disaster in Detroit when we would say we didn’t have a professional football team – we had the Lions. Now it seems that same melancholia has befallen San Francisco fans.
It wasn’t until the late afternoon NFL game started that I switched over to football. I wanted to see how the players acted when the National Anthem was played. Most stood with locked arms, a sign of unity and support – support for what I wasn’t sure, but hey, the optics were good. Several players sat through the anthem. Then after listening to the anthem I seriously thought that the players were protesting the wrong thing. If anything, they should have been furious the way the singer butchered the Star Spangled Banner. I didn’t catch his name so I don’t know if he was famous, a local celebrity or someone the TV show’s producer said, “Hey buddy, I’ll give you fifty bucks to sing the National Anthem on television worse than Roseanne Barr sang it almost thirty years ago.”
Anyway, back to the football players sitting for the anthem. The players are young. They are too young to realize that many people their age do not watch football on television. As younger fans shift to digital platforms all sports see a rise in the age of TV viewers. (Sixty-eight percent of NFL fans are in the 35-50+ age bracket. Sports Business Journal, June 5-11, 2017 “Going Gray: Sports TV Viewers Skewing Older”) The same report said that the median age of TV viewers of nearly every sport has increased at a higher rate than that of the population.
It seems that the football players want to draw people to their cause. Two things are immediately apparent. 1. You can’t draw people to your cause by disrespecting their core beliefs. 2. The people watching NFL football tend to have core beliefs that honor the American flag and anthem. As the Captain said in ‘Cool Hand Luke,’ “What we have here is failure to communicate.”
Try as I may, I can never understand what it is like to be a Black person in 21st century America. I have never suffered ill treatment or disrespect because of the color of my skin. Once I was hassled by the police when innocently caught in a DUI check point. Yet, I still believe they are the good guys, there to help when needed. I also can’t understand what it feels like to have a physical talent so great that it will earn more money in a year than most people will earn in a lifetime.
Also, I don’t believe that a young person of any color can begin to understand what it was like to grow up in an era when this country faced losing a war that would have cost us our freedom for … well who knows for how long. What helped us keep our belief that we would persevere was a raggedy red, white and blue flag, often shot full of holes, and an anthem, though hard to sing, assured us that while the battle raged the flag was still there.
So how do we close a gap in belief systems so wide that a football player can run through them untouched? I don’t know. Pick your battles has always been good advice when there are an abundance of topics that separate us and we should be selective in which ones are worth fighting over. Perhaps, pick your battle sites would be good advice, too. It could be that the gridiron is not the place where we should be fighting this battle and the flag and anthem are not the weapons either side should be using.
It is interesting that in the last couple of years two National Football League players, Colin Kaepernick and Tim Tebow, became famous for “taking a knee,” though they did so for different reasons. Both were vilified by those who disagreed with their actions. Both are athletically gifted but no NFL team will hire either one of them.
Then Las Vegas happened.
Maybe it is time we all took a knee or two. One to protest the violence in this country. One to pray that the evil that causes it is finally defeated.