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Take a Knee or Maybe Two

Published in ChicagoNow, September 25, 2017

I’m not a huge fan of the NFL for a number of reasons. Football is a brutal sport and, not unlike boxing, is causing brain damage in its athletes. Also, the last time I faithfully watched the Bears was in 1985 when they won the Super Bowl, but that’s another issue. Our president appears to enjoy and endorse the violent aspects of the sport and attributes the “massively down” ratings for football to players supposedly disrespecting the national anthem by taking a knee. Wrong.

Football is less popular these days because it has become increasingly brutal. I know some fans, Trump among them, enjoy sitting on their behinds watching men inflict injuries with powerful, bone-crushing hits. Trump, hardly a physically fit specimen, has declared, “Football has become soft like our country has become soft.” He bemoans the rules that penalize players who make violent, head-on tackles.

The truth is that NFL athletes are handsomely rewarded for taking huge risks to their health and futures to entertain folks like Trump. According to Bob Cook in Forbes Magazine, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is real. Playing tackle football, particularly starting at a young age, results in a significant risk of brain damage. For the players, football is a risk/reward consideration. Those good enough to play in the pros may make obscene amounts of money. They may also have relatively short careers due to the possibility of career-ending injuries. As with all sports, not all high school stars will play in college, and not all college stars will make it to the NFL, so there is also the risk of CTE without a monetary reward.

In a sense, football players are our gladiators. While some gladiators were slaves, many were Roman citizens who fought to gain fame and fortune. There were gladiator schools (college?) to train these fighters who signed contracts to fight. Most gladiators fought under rules and regulations with referees who would often stop the contest as soon as one of the combatants was seriously injured. Gladiators even formed unions and some had their portraits displayed and were made into clay action figures for children. The famous ones even endorsed products. Sound familiar?

If our contemporary gladiators who undertake great risk to entertain men like Trump want to #TakeTheKnee during the playing of the national anthem to protest the injustice that happens every day to less-famous people of color in this country, what is the great harm? Why has Colin Kaepernick, who played for the San Francisco 49ers and led the team to the Super Bowl in 2013, not been signed by any team this year? Granted, he has not lived up to the performances from the first few years of his career, but is it also possible that his 2016 decision to protest the treatment of blacks in America by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem had something to do with it? In my limited knowledge of football, it seems like there are several teams, including the Bears, who could have used a backup quarterback of his talent.

Colin Kaepernick

According to our president, Kaepernick is “a son-of-a-bitch” who is disrespecting the flag. Athletes who refuse to stand with their hands over their hearts while the anthem is played deserve the infamous Trumpism, “you’re fired.” I guess our gladiators, many of whom are people of color risking CTE and other injuries to entertain us, must also behave in a way that makes privileged white men comfortable.

About the fuss over the #NationalAnthem. Back in 1968, as the anti-Vietnam and civil rights protests raged in the United States, track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a black power salute during the playing of the national anthem for their Olympic medal ceremony in Mexico City. Those were the years when many of us didn’t stand hand over heart for the anthem. But times changed and, even though I prefer America the Beautiful to The Star-Spangled Banner, I once again stood. Especially after 9/11, I wanted to show loyalty and unity and appreciation for my country. Now, thanks to Trump’s offensive tweets and policies, I’m once again not so sure about standing.

Even Trump friends and supporters like Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, have defended his players expressing themselves and peacefully exercising their First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Kraft stated he was “deeply disappointed with the tone of the comments made by the president” and went on to say, “Our players are intelligent, thoughtful, and care deeply about their community, and I support their right to peacefully effect social change and raise awareness in a manner they feel is most impactful.”

Tom Brady, New England’s famous quarterback and Trump supporter, said he disagreed with Trump’s demand that owners fire protesting players. “I thought it was just divisive… I just want to support my teammates… I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me and it’s how I try to live every day.”

Unity. Respect. Love. Trust. These are values we should all strive to promote rather than stirring the pot of latent and overt racism as our president enjoys doing. I guess his base, whatever that means, demands and thrives on division. Maybe Trump and his followers should watch The Handmaid’s Tale, the Hulu adaptation of the novel by Margaret Atwood. Without giving it away, there comes a point when people have to stand up against evil and oppression to say “enough.”

I was very moved by seeing my childhood singing idol, Stevie Wonder, take a knee before he performed at the Global Citizen Festival on Saturday, Sept. 23. He struggled to get down to one knee with the support of his son. Then he sunk to both knees, saying,

“I’m taking both knees. Both knees in prayer for our planet, our future, our leaders of the world and our globe. Amen.”

Amen indeed. I’m there with you Stevie. The great divider has struck again. #Resist


by Laurie Levy
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