There are more important things in life than football. More important things than silly, immature personal feuds between pampered, rich star athletes.
Football, and sports in general, are viewed as an escape or a distraction from those more important personal and societal things. When someone like Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers blurs those lines by bringing protest of societal ills to your television screens during sporting events, especially during the national anthem, sports fans can react with outrage. That, as we know, has been the case with Kaepernick.
Why am I going down this road? Because, in the wake of the shooting deaths by police of two more African-American men this week, the subject of how to respond became an issue in the New York Giants’ locker room this week.
Coach Ben McAdoo and running back Rashad Jennings both spoke eloquently about this topic on Wednesday.
“There are a lot of things going on in society,” McAdoo said. “As a coach, we have a bunker mentality. A lot of times we don’t know or see what’s happening. The players, they’re out there a little bit more than we are. There are a lot of serious and heavy issues. They’re at conflict, a lot of them. I had a conversation with a few guys I’m not going to name. They’re conflicted and they want to make a difference.
“The league is a platform to make a difference. I encourage them to. I would like to be involved in that. Anything I can do to help. Still, I feel that you can make a difference outside of the anthem. We can do something together to make a difference. It doesn’t have to involve the national anthem. I still believe that you pay tribute to the people that sacrifice their lives so that we can coach and play in this great game. That’s what I believe.”
Jennings, a well-spoken veteran running back, talked at length about finding the right way to make your voice heard.
“I think everybody should share some type of sympathy which leads to empathy over time for the same re-occurrences,” he said. “Every individual incident is different. There is not one in a lump sum, same, boxed up situation and obviously, there are probably facts about this one that are going to come out that we all don’t know yet. But there is enough that has happened to where you can’t have a blind eye. And it takes people in privileged positions - people in privileged positions - for people unprivileged or oppressed to even be heard, no matter what the situation is; color, race, ethnicity, religion, whatever it is. So that is what you are seeing. People are doing it in their way.
“What I really feel is important is that people don’t get so focused and fixated on making gestures during the national anthem to a point to where you men and women are writing these stories and missing the whole reason behind it,” Jennings said. “It is becoming more of thinking it is a lack of respect for the military, which everybody has the utmost respect for, and quite frankly, that is why I stand. But the reason that people are making the gestures is because Kap (San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the first player to protest when he sat down during the playing of the anthem prior to a preseason game) was the first to sit down and take a knee for oppression and injustice and that is it. So people need to stop making stories that are not quoting people taking a knee for oppression and injustice.”
Jennings also made sure to voice his appreciation for McAdoo’s willingness to discuss issues outside of football with his players.
“That is a conversation that you want to have,” Jennings said. “It is good to have a head coach who is willing and understands and sees a bigger picture. We are all privileged to do what we do and coach said before, at the beginning of the year, that -- I don’t want to misquote him, but he said he doesn’t know what it is like to be a woman, he doesn’t know what it is like to be a black man, but he cares about every single one of his players and people he works with.”
What I want to do here is not to debate the ills of society or what happened in Tulsa, Charlotte or other places in this country. I want to applaud McAdoo for fostering an environment where players feel free to discuss these issues. I also want to applaud Jennings and other players for searching to find a way to make their voices heard without having their method distract from their message.
I don’t approve of the method Kaepernick and other players kneeling during the national anthem have chosen to voice their dissent. I have, though, come to understand and appreciate that ultimately what they are trying to do is make a difference in the world. That’s a good thing and, quite honestly, something we should all be trying to do.
(NOTE: Let’s keep it civil in the comments. I don’t want this to turn into a discussion of policing or racism in America. If it does, comments will be closed. And, of course, inappropriate ones deleted.)