My dear reader,
Tonight I am thanking God that I’m not a 6-foot-5, 290-pound male (black or white or any other skin color) who draws a paycheck from the National Football League. Because every single one of them is at great risk of getting brutally and unnecessarily “roughed” and suffering a career-ending injury.
And that’s before the game even starts.
To stand or kneel. That is the question. And, as several players have already publicly stated, it’s an angst-riddled, sleep-stealing, deeply personal and professional dilemma. It’s a quandary of passion, conviction, tension. It pits personal identity against public opinion, team unity against individual freedom. And it plays out in close-ups, sound bites and Twitter fights.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that in addition to the havoc wreaked by wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes recently, there’s a firestorm threatening to engulf us. A media maelstrom. A culture war. Simmering rage. Escalating conflict. Low blows. High emotions. Discord. Slander. Spite. And a rash of penalties on both teams:
The shoulder pads/shin guards/girdles/helmets offer no protection on this one. Not a lick.
Honestly, I’m not sure there will be any winners in the Bears/Packers game tonight. The players -regardless of their guts and grit and heart – are gonna get crushed. Which is pretty crazy because these guys are built for battle. They’re gridiron warriors. They ‘cake/sack/kick/juke/block/blitz every down, every day. But this game-day melee is likely one they never guessed they’d be suiting up for. (And, believe me, they know what it means to be blind-sided.)
Political football, indeed.
My hope is that players (and politicians and pundits and fans) on both sides of this debate are willing to peel back the layers of this pigskin-pregame-problem and see that – at the end of the day/game/anthem – it really ought to just boil down to this:
What is the right thing to do?
(No, I don’t mean right-leaning. Just right. As in: upright, honorable, merciful and just?)
Is there really only one right answer here?
(I ask this sincerely. But I doubt there is.)
I daresay, it’s not that simple. If only it were, then we wouldn’t have to figure out whether it’s right/good/honorable or wrong/bad/disrespectful to kneel or stand during our national anthem. We wouldn’t have to think about all the people who might be hurt/offended/grieved/outraged by those decisions or actions. We wouldn’t have to consider how our actions (kneeling or standing) or our words (about players who do either) might affect our fellow citizens.
Like the war widow whose husband served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was thisclose to coming home when his vehicle was struck by a deadly IED. When she sees the flag, she remembers the one that draped his casket. (So please, stand and honor him… and her.)
The mama who just buried her only son (shot by a police officer because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong crowd… in a dicey situation). And she wonders if maybe it’s also because he happened to be black. (So please, take a knee for him and all the other sons who died before they could face a jury of their peers.)
The New York firefighter who lost 11 “brothers” from Ladder Company 3 on 9 /11. (Please, stand and salute New York’s bravest and all his fallen comrades.)
The 20-year-old male college student (working full-time to put himself through school), who is terrified when he gets pulled over for rolling a stop sign. (Kneel for him.)
The 96-year-old WWII veteran who wears a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and multiple scars from wounds sustained in a bloody campaign in northern France. (Stand for him.)
The valedictorian of a south-side Chicago high school who has seen more classmates flunk out, drop out, jailed or killed than she can count. (And she’s pretty good at math.) Kneel for her.
Each of these Americans likely has pretty strong feelings about whether professional football players should stand for the national anthem… or take a knee. Tonight, two teams will take the field, and mostly likely some players will kneel while others remain standing. But after the last play of the game, one question will linger:
Where do we go from here?
If the original intent of this form of peaceful protest was to draw attention to the injustices and inequalities that exist in this country and begin a national conversation, then that particular mission has been accomplished. In large part, due to Mr. Kaepernick. Love him or hate him – but please don’t hate – he made an impact. He took a stand (a knee, rather) because he felt compelled to underscore the injustices that remain in this incredible-but-imperfect “land of the free and home of the brave.”
But… what next? How do we right the wrongs? In practical terms, what does it look like for each of us to “work for justice?” Again, I ask sincerely. I really want to know. Because I want what – I hope – we all want:
Liberty and justice for all.
It’s gonna be a tough job. And we will need to pull together to work on it. Without a doubt, it’s going to be uncomfortable, stressful, exhausting, and at times, exasperating.
If only we could go back to kindergarten. Where our toughest assignments would be learning the alphabet, writing our names, and keeping our hands to ourselves during circle time. We wouldn’t have to juggle work-life balance or grapple with unrealized ambitions or tackle (sorry, couldn’t help myself) the tough issues our country faces. We could just color and cut and count and sing, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” (Or unroll our KinderMats and take a nap.)
Let’s start here:
Each player in the NFL has to shoulder the weight of his own decision in this crazy whirlwind of pre-game posturing. There are players who choose to stand. Shoulders back, hand over heart, facing the unfurled flag of the United States of America. Their reasons for standing are many: some simply out of respect for the flag; others out of a sense of patriotism, to honor our military personnel and first responders, to pay tribute to those who have died protecting our freedoms. Because of them, they refuse to kneel. And we ought to respect that.
Other players choose to take a knee. And they certainly have that right. (Contrary to a media story that’s been circulating, it is not against NFL regulations for them to do so.) Instead of denigrating them and begrudging them their rights as citizens of our (fallible but beautiful) country, we ought to admire the “peaceful” in their protest.
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. (That was JFK’s word to the wise.)
God has something to say about it too.
When Jordin Sparks sang the anthem before the Monday night game, I noticed a scripture reference written on her left hand:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. (Proverbs 31:8-9, NLT)
It was a silent but strong statement: This is what God has to say… and (perhaps) this is what #takeaknee is all about. Endeavoring to ensure justice. Speaking up for those who are being crushed by the weight of racial/religious/socioeconomic discrimination and systemic disparities in our justice and educational systems, for starters.
But for each one who chooses to take a knee (for any of the aforementioned reasons, and probably a dozen others) there’s inevitable backlash: calling the players “privileged elitists” and insinuating ulterior or ugly motives. But I’m calling out the mudslingers on that one. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure every single one of those players had to work his glutes off to get there – to the NFL, I mean. All four of my boys played high school football. And I can attest that there is no off-season. They hit the weight room, the track, the field at all hours, in every season, in all kinds of weather. And there’s plenty of blood, sweat, and tears too.
But even if there is an ounce of hypocrisy in the case of a few players, let’s not forget: they’re kneeling quietly and peacefully. And we ought to respect that.
I am begging folks on both sides of this issue to use them. Please. For the love of God and all that is good and kind. Let’s keep our heads, friends. And bow them too.
Let’s think rationally. And pray fervently to the only One who can take this wonderful, wildly diverse, deeply passionate and disparate populace… and unite us and uplift us and bring peace and hope and healing to our land. And yes…
When I bow my head, I acknowledge that God is God. And I am not. I take a posture of humility, recognizing that my thoughts are finite, feeble, short-sighted, and very, very narrow in perspective. (Not because I want to be narrow-minded. But because by virtue of my humanity and the limitations of my intelligence and experience… I simply am.)
And I ask Jesus: what would You do? (And He grins and says He’d throw a “Hail Mama” pass. Touchdown Jesus!) Just kidding. Relax.
I pray because I need clarity. Compassion. Patience. Perseverance. I need help.
We need His help.
I haven’t walked a mile in his or her (or your) shoes. But I want to know what it feels like. I’m willing to listen and learn and try to understand. And I’m willing to try to make things better for him and her and you. For our children. For our nation.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Ask yourself: is your rhetoric building bridges or burning them? ‘Cause when the flood waters rise (and at some point they will), we’re gonna need to cross. Both ways.
As shoes for your feet… put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6:15)
Let’s quit standing around in front of our TVs lamenting all that’s wrong in the NFL, our neighborhoods, our nation. Let’s get our shoes/cleats/boots on, there’s work to be done.
We aren’t yet (nor have we ever been) fully, freely “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” But that’s the goal. (As they say in the huddle, keep grinding.)
God leads the way on this one. He doesn’t play favorites. There’s no discrimination or privilege or preferential treatment with Him.
For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:11)
So the more you and I look to God, the more we soak up His love and splash it all around, the more we delve into and defer to His wisdom… the more we’ll be able to “do” justice.
The Bears and Packers are playing tonight. Instead of judging the players’ pre-game postures, let’s celebrate their freedoms. And cheer on our team. And enjoy the game.
That goes for Sunday too.
Long before Sunday was “Funday” or “NFL Football” day… it was the Sabbath day.
A day to worship, pray, rest, and reflect.
First things first.
P.S. I welcome your (respectful) comments, feedback, free expression, and exchange of ideas. On a side note, I know my conservative friends think I’ve become wildly liberal. (But they love me anyway. How beautiful is that?) Likewise, I’m aware that a few of my left-leaning friends consider me a narrow-minded, right-wing wack job. (Regardless, they love me too. Bless them.) At the end of the day, though, I really just want to be right smack in the center… of God’s will. Onward!