I typically don’t hide the fact that I am a football fan. As a matter of fact, I have written about it on this blog before for a variety of reasons. I have written about how I watch it less and less, mainly because of the violence that it does to these men, who, for the short-term may have reasons such as money and fame to participate in it; but, long-term, the impact can be quite devastating. There’s also the impact it has on me and other viewers after watching hours and hours of it, week after week. Even more so, though, recently, I have tried to avoid the sport when I can, and professional sports in general, but particularly football, because of what it has become and the enmeshment of this sense of nationalism that is so often associated with it, as part of us, as the old song goes, apple pie.
This has only been fueled more by the story of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, followed by other athletes who have followed his lead these past weeks. I’m not here to say whether he’s right or wrong. Quite frankly, I don’t even think that’s the issue at hand nor do I really think Kaepernick cares about whether I think he’s right or wrong, as much as some think he does. What I do want to say and speak to, though, is the deep amount of empathy that I do have for him right now and an understanding of the need for dialogue within our culture and country. As much as I thought he was a pompous ass when he first began in the NFL, there’s a different look in his eyes now that wasn’t there before and so it makes it hard not to feel for him and others like him. All he has really asked for, more than anything, is dialogue. Is that really too much to ask?
I really believe that no one can get to that place in their life unless they have faced great suffering themselves. Maybe for him it even could have come in the fact that he is no longer a starting quarterback, but I don’t know because I’m not him. It would be hard to believe that that alone would not shatter someone’s ego like none other, bearing in mind that it was just a few years ago that he was playing in the pinnacle of the sport, the Super Bowl. Some want to quickly judge him in that way. The spotlight is no longer on him and so he has to do something to get himself back to the stage, the arena, into the sanctuary of the sport. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe now he realizes he has nothing to lose. He’s already lost it all and all he has left is a deeply-held belief that now drives him to kneel when others, at times, blindly stand and recite words that don’t mean much more than a creed recited in church, words and not much more. If I give even a perception as being against, I am seen as unpatriotic, bearing the cross of being un-American, whatever that means. We seem to accept freedoms only when they meet our own standard-bearing, failing to often see that others may have a different experience than my own and a wound that stands unique to them that has brought them to their knees and to this point in their lives.
It’s easy for us to say, “God and Country” and probably sports a close third. The problem is when they all begin to enmesh. Honestly, it becomes a real danger when they begin to overlap. It becomes a danger when it’s no longer “God and Country” but rather country as god or sport as god or any other god that we try to hold onto, especially when they seem to be passing through our fingers. We as fans gather daily and weekly in this nave, gathered with the thinking that somehow their lives depend on the outcome; sometimes more emotionally attached to a game than lives being lost by violence across the country and globe. All our hope seems to be intertwined with the winning of a team or being number one in the world. When we begin to make these symbols into gods, we begin to fall down the slippery slope, attaching ourselves to something, for all intensive purposes, that aren’t real in the first place, but supposed to be symbolic and point us to something deeper, which should make us pause and reflect when someone goes against the tide rather than quick to react. In turn, we often end up using people for our own political gain rather than seeking understanding and reconciliation, a dialogue with differing points of view.
Kaepernick himself has made the point that it’s bigger than football. It’s all bigger than football or religion but it’s also much deeper than them all as well. When people are taken out of the equation and symbols and words take precedence, we have distanced ourselves from the humanity, and senseless killing begins to feel normal, detached from my own humanity. When no one speaks up, kneels down, or pleads on behalf of the people, as Moses does for Israel, we find ourselves lost in a chaotic world with a flag, or words, or a sport being the only thing consistent in our lives, feeling secure and yet so enslaved by our inability to see the other as brother and sister and to understand that they too have a story unlike my own, filled with hopes, fears, disappointments, misunderstandings, and so much more. Instead, I judge them by an action without ever trying to understand the person and allowing myself to fall into the hands of a bigger God that can somehow hold it all, even people different from myself.
It really isn’t about right or wrong. If it is it will continue to divide us. It’s only divisive because we allow it to be and don’t allow ourselves the invitation to step back and see why it’s causing such a reaction in myself and dialoguing with it. It’s all he has asked and somehow managed to put a mirror up to the culture and began a conversation. It really has nothing to do with Kaepernick, just as much as our spiritual life has nothing to do with Trump or Clinton, even though some will continue to think that it does. If it does, it’s because we allow that as well and we continue to seek a god elsewhere rather than in the place of our own hurts, deep within our souls, including the soul of a nation. Our reactions to these events say more about us than it does any of them, whether individually or collectively. We have been given so many such invitations over these years, which has only led to war, division, hatred, bias, judgment, violence, fear, towards anyone that is somehow different than myself. Maybe even worse than making country or sport into god, is allowing myself to be god. If there’s a starting point for any of us in these lived realities to begin to ask questions, it’s with myself and my own reactions. Until then, I will continue to empathize and silently stand with Kaepernick and others because I know it’s bigger than him and is inviting me to go deeper into my own understanding, and for that matter, my many misunderstandings that I hold onto about others.