We live in an odd time, where racial tension is as high – and high profile – as it has been in my lifetime. That’s over a half century, folks. File the latest Drew Brees soundbite into the annals of History Will Teach Us Nothing, especially if we’re not paying attention.
The kneeling for the national anthem, and corresponding “disrespecting of the flag” argument that goes along with it, has been discussed ad nauseum. It was an issue that was recently brought to our attention thanks to the actions of Colin Kaepernick and others, when they took a pre-game knee to protest what they felt was wrong with America, most notably lopsided, police misconduct and white-on-black crime.
A once promising superstar, Kap was all but blackballed from the league for his controversial stance, or his performance, depending on who you believe.
There is another quarterback making headlines this week and it’s not even football season. Of course, it is no sports season thanks to good ol’ Coronavirus but in this post, I’ve chosen to discuss another pandemic that’s halted our health as a nation. That is neither racism nor inequality but rather the ongoing inability to see another’s side of an argument.
I get that Americans are offended by disrespecting the flag. It’s a trigger issue and always has been. Growing up playing sports and attending sporting events, I always took my cap off for the anthem and put my hand over my heart. I never gave it a second thought. That’s because I’ve never been given a reason to protest how my nation has treated, or mistreated, me.
It is important that we understand this movement started long before Colin Kaepernick first took a knee, a gesture for which he consulted a retired Army Green Beret before doing. Any self-respecting student of sports and the civil rights movement knows this started not with Kaepernick… but he sure as hell brought it back into prime time.
To be clear, Drew Brees has every right to be upset about people “disrespecting the flag.” Brees’ grandfathers both fought in World War II. His league mates, however, whose relatives also served in our nation’s military, have every right as Americans to feel that the flag their families fought for, disrespects them, which is really what this debate is all about. Their forefathers had a different America to return home to.
Those who served in the military were not defending the flag per se, but rather what the flag is supposed to represent, which is liberty and justice for all. The flag is merely a symbol, so if the flag, or dare I say Constitution, is not holding up its part of the bargain, then what is it in the end that we are all fighting for? And why has Drew Brees, a man who has been revered in his community for the longest time, a man who helped rebuild New Orleans after a devastating natural disaster, not yet had these conversations with his teammates?
It still seems we’re going round in circles on this issue with no one meeting halfway and understanding the others point of view. Players, especially Brees’ teammates, feel he has yet to understand the meaning behind the movement in the first place. They feel the flag has let them down. They feel their nation has let them down. And by not listening, they now feel Brees has let them down. Those who kneel are not saying they are not proud to be American. They’re saying there’s a problem within America that concerns them and rightfully so. It is their right as Americans to voice these opinions and to be heard.
Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio recently said he feels there is “no racism at all in the NFL.” Spoiler alert: Fangio is white. Although he coaches in a league comprised of primarily black athletes (but not black coaches or ownership), Fangio has probably never experienced racism, at least not to the extent that others around him have. In response to Fangio’s comments, former player-turned-analyst Anthony McFarland agreed that, when it comes to the locker room, Fangio was probably right. Players of all ages, shapes, sizes and socio-economic backgrounds tend to peacefully coexist within the NFL locker room. But to imply the league is free and clear of racism is ludicrous and blissfully uninformed. Just last week, the league tweaked its Rooney Rule with regards to minority hiring, admitting it still has an issue when it comes to the advancement of minorities at the executive level.
Like it or not, we live in a time where you need to watch what you say, most certainly if you say it with conviction, whether you’re a quarterback or a local politician. Protests against inequality, sometimes peaceful sometimes not, are taking place every day in every major city across America. It’s probably time we take a good hard look at why.
It’s been years since Kaepernick took a knee, longer than that since Art Shell became the first black head coach in the NFL and even longer than that since other, more notable milestones have taken place but in the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t been that long at all. It was only a little over a decade ago that we lauded the first Super Bowl between two black head coaches. While that’s reason to celebrate, so is the day we no longer recognize that as an historic accomplishment, just as we don’t acknowledge Super Bowl I as the first Super Bowl played between two white head coaches.
Movements like Black Lives Matter still draw as much anger and misunderstanding as a person kneeling for the anthem. The two sides to this debate remain an unhealthy distance from seeing the others’ point of view with the flag still taking precedence, for the flag has been around a lot longer than black lives have mattered.
In the end, Brees may not have entirely tarnished a legacy he’s worked so hard for years to build. To many, he came off sounding like a patriotic American, one who is proud of the sacrifices of those who came before him. What he failed to understand is that the flag is a symbol of what those who fought for represents. He has every right to speak his mind, a freedom his family fought for. Those who disagree with him share that same right, as Americans, to question what that flag stands for if they feel it doesn’t stand for them.
For some reason, the NFL still cannot seem to get out of its own way when it comes to the flag issue. Until they get their shit together and speak honestly, behind closed doors or in an open forum, the league will continue to stagnate. I guess in that sense, it is a perfect microcosm of our nation after all.