Change is an important, integral, intriguing thing, one that is necessary in sports and in the country as a whole. Black lives matter. Everyone knows that, should know that, and those who don’t need the awareness enveloped in change more than anybody. Millions of protesters are attempting to heighten that awareness for the stubborn, for the ignorant, for the empowered.
In that lifting, among the intrigue is the manner in which athletes in all leagues will respond when the national anthem is played before games in the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and in Major League Baseball through the months ahead. And how fans, present or watching from their TV dens, will respond to the way athletes respond.
Somewhere, Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who in large measure started the sitting and kneeling for the anthem, must feel justified, at least in part, as he sees what’s happening within the NFL now, particularly in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy, and others so similar.
Black lives do matter, and that was the point, all along. Social injustice and inequality based on the color of a person’s skin must be acknowledged and eradicated, and that was the point, too.
Kaepernick’s kneeling wasn’t about disrespecting the country, the flag, the military, or the anthem. Some of his choices in socks and T-shirts might not have been optimal, neither was his admission that he didn’t vote. But the kneeling was calling attention to what too many were ignoring.
They can ignore it no more.
Maybe most of them — us — understand that a little better now than they — we — once did.
That seems to be the direction of the NFL and the league’s commissioner Roger Goodell. After issuing a statement following the Floyd tragedy that rang hollow, caroming and then falling flat, Goodell has opened his ears to hear the message coming to him from outside and inside the league. He admits that the league was wrong for not listening to its players earlier and that they should, in fact, speak out and peacefully protest.
He’s going to get what he’s asking for.
Not only are players, coaches and others employed by the NFL openly and actively participating in the Black Lives Matter movement, according to reports, many of them plan on kneeling before games, demonstrating their resolve. Some are suggesting that Goodell himself might kneel alongside.
He says now: “I personally protest with you and want to be a part of the much-needed change in this country.”
This time around, that had best center on heartfelt honesty, not empty optics.
What a sight that would be, given the league’s collective response to Kaepernick’s initial peaceful protest, and the fact that once he remained determined to do his kneeling, to send his message, he was blackballed straight out of the NFL. Use whatever term you want for his lack of employment, but essentially he was banished. No team would sign him, based in part on negative fan response, some patrons threatening to boycott games and to cancel their season tickets, despite indications that Kaepernick was more capable than many of the signed backup quarterbacks.
Where were the masses — the rest of us — on Kaepernick’s protest?
I confess, I waffled on the display of dissent, at first.
Where are they — we — now?
On the one hand, I understood and was grateful that the freedoms granted by the United States, the ones that had been fought and died for by men and women from all walks of life, allowed for peaceful protest, without some big-booted heavy kicking anybody with an opinion into a steel-and-concrete cell. On the other hand, Kaepernick was being paid millions of dollars by the 49ers to play football, and in uniform on the field to do his job. Should he protest on company time?
That latter concern appears rather lame now.
The anthem had always been, at least in my limited view, a time for imperfect Americans of all backgrounds and carrying all kinds of troubles to come together, to take a couple of minutes to think about the good things, the number of things that unite us, rather than split us apart.
But the more I thought about it, the more I stopped talking and started listening to and hearing the concerns of so many people who felt the pain Kaepernick felt, who were some combination of afraid and angry, the more enlightened I felt, the more patriotic I felt, the more true to my core beliefs I became. People of color are suffering, are being treated far too often unequally, unfairly, leading far too often to disrespect, despair and tragedy.
Again, everyone knows this or should know it.
Why, then, doesn’t everyone act on what they know?
Maybe the country — all of us — can wake up and stir, maybe real change can happen. Maybe the nation can alter its course by seeing what is wrong, by protesting it, by calling attention to it, by moving forward in attitude and action, by making it right.
Maybe some NFL team will even sign Kaepernick to a contract.
And maybe thereafter, we’ll see what else in the world men and women of courage and conviction can change.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.