Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Conundrum of Taking a Knee

When you make a symbolic protest, is it for life, or can you stop after a while?

The Philadelphia Eagles made the news recently not just for winning the Superbowl, but for equivocating on an invitation from the White House to celebrate that victory.  Traditionally, after a major sports victory, many teams are invited to visit the president at the White House for a congratulatory ceremony.

However in recent years, this has generated a lot of controversy, particularly since the election of President Trump.  Of course, this politicization of sports started many months ago with many players "taking a knee" during the national anthem to show solidarity with the black lives matter movement.

Many people on the left thought this was a good thing - sports celebrities making statement to draw attention to the plight of minorities in their interactions with the police.  Many on the right felt it was disrespectful to the country and the flag.  And of course those on the left and right will never see eye-to-eye.

Myself, I feel sorry for the players because of the conundrum this places them in.  Suppose you're an NFL player and you decide not to take a knee.  And supposed maybe you're even a black NFL player and decide not to take a knee.  You'll get a lot of flack from your fellow players and people on the left for not showing solidarity with BLM.

So, suppose you do "take a knee" - where does it end?  Do you do this for just one game or for every game of the season, and do you do this in perpetuity?  Does this become a new tradition in America - that for years in the future maybe decades, kneeling before the national anthem will be a traditional way of observing that event, but only for black players?  There has to be an endgame to this - and I think many of the players probably would like to see one, but that now find themselves backed into a corner.  If they stop taking a knee, that itself will be news and they will be criticized by people on the left for no longer showing solidarity.

It's one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of things.  There's been a lot of talk of the NFL banning players from taking a knee during opening ceremonies of a game.  I wonder if some of the players actually would look forward to that, as it would give them an excuse to discontinue the practice without appearing to offend anybody on either the left or the right.

The Philadelphia Eagles players face the same conundrum with his White House invitation. If they refuse the invitation or indeed they even waffle on it as they have - they will piss off the right-winger, who claim they are disrespecting Donald Trump, the Presidency, America, and Mom-and-Apple-Pie. If they go to the White House, some will argue that this is an endorsement of President Trump and his policies.  And of course, you can't really force players to attend such an event - what happens if a large majority of them simply refused to go?

Again, it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of thing. There really is no easy way out of this and you feel sorry for everyone involved because they've backed themselves - or more correctly painted themselves - into a corner and there really is no way out of this without losing face for everyone involved.

I suppose we could abolish White House invitations for sports heroes - probably something that was the case not too long ago. But of course, I'm sure that Donald Trump made the invitation knowing that it would generate controversy and give him something to tweet about if the players refuse to attend or even, as his case here, the team even equivocates in the matter.  It seems no matter what, the Donald wins this one.  He can play the wounded victim, a favorite role of his, if they don't attend, or if even one player bails on it - even if that player was in the hospital.

In a way it reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry Seinfeld throws away birthday card. He gets a birthday card from a friend and reads it and keeps it for a day or two and then throws it in the trash. The friend then sees the birthday card in the trash and gets upset. Jerry asks whether there is a particular waiting period for this sort of thing.  You're supposed to keep birthday cards for a certain period before you can throw them in the trash.  Who decides how long you have to keep these things? There really are no written rules.

It also reminds me of the post 9/11 era, where many people put up patriotic displays including American flags hanging from bridges and whatnot.  Months or years later, they are in tatters and the DPW takes them down.   It is similar to the displays created after tragic shootings or natural disasters or other events, where people stack flowers and cards and teddy bears in makeshift memorials with candles and whatnot.  It is very moving and touching, but what is the rule on this before somebody comes along with a snow shovel and scoops all up and puts it in the dumpster?  Because there has to be rule, right?  Who gets to make the rule?

Personally, whatever the Philadelphia Eagles do as a team or as individual players, I won't sit in judgment of them.  I don't think they're being anti-American or anti-Trump for taking a knee or refusing to go to the White House.  I don't think that standing up for the national anthem means they're against the BLM or that attending the White House means they endorsed Trump for president. It was just a symbolic gesture that has gotten totally out of hand.  It's not the players of the teams that are to blame, it's the prognosticators and pundits on both the left and right who decided to politicize this issue.  If left alone, the whole thing would probably blown over in a week or so.  (But then what would ESPN talk about?   And that is all ESPN does - talk.  It is a talk show channel these days.)

But then again, the same could be said for the "War on Christmas."  It's a tempest in a teapot that would have blown over in a week if left alone.  But there are people who are interested in keeping these issues alive because they generate outrage.  And outrage is probably the largest product America produces today.   Not a very useful product, but we are quite efficient at making it.