So nothing could be more controversial than football meets patriotism.  Ever since I can remember the national anthem has been played, sung, and entire stadiums stand in a show of public respect towards America, it’s history, and those who stand to fight for the freedom we all enjoy.

And so what’s with this NFL move to kneel at the national anthem?  Is it really about disrespect for America?  Is it an outright protest against the military?  Is it a generation of entitled rich athletes who are looking for publicity?

There seems to be so many variables in this equation, it’s really hard to sit and listen to the other side.  So I did a bit of casual research, asking friends, different generational representatives, politicians, businessmen, and a few of my African American Friends, and this is what I found.

1.  To Disrespect America is unacceptable.  To all those I’ve spoken with at length, I’ve found that if the genesis of this “kneeling” was in any way to disrespect America, the military service members, or the long history that has lead to the most prosperous country in the world; It’s out of bounds.  No one, and I sincerely mean, NO ONE I talked with would agree to go on the record and say anything against their home country.

Certainly there are those who are willing to criticize America’s politics, domestic policy, or foreign interventions in the past, but I literally found no one that was willing to criticize America as a country.   Across all generations there is a deep respect for the opportunities afforded in this country, and the provision it gives when traveling the globe, meeting disasters head on, and even yes – it’s system of government.  And NO ONE was amiable for criticizing those who are willing to put their lives on the line for the country.

I found these responses to be a little disturbing, because it certainly seems like there are those trying to frame this kneeling as some sort of disrespect to the values and history we hold important specifically to the symbol of all those areas mentioned.  So what gives?  What am I not hearing.

2.  What if the beginning of this protest was about police violence?  For sure there has been a debate over the last four years since Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson Missouri, that we should take a look at the potential racial bias existing in the country claiming, “All Men are Created Equal..” in the forming documents.

When Collin Kaepernick first took a knee in the national anthem in San Fransisco a year or so ago, it was in the context of the African American community looking for ways to promote a new way of thinking about how they were being treated by local law enforcement, at the very least on the media narrative.

When I posed the question of bringing attention to the subconscious racial bias that may or may not exist, most of the people I talked with were willing to agree it would take a big movement to actually cause us as a culture to hold the mirror of human dignity to the face of the status quo.

Some, were quick to say, “Well, I’m not a racist…” and then add a few lines to a paragraph about how slavery was generations ago, we live in an equal opportunity time in history, or some equivalent of ‘I don’t get it.’   But all agreed, if given a rational way to have the conversation, they were willing to digest even the possibility of racial bias in their own sphere of operation.  And I was thrilled to push on this question a little more and ask if they found unintended social bias in their own lives, they were more than willing to change the ways they live to promote such behavior.

Unfortunately, if the genesis of the kneeling on the sidelines was to protest racial division,  it’s pretty clear the message has at the very least been diluted if not all together lost in the controversial image of standing against the country.

3.  Protests are supposed to make us uneasy.  The reason I find this conversation on the national stage so interesting is simply that protests can only be effective if they ping on arenas in our national conscious that cause us to be uncomfortable.  The current argument to frame the protest a debate between the patriotic or social injustice is an uncomfortable position to try and parlay.  And so, in effect, the protest is working.

The biggest problem in this discussion is the inability for either side to be willing to listen to the other and find compromise.  And this is, in fact, the disturbing part.  If given the opportunity to speak, I’ve found in my own cursory rudimentary research, very few people will ever want to disrespect America.  And many are willing to listen to and ultimately change the national consciousness of racism.

So how do we get so far into a divide where we threaten one another, or call each other names?

For some reason, at this point in history, I find that we are always on the defensive.  If someone threatens my comfortable living, I naturally want to bristle up and defend the behaviors and positions I “know” to be true.  It’s tribalism at the core.  It’s an US vs. THEM narrative that forces me to choose one side that’s right, and the other side that’s wrong.  But what of nuance?  What of the grey?  Aren’t there areas in life, if given the time and respect, we can find that might not be as easy as right and wrong?

I would propose, that we take the opportunity to listen more.  Instead of buying into the cultural norm of shouting our opinions so loud that the only right is the person who can shout the loudest or the longest; maybe we should posture ourselves in a way to sit and listen the pain of the other.

Maybe then, we could hear the pain from the Veterans or their families on what it means to serve the country.

Maybe we could see injustice in a racially driven conversation.

Maybe we could feel the patriotic sense of pride toward America.

And maybe we could come to the place where we can understand each other, instead of reaching out to fight one another.

Or maybe that’s just the diplomatic peace maker in me that sees us all as human beings in this story called life.  I find it very difficult to think that anyone who kneels at the national anthem is insulting people that give their lives for America.  And I also find it extremely difficult to think in 2017 we have large swaths of racists who just want to eliminate whole populations.

The lesson for today….

Take some time to listen to someone who thinks differently than you do, and try to understand where they come from.  It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, or change your own way of thinking; but it creates empathy where there may exist a propensity for anger and division.


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