Professional athletes look like perfectly sculpted Greek statues. And, in the current discourse concerning athlete’s political involvement, it seems that like statues, many would rather they remain silent.
Often when we think about athletes, we see them only as tools for entertainment, not as full members in the social and political dynamic of America.
Following the lead of Colin Kaepernick’s activism against racial injustice, players have been kneeling, sitting, or just not coming out of the locker to place their hand over their hearts and mouth along.
While the players do this, fans spill their beers and yawn while they try to rise and remove their hats.
The Seattle Seahawks prepared a statement that sums up the cause of most anthem protesters:“We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those who would deny our basic freedoms. We remain committed in continuing to work towards equality and justice for all.”
In response, many have spoken against the protests.
Donald Trump, at a rally two weeks ago in Alabama, offered advice as to how NFL team owners should deal with anthem protesters: “get that son of a bitch off the field right now.”
To top that, more than 100 Patriots fans assembled to throw team jerseys and other merchandise on a bonfire as a reaction to player protest last Thursday night in Swansea, Massachusetts.
Closer to home, Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, the Director of the Michigan State Police said, in a Facebook post, that protesting players are “millionaire ingrates who hate America and disrespect our armed forces and veterans.” Etue, a rather adept name-caller, also titled them “a bunch of rich, entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates.”
The reaction to professional athletes exercise of their right to free speech and to peaceful assembly has brought the wrath of the ignorant upon them.
American sports fans tend to spend their autumn Sundays melting into La-Z-Boy chairs and jumping up to yell “Hit Somebody!” or “Kill ‘em!” when a safety flies in to tackle a running back. NFL fans are basically gawkers at a 50 car pile-up of human bodies.
And that is all some want it to be.
But Aristotle believed man was a “political animal” because he is a social creature with the power of speech and moral reasoning. And though we may call a particularly physical or aggressive player an “animal on the field,” both on and off the field each player is a sociopolitical being.
The comments of Col. Etue do not describe such a dynamic creature and the actions of the President and the Patriots fans do not recognize the power of moral reasoning.
When we tell NFL players not to use their prominent positions to make statements that could affect our country, we are saying that they are only bodies.
We are saying football’s only use is pure, anesthetizing entertainment.
We are saying that we do not want to find challenge where we normally find relaxation.
We are saying that we want to wrench the facemask of each helmet so tight that they become muzzles.
And when fans argue that the NFL is an apolitical institution, they prove their own ignorance. It is NFL policy per the “Game Operations Manual” that the anthem must be played before every game with both teams on the sidelines. Then the players must “stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking.”
Failure to comply with these standards may result in fines, suspensions, or forfeiture of draft picks, the manual reads.
These rules make each NFL football game a political event, which reinforces America’s sense of national pride and inspires us to think it is good and valuable. If the rules say players have to respect the flag, they should, until their powers of moral reasoning cause them to act against it.
It is just like any protest. The difference is that we don’t want muscle-bound millionaires to tell us what we don’t want to hear.
Mark Naida is a senior studying English and French.