So there I was, watching football on TV while an early fall rain pelted the windows. The national anthem was competing for attention with the horses in their stalls beneath my barn apartment. I think they were doing some sort of Native American interpretive rain dance down there, and the stomping reverberated up through the floor and into the couch. Free butt-massage. All was good, and I was grateful.
About midway through the national anthem, as the flag was being unfurled across the field and shaken to life by members of the military, the camera panned to a backup quarterback down on one knee.
Two hundred and fifty years ago we were united in protest, a bedraggled gang of colonists tired of royal oppression, and we rebelled. And a nation was born, an imperfect nation to be sure, but a great one. A nation that reflects the dark and light of humanity, the best and the worst our species has to offer.
There’s no place I’d rather be.
And our history has been graced with leaders who have used protest to affect real change, with ultimate goals often not realized in their time. But real change nonetheless, sparked by their courage to stand up.
Not kneel down.
I wanted to look past my gut reaction and hear this backup quarterback out. Maybe he had something to say. So they interviewed him after the game and he was like the deer in headlights I almost hit last night. It was late, I was hauling, and this doe jumped out onto the pavement and just froze.
I didn’t hit her. But this athlete did get hit, with the cold night air of accountability before his people could craft a response for him.
A group of reporters were gathered around him and somebody asked him why he was on one knee.
The broad answer to the first question was easy for him.
The next question was what specifically he’d like to see happen, what change he’d like to see.
He answered that question with his first broad answer.
The reporter asked again, saying she was interested in the specific steps forward he’d like to see taken.
He had no answer, stumbled, and repeated his first answer.
And it was rough to watch. I wanted to jump into the TV and take him by the wrist and pull him into the bathroom like my mom did to me when I shoplifted a toy helicopter from JC Penney when I was 3, before I even knew that you couldn’t just take stuff.
So I closed my eyes and took him by the wrist.
This is how our conversation went. It was more a monologue, truth be told.
So you’re going to kneel for the national anthem? That’s lazy, man. Lazier than slapping the colors of the French flag on your Facebook profile photograph after a terrorist attack and thinking you’re helping somebody.
Before you chose to protest, were you already been doing something in your community to advance your cause? So you’d know what you’re talking about? Are you fighting these injustices with your hands, on the corners and in the alleys of the neighborhoods affected by what you’re protesting against?
Or are you watching some videos on your phone and deciding to take a knee?
And during the national anthem? Really? How about instead of being down on one knee during the national anthem, you get down on both of them and thank whatever you believe in that somebody fought for your freedom to be this ignorant? And then find a better place to protest, where you’re not disrespecting the millions of military people who have saluted our flag?
But only after you figure out what you’re talking about.
And then I opened my eyes, came back to reality, and realized that he’d never hear me.
Only I could hear him.
I just wished he’d actually had something more to say, some idea of a way forward, some thoughtful solution that went past just stating a problem.
Better yet, I hoped that he chooses to actually do something.
Besides take a knee.