Usually we stagger to the finish line. But there is no “usually” this year. None at all.
We stagger to the start this year. So just reaching MLB’s Opening Day — the first of the big four North American sports leagues to get there — feels like an accomplishment. Just writing that sentence, in 2020, brings unease. Because time remained between putting the words down and Max Scherzer staring in for the sign Thursday night. And time feels different this year.
Everything is different. Even the baseball. Laced with new rules and civil protest. The national anthem is no longer going to be just the national anthem. It is going to be a statement moment. For those who are asking that their games not be politicized, I agree, let’s not politicize the games by playing the anthem at all.
Why should athletes have to begin their day’s work with this song when no plumber or lawyer or president does? But if it is going to be played for tradition, then the most important tradition in this country needs to be honored — the constitutional right to free speech. Peaceful kneeling or fist-raising or t-shirt wearing to call out police brutality and social injustice is not unpatriotic, not anti-military and not even anti-police.
Calling out people breaking the rules at their job is not anti the job. It is about demanding high standards. In my profession, reporters want those who plagiarize or make up information or quotes banned. It is a blight on us all. There is no journalistic thin blue line, and there should not be one in policing. Every American should be against brutal policing, including the police.
For when my children leave the house, I have many fears. None is that the police might be a threat to their lives. It is a pretty low bar to say that everyone in the country — no matter their skin color — should feel the same.
You can say keep politics out of sports, but once you play the national anthem or God Bless America at an event it is a political statement. You can say shut up and dribble, but even if someone spoke would you hear them over the military flyover — another political statement, by the way. Can you imagine the government spending tax dollars to do a military flyover of a construction site or a dental office?
The kneeling or raised fist or t-shirt messaging is fitting in a moment when we stagger to the starting line. If the pandemic and the protests in the streets are not going to make us all have uncomfortable conversations about finding our better angels, what will? So many are risking so much so often and providing support with a knee, a fist or words feels like the least that can be done to magnify injustice and police brutality. Should you choose not to kneel, no hypocrisy here, you have that right. Will you defend the right of those who take a knee?
For kneeling is not done to infuriate, but if you are infuriated, so be it. The fury of those who have been brutalized or worse is the discussion point here. That is the outrage.
I know the portrayals that come now. That supporting the rights of people to kneel makes me anti-military. I’m not. In fact, I think any president — Democrat or Republican — should only send Americans into harm’s way if they think it vital enough that they would send their own children. Because those soldiers are someone’s children. And I think whoever the president is — Democrat or Republican — should redirect massive funds from the armed services to better care for the physical and mental damage done to those who bravely served. Being pro-military isn’t just about cheering the bombing.
I can sincerely tell you that I am not anti-cop. I am pro hiring and training in a way to make sure we can stop adding names to a too-long list that includes Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Those three were Americans. AMERICANS. Either you believe all Americans deserve to be treated fairly by police or you don’t. I would call those who don’t un-American.
Personally, I never feel more American than when using my Constitutional rights to demand that the country I love live up to its greatest ideals.
Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” This is no time for neutrality. Kneeling is a perfect metaphor because it proceeds the act of rising again. I hope we rise together for my children and everyone’s children. I believe Martin Luther King was right that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
We stagger toward that concept, like we stagger toward this season. Even if it is one knee at a time, I am hopeful we will get there.
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