The culture war wages on in the United States of America. To be sure, the country has never sunk to this level of divisiveness in my lifetime. Even during the criminal misadventure of Viet Nam, people mostly were civil outside of passionate protests. Today, politics are like chalk and cheese, white supremacy has received a new cheerleader, people who have illegally lived all their lives in the country through no fault of their own are seized and deported whilst others cheer and taunt. Now, we have the newly engaged racists battling those who demand equality for all, the venue being the football field. I speak, of course, about the protests initiated by Colin Kaepernick, but it’s root causes run much deeper.
The opponents were ready to discredit and deflect the protest. Players, black, white, asian, latino knelt for equality. Team owners and people from many walks of life including the military joined them. The proximal issue of the protest is the continued killing of black men with hardly a penalty handed to the killers. We have seen the videotape, witnessed the over-reactions, the racial slurs, read the accounts of cops’ racist histories and yet rarely is one sentenced to anything more than paid leave. The opponents of these protests criticise the forum as they do regardless of the place or time. Apparently silently screaming alone in a closet is the only acceptable place for dissent. Many quickly reframed the issue to be anything but about injustice. Disrespect for the flag and military were, of course, ready made for their rhetoric.
This is not the first time conservatives conflate issues to diminish their value, but what are the reasons concerning this particular situation?The Cato Institute has a good poll showing that only three groups think players should lose their jobs for protesting: Republicans, those over 65 and conservatives. Booing by fans was heard in many stadia during the protests. A recent Experian Simmons study found that the NFL fan base had these traits: 83 percent were white, 64 percent were male, 51 percent were 45 years or older, 68 percent made more than $60,000 a year. Registered Republicans were 21 percent more likely to be NFL fans than registered Democrats. So, attending NFL games is chiefly the province of wealthier, older, republican, white whites. These are not the people who take kindly to having their paradigm or their identities shaken.
The NFL’s long, cozy relationship with the US military is a match made for television; cohesive units wearing uniforms vying to overpower and outmaneuver their opponents. The language around the game is filled with militarisms. In fact, this relationship that hypes the military is at blame for the current hysteria surrounding the protests. Years ago, teams remained in the dressing rooms until after the audience sang the anthem. Some marketing genius decided that having players on the field during the anthem would tie military and football together. Now, a giant flag is de rigueur at every game as is a colour guard. A fly by is as common as a lukewarm beer. The marketing team nailed it.
Today, we have the three legs of this stool melded into one, indistinguishable for many: flag, military and football. To meddle with any is to sully the others, they believe. To feel this uber, faux patriotism one must highly identify with one or more of the legs. That is the basis of a great deal of marketing, getting buy-in from the audience, making them believe that they are like their idols or those they aspire to be in some way. Grown men, who never served, treat the military as some god-created entity that is above reproach and question. They are ready to don the uniform they never wore, stretch it over hyper-extended guts and do battle - in their minds. Speak or act disparagingly against the flag or the armed forces and veins begin popping. That comes back to identifying as part of the warrior class and that is the sick machismo that infects the country. It stretches from the football field, to militarised policing, to discriminatory policing and sentencing, to invading other countries; all the while, shouting Boooyaaa! It’s well past time for many to refute that construct and those taking a knee are doing their parts.