About this kneeling thing…


As reluctant as I am to write about anything that happens on football fields, here goes…

Obviously, we have a different situation than we did when Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand during the national anthem.

Actually, to be technical, we had a different situation when Kaepernick switched from sitting to kneeling, way back when he still had a job. Obviously, kneeling is by definition less disrespectful.

And of course now, it’s no longer about the anthem or the flag, but about Donald Trump making a fool of himself yet again, as he is wont to do. Which is why serious essays on the subject have headlines such as “What Will Taking the Knee Mean Now?

My problem with Kaepernick’s original action — the sitting — was first, that it was so upsetting to my friend Jack Van Loan. Secondarily, it arose from the problem I tend to have with nonverbal forms of protest. My attitude is, if you have a problem with something, use your words.

Words allow us to be very precise about what upsets us and why it does. They allow us to clearly advocate remedies for the problems to which we object.

But what does refusing to stand for the flag, or the National Anthem, say? Since the flag, and the anthem, represent the entire nation, it means your beef is with everything about the country. Your protest is entirely lacking in specificity. You’re saying you’re objecting to the entire country because some white cops committed acts of violence against some black citizens — or whatever legitimate locus of concern you started with.

You’re saying the whole country is as bad as the North Charleston cop who shot Walter Scott. Every bit of it, starting with the Founders and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You’re dissing Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass along with Robert E. Lee (despite the fact Douglass has been doing such a terrific job lately). You’re lumping in Martin Luther King with George Wallace. They’re all part of America, so you blame them all.

This is not helpful, to your cause or to anything else.

You have a complaint — express it clearly and specifically. Use your words — preferably, quire a few more of them than you could fit on a bumper sticker.

Words aren’t perfect — I can certainly testify to that. Someone will always misunderstand. If you write “up,” you will surely be loudly castigated for saying “down.” But at least with words, there’s a chance of clear communication, and perhaps even agreement– perhaps even changing someone’s mind! (See what a Pollyanna I am?)

Anyway, all that is sort of beside the point now, since obviously the kneeling of the last few days has been about Donald J. Trump. He saw to that. He has managed to focus something that previous lacked focus.

Now, it’s about whether people have the right to kneel — and obviously, they do — and whether the president of the United States is empowered to order them not to. Which, of course, he isn’t.

He’s not too good with words himself, but Trump certainly has a talent for clarifying things…

43 thoughts on “About this kneeling thing…

  1. Claus2

    I love having a President who will speak his mind rather than dole out whatever he believes the audience wants to hear… like we’ve become accustomed to over the past couple decades.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yeah, we know. Y’all keep saying that. It doesn’t make any sense to us, but we have heard you say it, over and over.

      When the president of the United States has something helpful to share, I want him “speaking his mind.” When he has nothing constructive to contribute, I’d rather he just shut up.

      Most of us prefer that. Which is why intelligent politicians who give a damn about their responsibilities as leaders are careful to do their best to say things that make sense, and help…

      1. Richard

        “When the president of the United States has something helpful to share, I want him “speaking his mind.” When he has nothing constructive to contribute, I’d rather he just shut up.”

        Do you feel the same way about NFL players?

        I just wish Lindsey Graham would take your advice.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          “Do you feel the same way about NFL players?”

          Yep. Frankly, I’d rather not hear from football players at all. Or about football.

          But of course, it’s a lot more important with a president. Presidents in particular have a duty to shut up when they can’t be helpful…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            For those of you scoring at home, here’s how Mattis answered the question:

            Q: Do you have anything to say about the NFL being someone who has served in the military?

            SEC. MATTIS: I’m the secretary of defense. We defend the country.

            For the record, this is how you answer that question.

            You know the scene in Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks’ character (Captain Miller) tells one of the guys in his company: “Reiben, pay attention. Now, this is the way to gripe” I wish someone would point Trump to Mattis and say “Pay attention Mr. President, this is how you should act.”

    2. bud

      Claus what you really don’t seem to get is that Trump DOESN’T actually speak his mind. He’s a con man who’s peddling snake oil to his base. He has you and others like you fooled. He doesn’t give a damn about whether the players take a knee for the national anthem. That’s just a phony act. What he cares about is himself. He’s a narcissist. If he thought people would cheer him on for supporting the take-a-knee protest he’s do that. It simply flabbergasts me that people don’t get that about him.

  2. Doug Ross

    As someone who favors actions over words, I find the action of kneeling during the anthem to be lame. It serves no purpose, offers no solution, and is about as meaningful as clicking the “Dislike” button on a Facebook post.

    The irony of millionaires kneeling to protest injustice and inequality is pretty strong. Yes, there is discrimination and injustice in the world (as there always has been). But there has never been a moment in American history where someone who is a member of (name any group) has more opportunity, social standing, or economic benefit. Never. Yes, there are still bad cops and racists. But they are more noticeable now BECAUSE they stand out against the rest of society. And the media loves to play up a story that gets people riled up.

    I go back to the shooting that occurred in the Vista last week. That was perpetrated by a specific subset of a specific group of people. Where was the outrage in the community about that? Who’s to blame for creating an environment where young black men drive around shooting each other on the street over some music industry beef? I’m pretty sure there aren’t any drive by shootings in the classical music crowd or at the Country Music Awards.

  3. JesseS

    For the anthem bit, the prickly feelings many have about the 3rd verse are understandable. That said engaging it as a moral debate is giving in to a genetic fallacy. Now I’ve read plenty of articles that would lead me to believe that all informal fallacies are inherently racist, sexist, and homophobic, but no, I’m not buying that. This isn’t comparative literature.

    The 3rd verse isn’t a statue on the square. It’s the statue that was already in a museum.

    If Congress thinks it’s worth the time they can update Title 36 of the United States Code and make the lyrics official. As it stands there are none. If they really want to rub it in they can add Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 5th stanza from the Civil War that specifically addressed slavery and called the south out as traitors. I could live with that.

    As for Trump, historically presidents keep their noses out what is essentially a labor dispute. There aren’t train cars backed up from here to Pennsylvania, or ports full of goods that need to go to market, or even striking coal miners. This isn’t leaving Americans cold and hungry. This is Trump being Trump. It’s Tuesday, so what do you do? Rile up the mob. It seem to be his only real talent. Other presidents might have done that, but he seems to think it’s the reason the job was created, not the reason he got the job.

    As far as players taking a knee this gets tricky in the age of decentralized protest. Like Occupy there is no formal list of demands, we just get Kaepernick’s comments and people who support Colin. This could be about the anthem or it could be about kids getting shot by the cops and the lopsided nature of our criminal justice system.

    Either way the American people need to get over being angry about this. When we were kids and we stood up for the Pledge of Allegiance the kids who were Jehovah’s Witnesses sat. This has been the case since Minersville School District v. Gobitis and no one has really cared since.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I went and looked it up, and found myself more confused than I was before — even though there’s no lack of people out there willing to ‘splain it.

        It’s easy to see why the first verse is the only one we sing. I’m speaking aesthetically here…

    1. Mark Stewart

      “Other presidents might have done that, but he seems to think it’s the reason the job was created, not the reason he got the job.”

      Nice summation of our current Presidential myopia.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    There’s an interesting piece from the principled conservative position in National Review, headlined “I Understand Why They Knelt.”

    Here’s a good bit:

    As my colleague Jim Geraghty notes this morning, too many in our polarized nation have lately developed a disturbing habit of zealously defending the free speech of people they like while working overtime to find reasons to justify censoring their ideological enemies. How many leftists who were yelling “free speech” yesterday are only too happy to sic the government on the tiny few bakers or florists who don’t want to use their artistic talents to celebrate events they find offensive? How many progressives who celebrated the First Amendment on Sunday sympathize with college students who chant “speech is violence” and seek to block conservatives from college campuses?

    The hypocrisy runs the other way, too. I was startled to see many conservatives who decried Google’s termination of a young, dissenting software engineer work overtime yesterday to argue that Trump was somehow in the right. Yet Google is a private corporation and Trump is the most powerful government official in the land. The First Amendment applies to Trump, not Google, and his demands for reprisals are ultimately far more ominous, given his job, than even the actions of the largest corporations. Google, after all, has competitors. Google commands no police force. Everything it does is replaceable.

    In the space of less than 24 hours this weekend, the president of the United States did more to politicize sports than ESPN has done in a decade of biased, progressive programming. He singled out free speech he didn’t like, demanded that dissenters be fired, and then — when it became clear that private American citizens weren’t going to do what he demanded — he urged the economic boycott of their entire industry….

  5. Richard

    Has MLB ever fully recovered from the 1994 strike? I know people who gave up on baseball and still haven’t watched a game.

  6. Ralph Hightower

    It’s Trump vs. the NFL, the NBA, and MLB.
    Trump poured gasoline on a fire. This whole kneeling thing would die down if Trump would shut the hell up! Trump has a fragile thin skin; he gets offended at the slightest slight. I cannot fathom why Trump even contemplated running for President when he knew that his life would be under a microscope. Just look at the shit he shoveled on top of Obama. Trump should have know that he would get the same.
    Stephan Curry said he won’t visit the White House, so Trump uninvites the Golden State Warriors. Trump is acting childish.
    It won’t be long before the adult in the room, Chief of Staff John Kelly says “Screw it! I’m out of here!” Kelly has proven himself to be an ineffective Chief of Staff by failing to control Trump’s impulsive tendencies.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I don’t think Kelly at any time has harbored ambitions of controlling Trump’s insanity. The best he can do is impose some order on the chaos that was the West Wing before he arrived. Getting Trump to act like a rational human is a bridge too far for any general…

    2. Doug Ross

      “Stephan Curry said he won’t visit the White House,”

      It was the whole team who decided not to attend. Remember all the backlash when other athletes wouldn’t visit the White House when Obama was in there? Now the tables are flipped. But we know that was just about race.

  7. Bart Rogers

    Another perspective. When Colin Kaepernick did his thing last year, it was an outlier and ultimately, he paid for it. He is no longer playing for any team. However, as the season progressed, a couple more players followed his lead. Then this year, his unemployment as an NFL player became an issue and many players spoke up and said he should be playing for a team. Then it started to heat up and when Trump made his volatile comments, all he succeeded in doing was to throw gas on the embers and they blazed up with many players, owners, and coaches.

    As expected, everyone else with any grievance, perceived or real chimed in. Now it is the main topic and once again, more division even among the players and former players. One member of the Steelers chose to stand at the entrance of the tunnel with his hand over his heart for the anthem. He was criticized by the HC, Mike Tomlin. The player, a decorated Afghanistan veteran, chose to honor the anthem and flag while his teammates stayed in the locker room.

    But the two teams that took it to another level were the Ravens and Jaguars. They played in London and stood at attention when the British anthem was played but kneeled when our anthem was played.

    Everyone has the right to protest and express their dissatisfaction with any issue but what is going on now is beyond the pale. It is further dividing the nation when we should be coming together. It is driving more people away from the games and watching on television than it is adding to attendance and viewership.

    After the “cause” was picked up and gained steam after Kap wasn’t signed by a team, my enthusiasm for NFL football has waned tremendously and at this point, I could care less if I never watch another game. I looked forward to Sunday afternoon and other times when games were televised but not anymore. It was a time to forget about all the crap raining down on our heads, day after day after day and having Trump add to the load and smell of it. It was a great way to escape for a few hours but frankly, it has been taken away and with ESPN adding to the problem, even the short period of respite has been soiled to the point where if the NFL closed down, I wouldn’t miss it.

  8. Chuckie

    Man, are you clueless on this. You take a gesture and turn it into an insult of everybody from Christopher Columbus to Pat Tillman. Talk about bombast! Trump has nothing on you!

    Really now, this isn’t about insulting the flag, the anthem, the troops or the police, let alone the country or its history. It’s not about any of that. It’s taking advantage of the one moment during a public spectacle when players can draw the public’s attention to a real issue by means of a public gesture. You may not find it effective. That’s fine. But let’s not turn it into what it’s not.

    These kneeing protests DO NOT represent disrespect. And once folks realize that, they really have no reason to be upset by them.

    Given your point-of-view on this, if you had been a southern newspaper editor back in the 1950s, you’d likely have been complaining that civil rights protesters were a bunch of rabble rousers stirring people up to no good end. When the fact is, had it not been for all those (non-verbal) boycotts and protests (which also didn’t “offer any concrete solutions” other than “stop doing what you’re doing,” same as the protests now), the civil rights movement would have moved forward less quickly than it did in many places across the South.

      1. Chuckie

        Yeah, I got the point you WANT to make – that the protest is undefined. But it isn’t. Protest doesn’t require subtitling. But even If the players held up signs reading “Black Lives Matter” while kneeling, practically everybody who finds it an insult now would find it an insult then as well.

        So you don’t help anything by forcing interpretations on it that don’t apply:

        “Since the flag, and the anthem, represent the entire nation, IT MEANS your beef is with everything about the country.”

        And then banging away on the same point:

        “You’re saying the whole country is as bad as the North Charleston cop who shot Walter Scott. Every bit of it, starting with the Founders and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You’re dissing Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass along with Robert E. Lee. You’re lumping in Martin Luther King with George Wallace. They’re all part of America, so you blame them all.”

        No, the protest IS NOT ABOUT “the flag, and the anthem” or “the entire nation” or anything else you lump onto the pile. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who honestly wants to see. You’re intentionally misinterpreting it in order to make your own point – not unlike the way the president is misusing it for his own purposes.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          I’m just so glad that those people have taken one thing that should be a unifying thread of our country and turned it into a divisive political thing. The national anthem was previously one moment when everyone stopped being partisan hacks and stopped to appreciate what was good in our country.

          Now that’s gone. Awesome. Great job, guys. Now we’ve got morons refusing to stand up when visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington. How did the Unknown Soldier perpetuate racism? We don’t even know who the guy is.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            That IS a joke, right? I mean, the guy’s kneeling. I see nothing that tells me he’s doing so “in protest.”

            This is just somebody making fun of how easily people get offended — right?

            I’m asking because I followed the link and some people seemed genuinely offended — like, not ironically…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                When I see a guy kneeling, especially in front of a grave, my first thought is that he’s praying, or just overcome with emotion.

                I’d need additional info to think he was making a political statement…

                1. Bryan Caskey

                  Hey, I’m totally with you on that. Those two thoughts make sense. But if it’s some dude thinking he’s being funny…then he and I have a serious difference of opinion in what constitutes comedy.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    As for when I said, “this is a joke, right,” I wasn’t talking about the guy kneeling. I meant the guy who was saying he was offended by it. I thought maybe THAT was being ironic, because I saw nothing inherently disrespectful in the kneeling. I thought the Tweeter was making fun of people who are easily offended.


                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      O’Brian’s character-driven humor is an acquired taste, of course, but I really loved this passage I ran across the other day.

                      At a time when they were running out of provisions on blockade duty, Killick had come into the cabin asking the doctor what to do with a parcel he had found. The doctor had forgotten the parcel, and was excited to remember what it was — a pint of “best mocha.”

                      So he cried, “Good Killick, honest Killick, pray grind it as fast as human power allows and make up a noble great pot.”

                      Which produced this response:

                      honest Killick

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          No, actually, I’m not. It’s an extremely poorly conceived protest, because it doesn’t communicate clearly. It invites, it BEGS people to put whatever interpretation on it they choose. There’s no focus to it whatsoever.

          I’ll say it again: You want to tell me something? Use your words…

          1. Chuckie

            Seems to me you’re being willfully obtuse. You need to listen to players like Malcolm Jenkins or Doug Baldwin, just to name two.

            To me it’s quite clear, as one player pointed out, that these games provide a very good platform for making a point and igniting discussion – as it has. Since the audience for the games includes a huge number of white guys (and in particularly working-class white guys) who probably would not otherwise take much notice of the issues the protest raises, this is the one occasion when they can be confronted directly by black persons calling on them to take notice. This white audience can then choose to either follow up by taking a closer look at the problems raised, OR they can instead decide to be indifferent and ignore it or try to derail it by angrily nursing indignation. But that’s THEIR choice, not one forced on them by the protest itself.

        3. Mark Stewart

          You know what’s disrespectful and tacky? Taking photos of the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Everytime I go it’s the thing that really irks me. That and the touristy people who sit on the steps on hot summer afternoons.

          If a guy takes a knee and is attentive to the memorial proceedings whom am I to judge? Well, I just judged the photographers and sitters, but…

  9. bud

    What Trump and the people who support him are doing is practicing a conservative version of political correctness. Of course Trump is really just feigning outrage. He really doesn’t actually care. But by expressing indignation he gets the crowds to cheer for him. And that’s his real motivation.

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