National Anthems and Flames (and Wars Thereof)

So funny story. I remember, the last time I had this blog thingy open, thinking to myself ‘Wow, I’ve got a lot of topics I want to write about. I may need to do two posts this month.’

And here we are, six months later, with nothing new posted in the interim. Huh.

I guess getting married can have that effect. Not to mention finally finishing a screenplay I should have finished a year ago but had been putting off because I’m a lazy writer because I was waiting for creative genius to strike.

But now that I am getting back to blogging, instead of writing about one of those topics I felt so passionately about before, I’m instead going to write about something recent, because that’s the kind of minute-to-minute attention span the internet has taught me to have.

So, to review, recently two different athletes have got the internet into quite the tizzy because of their different but (apparently) abhorrent reactions when the national anthem was played.

First it was Gabby Douglas, who made the decision to stand at attention rather than place her hand over her heart during the medal ceremony at the Rio Olympics.

As an unapologetic Douglas fan, I did think about commenting on this, but really, there’s not a lot to say. She thought what she was doing was respectful. Other people thought it was disrespectful. The criticism may have been racially motivated, but also may not have been.

At the end of the day, it seems to me the main crux of the story comes from the fact that celebrities, especially celebrity athletes, are so rarely given the benefit of the doubt, or even just allowed to have lapses in judgment, even though the rest of us demand we be granted these same benefits.

Sunrise, sunset. Nothing new under the sun.

No, the event I wish to comment more in-depth on happened just last night, when Colin Kaerpernick of the San Francisco 49ers chose to sit while the national anthem played before his preseason football game.

Unlike Douglas, however, Kaepernick did intend to be disrespectful, saying afterwards “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

This, too, is nothing new, but it did prompt swift and harsh criticisms from every corner of the internet. It’s this backlash that primarily deserves more discussion and, frankly, criticism.

It’d be easy (and fun) to mock the dumb posts, like this one, which hilariously tries to assert that losing a preseason game (which does not impact a team’s record and will be forgotten by next week) is Kaepernick’s “karma” for disrespecting the US. If that’s all the karma he faces, I guess what he did must not be that bad. But there’s much more troubling posts, like this one, which is also getting much more attention.

The thing is, I really don’t understand this fellow’s logic. His criticism of Kaepernick seems to begin and end with “He makes a lot of money, yet claims he’s oppressed.” Now, what Kaepernick actually said was that black people, as a group, are largely oppressed; to my knowledge he never claimed to have suffered oppression himself, so maybe this is a simple case of the fire-starting fan not reading the statements carefully enough before responding. But since he’s responding to Kaepernic and apparently some people are taking this man seriously, let’s look at the problems created by his response to the statements actually made by Kaepernick, his argument therefore being “Kaepernick makes a lot of money, yet erroneously claims that black people are oppressed.”

There are only two premises from which he could logically draw this conclusion: Either a) Because Kaepernick is well-paid, no black person is oppressed, or b) Because Kaepernick makes $126 million, he’s not allowed to be angry about the oppression others face.

The first premise is an obvious fallacy. The equivalent would be my finding one white person who was broke and trying to claim that all white people are oppressed. As an argument, it’s one step above those who say “It was cold today, therefore global warming is a myth.” Individual examples do nothing to prove or disprove general trends.

The second is much more insidious, but also more problematic. First because it raises some obvious questions right off the bat, such as “How little does a person have to make before it’s okay for them to care about marginalized groups?” If he made $125 million, would his comments be okay? Or would it have to be below, say, $500,000?

But even more problematically, it encourages our human nature that tells us we should only care about problems that affect us. Now, we all know that this is not true–after all, what would be the logical conclusion to that line of thinking? Should I ignore the plight of rape victims simply because I’ve never been raped? I’ve never been persecuted for my faith, so am I not allowed to be angry about the systematic genocide my brothers and sisters in the Middle East have had to face? Should only cancer patients do research on cures for cancer? It’s ridiculous, and we all know this. We all know, at least subconsciously, that we are responsible for making the world a better, juster, fairer place for everyone. And yet, for some reason, we continue to see this argument brought up, particularly in cases of race.

Now all of that being said, I’m far from on Kaepernick’s side here. I find it more than a bit suspect that when he was on top of the league and considered a future Hall-of-Famer, the most important social issue I heard him speak out against was a stigma against people who had tattoos. But now that he’s fallen on hard times and has been largely forgotten, he’s grown a social conscious? I’m not saying people can’t change, just that I find this particular case a bit suspect.

Even if he is sincere in his statements, though, there almost certainly had to be a better way to express them. Many other black athletes have expressed similar convictions in a way that is not only much less headline-grabbing (again, I’m a bit suspicious about Kaepernick’s motives) but also much more thoughtful, and therefore more likely to promote honest, open discussion.

Kap is far from beyond criticism here, and it’s important for those who disagree with him to criticize. But. It’s equally important that any criticisms levied at him focus either on his beliefs (i.e. showing that black people, again, as a group, not as individuals are not oppressed) or his actions (i.e. showing more positive ways he could have expressed those beliefs).

Misrepresenting his argument, oversimplifying complex social issues, and personal attacks (especially the particularly childish ones hurled in the video) only serve to perpetuate the juvenile discussions and divisive arguments that are ripping our culture apart at the seams.

The only way society moves forward is if we all pull in the same direction.

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About tharrington42

I teach English at an online school in Iowa. I am currently in the process of applying to grad schools. In my spare time I like to write, go biking, or lift weights.

2 responses to “National Anthems and Flames (and Wars Thereof)”

  1. Mason says :

    So the inference is that Kappy is trying to make a play for a return to relevance. I commend your looking at the affect. That’s key. I think you may be on to something, but I don’t think he’s that cunning. Who is the Wizard, Dorthy?
    I’m interested in if this is something new he started doing, or “they” just decided to report on it this time.
    P.s. Be the creative genius you are waiting for to strike.

    • tharrington42 says :

      You do raise a good point about reporting. I say I never heard him talk about anything other than his tattoos before, but I guess that could be because it just never got reported on (or I just never heard about it). That could explain why he would do something that would be more controversial and get more attention.

      In retrospect, though, I do kind of wish I had just left that part out. Partly because I don’t even fully understand why I do some of the things I do, so who am I to speculate on another person’s motivations? And partly because I’ll take a false act of social consciousness over a sincere act of self-centeredness any day. I would still stand by my other critique, though, as I do think there were more effective ways he could get his message out there, ways that might not immediately prompt anger in those who responded.

      Thanks for the read and for your comment, man. As always, I appreciate your thoughts.

      P.S. Ha, you’re right! I put that in there mostly as a joke. I know well that good writing comes not from divine inspiration, but diligent, hard work. Your advice is still good, though.

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