In Twelve Step programs, the second step reads “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” As I watch images from the recent weekend’s NFL footballs games, this step keeps going through my mind. All those talented players, mostly black, are shown kneeling quietly and seriously as the American national anthem is played or sung. Or they stand with linked arms–highly developed muscularly, of course–and thoughtful expressions on their faces. I understand this “play” of theirs quite well, though when I try to watch an actual game on the field, I often can’t tell who has the ball or where it is. Sometimes, I’ve even mused that the whole sport of professional football is an activity designed to make it all right for grown men to hug each other.
But these respectful protests against a president who is showing more and more clearly just how racist his core beliefs and preferences are move me. Who knows why their overwhelmingly white owners are increasingly joining them in these respectful protests. We do know why more and more of the black players and their white allies are doing so. They are “coming to believe” that their fame as superb athletes on the field for a couple of hours a week does not change the fundamental fact that resides in their being black in an America no longer hesitant about voicing openly the most hateful ideas and feelings about black people of any kind. What television pundits and late night comics are saying/doing around this issue helps me pull back from utter despair over where the country is headed. We are being shown contrasting comments from the president about his view of NFL players (majority black) and NASCAR drivers (majority white) and this helps viewers understand what is going on. When we laugh with Jimmy Kimmel or Trevor Noah or Conan O’Brien, we move further away from accepting serious proposals coming from the White House about who can travel to the US or who can vote or who can continue to receive health care.
So I stand in admiration of the football players who take off their helmets to honor the national anthem but kneel or stand in protest. As several black spokespeople I’ve seen lately on CNN say: “They are not disrespecting the flag or our country; rather they are acting in accordance with the Constitution of that country as they try to help its citizens work to make it a better place.” They are coming to believe in a Power greater than their passing arms or running legs or deftly designed strategies for how to get to the goal posts. That Power in this instance is standing up to someone invested with tremendous “power” whom they see using that investiture to shred the very fabric of the country they love.