Gastineau: United by Football

By Mike Gastineau

My love of sports started early and has been a constant companion through my life. The longer I’ve lived the more I realized that one of the things I love the most is the unique way in which sports can bring large, diverse groups of people together for a short period of time to share a commonality.

That thought was on my mind late Sunday afternoon at the Seahawks game. I walked into the stadium just as the playing of the Star Spangled Banner was about to begin. I looked around during the song, noticed about a dozen Seahawks players sitting, noticed small groups of fans who joined them, and didn’t notice anyone booing. This is not to say there weren’t people at the game who booed. I’m just saying in the small part of the stadium I could see and hear I didn’t notice anything.

There’s been so much yammering about how divided we are on this issue (which is true) and how it could be the undoing of the NFL (which I seriously doubt) that I was a little surprised that there wasn’t some larger negative reaction among fans.

After the anthem, the presentation of the 12th man flag began on a night when the Seahawks would honor the great Kenny Easley by retiring his number. Last summer, Easley became the fourth Seahawk enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and late Sunday afternoon 68,872 fans began to roar as they realized that the flag would be raised by the other Hawks who have been so honored.

Out walked Steve Largent. Then Walter Jones. Finally, out walked Courtney Kennedy to representing her father Cortez who passed away last May. She raised the flag while Largent and Jones looked on. Again, I only speak for my section, but it sure got dusty in a hurry. No one was debating the anthem controversy. Instead, an entire stadium full of fans showed appreciation for three immense talents who have done (and did) so much for our community. Sports doing what it does best: uniting.

From that point on the game took on the look and feel of any NFL game. Fans groaned through a first half when the Hawks offense continued to sputter and then cheered loudly during a second half in which they could do no wrong.

Walking back to my hotel with happy fans I heard snippets of several conversations that were all about the game, next week’s game at Los Angeles, and the season to date. Energized by that remarkable second half, fans who three hours earlier were lamenting the Seahawks slow start to the season were suddenly allowing themselves to believe again. Any dispute about proper decorum for the anthem was shoved to the back burner for the time being.

My point here is that there’s a lot more out there to unite us than there is to divide us. Social media, and the immovable stands some people bring to their arguments there, can lead one to conclude that we’re hopelessly divided as a nation.

I disagree. The people who want to divide, who want to draw lines in the sand and be completely dug in on their opinions are certainly out there and due to their proclivity for posts containing hard-line stances on just about everything they can feel like the majority. They’re not.

There’s a much larger group of us out in the middle who are willing to see both sides of difficult issues and who enjoy embracing the larger things in life that bring us all together. We can disagree, agree to disagree, and still find plenty of room for things we have in common.

After my column last week regarding player demonstrations during the anthem posted I was heartened by one incident that took place on my Facebook page. On the page was a thread that built over two days involving a guy who was mad that players were using the anthem to protest and several people who defended the players.

Despite social media’s ability to turn some people into second graders (“YOU’RE A BIG POOPY PANTS!”) this discussion remained civil. I’m not sure anyone’s mind changed but the discussion stayed at a level of reasonable public discourse.

That can continue if we all recognize that the windbags on both sides of every issue who value bloviating over listening are not the majority. We are. And there’s more of us than them.

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