By Mike Gastineau
So, where do we go from here?
We’ve just concluded an NFL weekend unlike most of us have ever seen in our lifetime.
The only one that compares is the weekend in 1963 following the assassination of John Kennedy. Pete Rozelle, the NFL’s relatively new commissioner, made the decision to play league games just two days after Kennedy died. Years after the fact Rozelle would say it was the worst decision of his life. Charles Pierce wrote a terrific summation of that weekend a few years back in Sports Illustrated.
There are obvious differences to what we witnessed this weekend but there are also some similarities. The imagery of players from both teams holding hands during the playing of Taps before the Redskins/Eagles game in Philadelphia is powerful even to those of us who didn’t see it. The idea of the Dallas Cowboys needing extra protection for their game in Cleveland is a sobering reminder that mob mentality has been around for a long time. And the story of a player’s car being destroyed by fans because it had a Texas license plate exemplifies the kind of mindless vengeance that can exist when people allow violence to replace reason.
The NFL, and America, survived that horrible ordeal. The NFL, and America, will survive what’s happening now.
But again the question is asked: Where do we go from here?
Here’s one idea. Maybe it’s time for everyone to dial the anger, the rhetoric, and the false accusations back. Like a family discussion at dinner that escalated to an out-of-control argument, the air has been cleared. Maybe it’s time to try and find some commonality.
This kind of attitude will have to come from the NFL, the players, and the fans on both sides of the discussion. It’s certainly not coming from our country’s leader. If a rational discussion is going to take place, it’s going to have to start with all of us. It could start with both sides finding some small things on which to agree.
Maybe the NFL and the players could admit that the politicization of the National Anthem was never their point and that they realize the playing of the song is a powerful moment for many Americans.
Maybe the fans who have been critical of the players could admit that they know the players aren’t protesting the flag, or America, or the troops. They could admit that it’s been fairly clear what the players (and after this weekend the owners) actions were protesting (in a peaceful manner, a right guaranteed them in the First Amendment).
Maybe the NFL and the players could reiterate that they have respect for police officers, the vast majority of whom conduct their business in a proper fashion while working an extremely dangerous job.
Maybe the fans who have been critical could admit that there are some bad apples in law enforcement and there have been some instances over the years where excessive force was used incorrectly against minorities.
Maybe the players could redouble their effort to meet with law enforcement officers around the country to see their point of view on things and have constructive discussions on ways things could improve.
Maybe the fans who have been critical could praise those players for taking time to try to make a difference. We ALL want safer streets, reasonable law enforcement, and appropriate punishment that fits a particular crime.
Maybe everyone on both sides of this discussion could admit that posting memes and pithy comments on social media is no way to have a discussion on such a serious issue. The complexities of our democracy (which, by the way, has never been perfect) demand a more nuanced and thoughtful approach than what is available on Facebook and Twitter.
There are extremists on both sides of this discussion who long ago checked out. We’re not going to change their minds. But, in my opinion, there are many more of us out here in the middle. Some lean toward the players’ point of view. Others think the players have chosen the wrong way to deliver their message. These are the people I’m trying to reach. Let’s stop shouting. Let’s start discussing.
Many fans see the players as leaders in their respective communities and people have always looked to leaders in times when they feel change is needed.
Many fans see the National Anthem as a symbolic and powerful moment, a time for reflection on a loved one currently in harm’s way or perhaps even gone. They see what’s happening as being disrespectful to those memories.
So maybe, if we acknowledge good points on both sides, the time has come to move forward.
The best way to do that might be for the NFL to return to the policy of playing the National Anthem while both teams are in the locker room before player introductions. Maybe, in an effort to move the discussion forward, the NFL could remove something that’s created a symbolic divisive barrier.
Because in the end there should be at least two things that we can all agree on.
The status quo, where we all dig in and yell at each other, isn’t going to work.
And no one’s mom should ever be called a bitch because her child was trying to make a point.