“Is that really the best you can do?”
Let me start by expressing my own personal conviction that social injustice is wrong, whether it is rooted in racism, bigotry, religious prejudice, or any of the other real or imagined elitisms which conspire to make some people believe that they as individuals are better, or more that some group is more deserving than others. Most decent people abhor social injustice in all its various forms. Whether social injustice takes place on the streets of our nation, in the work places, or on the playing fields, it is absolutely contrary to everything we have been taught that is great about this nation - founded upon the basic principles of equality.
In our legal system, the highest court in our land is the Supreme Court of the United States. The words “EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW” are deeply etched into the stonework above the entrance to the Supreme Court Building located in Washington D.C.
Our nation’s legal system was specifically founded to incorporate the primary tenet that there are no special laws for elites. All citizens are equal under the laws of our land. That same concept, we are taught, holds true for all aspects of our social system. Our society, however, is most certainly not a perfect one, much as we would like it to be, and we must all remain vigilant for inequalities, recognize them when we see them, and call for their elimination whenever and wherever they exist.
The greatest national and military leaders through history, when facing the most desperate odds, have demonstrated time and again that in order to achieve their greatest victories, it is necessary to take great care in choosing the time, the place, and the circumstances of their battles. This holds true of almost every imaginable scenario, whether those battles are staged on bloody fields of conflict, or staged in the ivory towers of law and politics, or staged in the meanest markets of commerce. Picking the time and place which will render the greatest advantage is crucial to victory.
In today’s complex society, fraught with political and social tensions, anyone wishing to publicly give voice to their sentiments against a social injustice must likewise be mindful of the settings and circumstances. Careful consideration must be made when choosing a time, a location, and a method to be used in taking a stand and making a statement against injustice. If the timing, the place, or the method used in denouncing an injustice are themselves seen as disrespectful or insulting, then failure is the most likely outcome.
Disregard for negative repercussions which result from making a public statement that is poorly calculated for timing, location, or method will most sure to greater damage to the reputation of the person making that statement, that it will to the injustices which are being exposed, no matter how well intentioned the actions. The more serious the perceived disrespect or insult, the greater the likely damage to the person speaking, and the less likely that the cause will be perceived as valid.
When an individual’s actions convey the notion that he or she lacks compassion, and is unwilling to respect an individual person, an honored office, or an honored institution, then the denouncement of injustice will surely fail, and is likely to be drowned out by the calls for action to be taken against the speaker.
Those making denouncements of social injustices must always be mindful of their own situation, and how they, themselves, are perceived by the public, As this, too, will have very significant effect on the success or failure of their message.
Those who professionally participate in SPORTS must be ever mindful that they are seen by the general public as not ‘working’, but actually as being lucky enough to be able to ‘play a game’ for a living.
However great the physical difficulties involved in that sport, however arduous the demands on the player’s time, the public will still believe that they are in a unique category in our society. They are seen as being celebrities of an elite status - in reputation, in monetary remuneration, and in society in general. They will be widely admired, and many in the public will aspire to gain such a position in life, though only a scant few will ever achieve that goal.
A sports celebrity must always remember that the time they spend in front of their fans is not their own. It belongs to the franchise, the group, the league, or the team which employs them. Above that, it belongs to the fans who spend their hard earned money to support that franchise, group, league, or that team. The player’s time in the conduct of the sport is not theirs to spend as they wish. They are obliged to conduct themselves at all times during public appearances for the betterment of their employer, and for the enjoyment and satisfaction of their fans.
Neither politics nor declarations of social injustices are a part of the game. Neither belong in the sporting venue. Neither politics nor public statements are included in expectations of admiring fans who gather to view a sporting competition. The fans are paying money to witness the players in competition and nothing more. The game time belongs to those who are paying for it, not to those who are being paid to participate in that gaming activity.
The best possible time for making a public announcement or statement regarding a social injustice, and the time when a demonstration of personal commitment will have the greatest impact on others, is when the time and the situation belong to the person who is making the statement.
The worst possible time for making a public announcement or statement regarding a social injustice is when the time being used for that statement belongs to someone else - most specifically the employers, sponsors, and patrons who are paying money to attend the sporting event. Rather than being seen as a public service and a justifiable cause, making such statements during ‘game time’ will be seen as nothing more than political grandstanding.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution - the first item in the list entries in what we refer to as our Bill of Rights - is the recognition of the right of Freedom of Speech. It is a preeminent right, declared in our nation’s most basic foundational document, and it is always cited as justification for the making of public declarations of a political or social nature, whenever any complaint is made about such political or social declarations. Likewise, it is used regularly as an preemptive admonition against those who might consider attempting to stifle such expressions.
The truth is that the US Bill of Rights does, indeed, confirm the right of US citizens to Freedom of Speech. What is not expressed but must also be recognized, is that there is an expectation of the most basic level of respect. Whether or not one person agrees with the political or social beliefs of another, all are expected to conduct themselves in a basically respectful manner, including rendering respect for the property and the possessions of others. The expectations of basic respect extend to include social and national emblems, institutions, and activities.
In the most recent and ongoing case of professional sports celebrities “taking a knee” to make their public statements against social injustice, the action taken to “make a public statement” is seen by many as impinging on, or diminishing the perceived value of the “game time” which they paid for. They see their “game time” as a time when all other matters, distractions, concerns, and worries related to the ‘very real world’ are put aside so that for an all-too-brief period of time they may experience uninterrupted entertainment.
In today’s climate of heightened political, racial, and ideological sensibilities and tensions, one of the few things which is seen as being common to all American citizens is their national pride, including the emblem representing their national pride - the national flag, and the national anthem.
In truth, the amount of reverence and importance in which these national ceremonies and emblems are viewed by the American public is tantamount to the respect and reverence the public holds for actual religious organizations. For nearly two and a half centuries the collective rendering of respect and somber reverence for our national emblem and the ceremonies associated with that national emblem have transcended all religions and beliefs.
Attempting to shine a spotlight of public awareness on social injustices is a laudable goal and one which might be expected to gain solid public approval, and very positive public backing.
But attempting to bring attention to social injustice by offering disrespect and insult to the national pride - represented by both the national flag and the national anthem - is not the way to accomplish that goal. It will only succeed in arousing their disrespect.
Attempting to bring attention to social injustice by reducing or diminishing the value of the “game time” which fans have paid for is not the way to accomplish that goal. It will only succeed in arousing their anger.
Disrupting those “national ceremonies” will not be perceived as a public service, and will not be perceived as having value. The negatives will far outweigh any possible positives.
Yes, players do, legally, have the right to make such demonstrations or declarations - as many of them have been done over the last few months. But they do so at their own peril. In truth, disrespect shown to the overarching national ceremony which includes our national flag, and our national anthem (viewed by many as a virtually sacred “hymn”), is seen by many as a crime, in and of itself.
With all this in mind then, I must ask all of the players of professional sports who have elected to drop down on one knee during the presentation of our nation’s flag and the playing of our national anthem at the commencement of game time… IS THAT REALLY THE BEST YOU CAN DO?
-You have the unbelievable opportunity to play your favorite game for a living.
-You enjoy a very exclusive and highly envied lifestyle.
-You enjoy the adoration of countless hundreds of thousands of individuals who fantasize about being in your place and having your opportunities.
-You as an individual, you as a team, and you as a collective organization of teams, are adored by millions of admiring supporters.
-Your individual salaries for “playing a game” far exceeds the wildest imaginings of all but a handful of your fans and admirers.
Fans perceive their time with you, through the shared experience as spectators of the “game”, as a priceless escape from a reality that for many includes mostly drudgery, toil, and deprivation. They work throughout their lives in a desperate effort to provide for the most basic of life’s of their families and themselves. They hope and pray that they and the community around them are on the right path in life. They worry about making the right decisions. And for many, during the current climate of increased political tensions, they cling to hope that their government is working to their best interests. They demonstrate that collective belief through traditional ‘national ceremonies’ during their time away from the realities of life’s drudgery.
Interrupting that brief reverie, and intruding on that escape time, by inserting politics of any sort, amounts to throwing cold water on their warm, fuzzy moments, and disrupting their belief that everything will work out.
So I ask again… IS THAT REALLY THE BEST YOU CAN DO?
The time to make a public declaration and to take a stand against social injustice is when the time being spent to accomplish this task is yours, not when that time belongs to someone else.
Is there injustice in our nation? Most assuredly there is! Are members of one racial group being treated differently, treated worse, than another group, or all other groups? It would seem to be the case, though the realities of the world change so quickly it is hard to determine at any time just which group, sub-group, peripheral group, or loose collective of individuals has experienced the greatest injustice or seen the most egregious actions taken against them.
Do you have the right to declare that such exists in our nation? YES! ABSOLUTELY! But disrespecting treasured national icons, or disrupting nationally-observed ceremonies which border on the ‘religious’ is not the way to accomplish the best results. By disrespecting national ceremonies you ensure that the message you hope to spread is lost in the clamor against your disrespect. The national discussion of your disrespect moves to the front of the line, and your message is reduced to a very weak second place.
So try doing it a BETTER way. Make a difference. You have the time, you have the money, and you have the opportunity, to deliver that message in such a way as to guarantee that it is perceived as being truly righteous, and that it remains uppermost in the minds of an unbelievably large group of supporters. If you do it in a manner which demonstrates the importance of your message, but also demonstrates a profound respect for the nation and its citizenry, they you cannot, and you will not fail.
Go to the nation’s capital and speak to the politicians. Stand on the steps to Congress and the cameras of the media will swarm to meet you. Stand on the national ‘Mall’ just as Martin Luther King Jr did, and the world will view you and your message as having the same importance and relevance as the one he delivered. His was a message that brought a nation to its feet in support of civil rights. Your message can do the same thing in defeating social injustices.
Your celebrity status guarantees that you will be seen and followed. Your celebrity status guarantees that your message will be recorded and spread by countless hundreds of thousands who think the very best of you and of your sensibilities. Those fans and admirers will be strongly affected by your profound beliefs, and they will be moved to aid you in bringing attention to injustices and ending them.
Instead of disrespecting the flag, the anthem, and the nation they represent, drape yourself in that flag, and declare that the greater good of the entire nation hangs in the balance. Do so when those actions are not seen in a negative light, and you will be overwhelmed by the positive reactions of countless hundreds of thousands of cheering fans and supporters across the nation. Do so and you will change everything for the better - and you will not be seen as anything but the most staunch patriot and greatest defender of all that is right in our nation.