Shabazz: Patriotism, politics and professional athletes

October 7, 2017

Okay, let me start off by saying two things. First, I fully support the members of the National Football League to take a knee during the national anthem to protest what they think is social injustice in today’s society. This is America, not North Korea, and you have the right to speak your mind.

Secondly, had it been me, I would not have kneeled but found another way to express my displeasure and used my time and resources to help build bridges in these communities where there have been problems with the locals and law enforcement.

Now that we got that out the way, we can have a real discussion.

As you all know, this is about players taking a knee to protest what they consider to be excessive police force that has resulted in the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement. This has also led to a lot of people protesting the protestors and some going so far (i.e., President Donald Trump) to call for players who don’t stand for the national anthem to be fired.

Where do I begin?

First of all, when the government says someone should lose their job when they exercise their First Amendment rights, we should all be worried. Because what’s to stop Uncle Sam from applying pressure on employers to punish people whose speech it doesn’t agree with or, for that matter, when someone tries to exercise one of their other rights? Yes, I’m talking about you, Second Amendment supporters. That should worry a lot of people.

Secondly, I think this entire incident calls into question what exactly is patriotism? Merriam-Webster defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” I think some people have confused that with unwavering support. As I wrote on social media this past week, patriotism is loving your country so much that you are willing to call it out when you think it is wrong. Blind allegiance is a perilous thing. The last thing I want is to see the national anthem turn into “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from the musical “Cabaret.”

Third, and I think this might be the most important point of all, what we are seeing is the result of the NFL, for the last 30 years, incorporating jingoism into marketing its product. You all do recall that between 2011 and 2015, the Department of Defense and the National Guard paid the NFL $12.5 million for “patriotic tributes” which included on-field color guard, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, etc.

And by doing this, the NFL set itself up for where we are today. When you have contrived displays of patriotism, it’s inevitable that the day is going to come when a player is going to do something someone considers “unpatriotic,” and that incident is only going to be magnified because of the backdrop where it’s taking place.

So can some good come out of this? I think so. However, I think instead of focusing on the fact that NFL players and coaches took a knee, maybe we can concentrate on the root causes of why they did and talk about meaningful ways to address those issues. And while we’re at it, we can have a real discussion on what patriotism is. For me, it always has and will be loving your country so much you are willing to call it out when it goes astray and not use it as “the last refuge of the scoundrel.”•

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Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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