If my dad were alive today, he and I would have debated the actions of the NFL football players that knelt or sat during the national anthem before football games last week. I would have been spoiling for the confrontation.
The football players said their kneeling and sitting were done to protest the mistreatment of African-Americans in society and especially the rising deaths of unarmed black men and boys being shot to death by law enforcement officers.
The 45th president claims he knows better than those protesting what they were doing. He claims they were protesting the flag and the national anthem. He even called them SOBs, thereby slamming both them and their mothers. This is the same man that cared so much about our country that he used medical deferments to stay out of military service claiming he had bone spurs (rich man’s privilege) so that he could stay out of Vietnam.
Dad, a military veteran, would have not have been happy that the supposedly flag-respecting president berated a family that lost a son in the war and degraded U.S. Sen. John McCain, a genuine war hero and prisoner of war for 5 years in Vietnam, the same war the 45th president tiptoed away from.
My dad spent five years in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict. I discovered as a teenager my dad would scream himself awake occasionally because of nightmares from a night he and other soldiers were in deadly hand-to-hand combat with enemy soldiers.
When my dad came home he returned to segregated neighborhoods, restaurants, the N-word from white people and everything else. Putting his life on the line didn’t do a whole lot for him. That was made crystal clear when a teenage white girl, working at a snowball stand, told him she would not serve him because “we don’t serve Negroes.” I was to be the recipient of the snowball.
I witnessed the pain on his face. And you’re damn right if you think that has stayed with me.
My dad would have agreed with the purpose of the protest. He did a little of that himself, especially when a unarmed young man in our neighborhood was killed while running away from a police officer. But, he would have supported the Dallas Cowboys method of protesting — kneeling and rising before the national anthem.
I would have countered that I know those players love our country. Until this situation, they stood for the national anthem. Kneeling during the anthem brings attention to their cause and is not an attack on the anthem. A kneel-down 10 minutes before the game is useless.
To kneel or sit during the national anthem is a silent, nonviolent, way to bring attention to the injustices lived by communities of color around the nation. My dad would have nodded a little but would have stood his ground. “Not during the anthem,” he would have said.
Much of the media and a large percentage of the public have bought into the 45th president’s characterization that the protest is against the flag and the anthem. He called the players SOBs and termed their actions un-American, all red meat for this president’s far-right base. This was an easy way out, because to develop a dialogue on race and racism is tough and there are a lot of Americans who don’t have the stomach for that conversation. That’s my argument.
My dad would have been upset by the president’s demand that owners cut the players. He would hold onto the timing-of-the-protest argument. But I could see him start to crack a bit because of the name-calling. He would have seen through the SOB as a substitute for the N-word.
I would have hammered the point that it was odd that this president was initially mum on the protesters in Charlottesville that waved Nazi flags and emblems and promoted a one-race society.
Dad’s position would be weakened and he would know it.
He and I would have differed that the player’s protest was risky because they stood to possibly lose a lot of money. I would have countered that there are no real gains without personal risk involved; that risks are what makes protests even more relevant.
That position would play on his remembrance of the death the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders. My dad once recorded himself giving King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.
I would have him on the ropes when we ended the debate with a conversation about this president, both of us topping the other with examples of his hypocrisies, lies and intentionally racially divisive comments.
I think dad would have grudgingly come over to my side, but he wouldn’t have admitted it.
We would have finished up playing a game of dominoes. He would have won that, hands down.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Football League has little to do with justice or equality or whatever sentimen…