When the pandemic began, we never could have envisioned how long it would last. Six months in, almost to the day, and there is still no end in sight.
Sports fans of all stripes had their favorite pastimes taken away from them. Luckily, sports have largely returned, but they hardly look the same.
It’s not just the absence of fans.
It’s the presence of a new awareness.
A focus on social justice issues such as Black lives matter and police reform.
It started this summer with every major sports league. It’s now spread to the NFL.
Some will say that the NFL is starting to do the right thing after exhausting all the other options. Fair enough. Their ostracization of the courageous Colin Kaepernick was borderline criminal. They deserve as much blame as anyone for perpetuating inequality and elevating profit above humanity.
But let’s also recognize when people and organizations make efforts to change. We all exist on a spectrum of experiences and perspectives. The NFL doesn’t deserve any special awards for progressivism, but they also don’t deserve our immediate scorn.
In four short/long years, we’ve gone from one or two players kneeling during the national anthem to entire teams lined up the sideline, on their knees, arms locked, in shows of unity and courage.
Some people feel that kneeling during our national anthem is disrespectful to our flag, our troops and our country. Let’s respect their right to feel that way. It’s based upon their lived experience, which is always valid.
But systemic racism and police brutality are part of the lived experience of BIPOC. When they tell us the ways in which they are discriminated against because of the color of their skin, we should listen. When players—of any affinity—tell us they are kneeling during the anthem not to disrespect anyone or anything, but rather to draw our attention to societal inequities, we should listen.
If people are not comfortable watching sports because of this new approach, then they should choose not to watch or support these leagues and athletes in any way. However, just remember that your avoidance of these issues does not mean that they will disappear.
Players will likely continue to kneel and take other actions to raise awareness for as long as it takes to effect change. This will not just disappear overnight, or even this year.
Perhaps people unhappy with the NFL could start some new league in which players and others “stick to sports.” Good luck finding talented people to play in it or television networks to broadcast it.
We are in times of great distress in this country. We face a global pandemic. It’s exposed the faults in our healthcare system and in our society at large. Athletes in our society are speaking out, and they are being supported by teams and leagues. It’s too early to say if lasting changes will come about, but let’s not fault them for trying. In the future we can assess whether their efforts were mere window dressing or if they amounted to more.
But for now, let’s let the players play.
We live in a society where everyone gets a say. And that’s something we can all be grateful for.