On football, protests, and the national anthem.

Hi! How have you been?

I have some things to say. I know it’s been awhile. I’m sure it’s a shock that I’m upset and writing. The only time I write around here is when I’m really upset anymore. I’ll try to remedy that. (I’m instead working on longer pieces. Maybe I’ll publish one soon.)

Anyway. Today a lot of people were upset at adults who play a game for a living because the game we watch them play for a living was impeded upon by “politics.” Namely, a lot of guys decided to kneel during the national anthem, some other guys decided to stay inside during it, and our president decided to tweet and talk a lot about it this weekend.

First of all, if men staying inside or kneeling in silence during a song offended you, but this did not…

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… then get the fuck out of here.

I’m a woman who’s been to more Steelers games than I can count. I relish Sundays in fall. I love walking into a dimly lit bar and spending hours yelling at a TV and bonding with a crowd of people wearing black and gold. My family has had season tickets for 45 years. I’ve run an all-female fantasy football league for 11 seasons. Don’t @ me. I love my team.

I also know that as a woman, I’ve made a choice to put fandom over principle. I’ve never pretended to quit the NFL or to make grandiose claims like those I saw on Twitter this morning that I would never watch another Steelers game. I feel disgusting every time I put on my TV on Sunday mornings, but I’ve reconciled my choices. I love Ben Roethlisberger on the football field, even though he’s been twice accused of sexual assault (and I’m inclined to believe accusers). I cheer a James Harrison sack even though he was arrested for domestic abuse. Am I proud of myself? Nope. Have I made concessions in other ways? I’ve tried. I rarely watch games outside of the Steelers. I don’t spend money at NFL Shop anymore. I try to pay attention as little as possible when setting my fantasy lineup each week. But every Sunday, I’ll be in front of a TV to watch my team play. I decided that the sense of community, being able to talk about football with my family and friends, and the joy of a win over the Ravens is worth more than my principles as a woman.

Which brings me to this weekend.

People got more upset about taking a knee during the national anthem than they ever did for any of those arrests or accusations above. I have never seen one Steelers fan threaten to give up their fandom over Ben or Harrison or <insert player name here who has done a lot worse>. And that made me very upset, because the actions do not justify the reactions.

America in 2017 means nothing is nonpolitical. I’m sorry if that makes you unhappy. I’m sorry if you just want to watch a game. I would also love nothing more than to watch a game and forget about the rest of the world for awhile. I’d love to be bored by politics again. But the truth is, some things are more important. Some things are worth standing (or kneeling) for. And while I’m not vain enough to think you all really care that much about my perspective, this isn’t a time to be quiet, so here it is.

Let’s start here: this weekend, the president of the United States said “son of a bitch” during an official speech. In a normal administration, that would be a scandal that lasted for weeks. (Remember this? Those were the days.) Instead, that language was barely acknowledged, because the “son of a bitch” was Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who have decided to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality.

Remember how I said I’ve been going to Steelers games since before I can remember? I can assure you that among the 80,000 fans there, there are a very large portion who are drunk, yelling, and/or not paying attention during that anthem. Don’t tell me that’s more respectful than a man kneeling in silence. Watch Kris Letang the next time you’re at a Penguins game during the anthem. The guy can’t stand still. That’s less offensive to you?

I’ll be upfront: I’m not one of those people who is all rah rah USA. I do not believe in blind patriotism. I don’t believe in saying the US is the best just because I was born and live here. We’ve got issues. We are the only developed country without paid maternity leave. We’re falling behind countless other nations in education. We’re destroying the planet with fossil fuel emissions. Our health care system is an expensive mess. And don’t even get me started on gun violence. (Yeah, I do my research. I went to Allegheny College. The first thing I learned was to back up my thesis with well-researched facts.)

Here’s what I do believe.

I believe in freedom of speech, and I believe it’s our most cherished right as an American citizen. I may not agree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. If you believe you should stand for the national anthem, good. If you believe you should kneel, good. The president of our country, regardless of political party, should not threaten the free speech of those who dare to speak up.

I believe in pushing this country and its government and its citizens to uphold the standards upon which it was founded: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

I believe law enforcement should protect all, not some. I believe the parents of young black men and women should not fear for their children’s lives. I believe that not all police officers are bad people, but there is a systemic problem that needs to be fixed.

I believe that Colin Kaepernick is a good person, which is more than I can say about Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison, and he should be employed by an NFL team. Especially when this dude has a starting job.

I believe that athletes are agents of change, whether you like it or not. Jackie Robinson. Muhammad Ali. Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Billie Jean King. Arthur Ashe. Michael Sam.

I believe that if the President wants to criticize athletes, freedom of speech is his as well. But people should think twice about playing the respect the military card when he deferred service five times. (And he has to be reminded by his immigrant wife to put his hand over his heart.)

I also believe the national anthem isn’t an anthem to our military, it’s an anthem to our country. I won’t get in to how I believe the US military has been more of an aggressor than a defender during my lifetime; I’ll only say regardless of my politics or the politics of any of the men or women who knelt or stayed inside today, I don’t think any of us disrespect the men and women who are brave enough to volunteer to wear the uniform of the US military and put their lives at risk on our behalf. It’s something I don’t even pretend to have the courage to do. I also believe the right to protest is exactly the freedom they sign up to protect.

I believe it’s bizarre we even play the national anthem before sports events, which whatever, it’s not a huge deal, but also it kind of is:

 

I believe that anthem means a lot to a lot of people. I also believe that those people should listen to why others do not feel that way: why they feel oppressed, scared, or discriminated against.

I believe it is your choice to stand or kneel, and doing one does not make you the enemy of the other. I submit for your review Bruce Maxwell and his Oakland A’s teammate, who kept his hand on Maxwell’s shoulder as he knelt and embraced him when he stood. The point is, we all have the right to choose.

And if you think these people are kneeling because they hate the US, I urge you to read Maxwell’s own words and reconsider. They are doing it because they believe in the same form of patriotism I do: pushing their country to do better, using their platform to bring attention to those who do not have it, and demanding the equality for all that our Founding Fathers promised but we still haven’t delivered.

Finally, I believe we should fucking talk to each other instead of screaming at each other on the internet, and when I ask you a question on Facebook, I’m not accosting you – I generally have a question, and you should not get defensive.

Which brings me back to the frivolous reason for this post and what will likely get me comments when I post this within my circle of friends: my beloved Pittsburgh sports teams. The Steelers stayed inside the locker room during the anthem today, with the exception of Alejandro Villanueva, who has bravely served four terms as an Army Ranger. I liked the team’s decision to stay inside. I was also fine with Villanueva going outside.

I was not fine with the Penguins releasing a tone deaf statement, at 11am on an NFL Sunday when all anyone was talking about was anthem protests, saying they were still going to visit the White House. It’s not that I was shocked by their decision to still go; it’s exactly what I’ve expected all along. It’s that, for a team obsessed with impeccable branding and PR, it was a massive miscalculation. No one was pressing them for a statement. They could have just not made one and let this all blow over, as it surely will, because we all have the attention span of gnats these days. Instead, they came across as completely out of touch compared to the rest of the sports world. Never did I think I’d see the day when I cheered LeBron James more than Sidney Crosby, but here we are. America in 2017, amiright?

You may be saying sports should stay out of politics. You may be thinking “wtf does her opinion matter, she cheers for Team Canada in the Olympics.” You may be wondering what credentials I have to write about this. I don’t pretend to have any. All I am is a woman who’s lived a lot and met a lot of people and experienced a lot of things in her 35 years. I’m a woman who lived abroad post-9/11, watching from the front row as the rest of the world was moving from sympathy to skepticism. I’m a woman who once listened to a man in Europe tell me “maybe Osama Bin Laden was right.” I’m a woman who now lives in the most diverse city in the country. I’m a woman who has traveled outside of her bubble and has met scores of people different from her, making her a more well-rounded and empathetic person than she was before.

It’s America in 2017, Donald Trump is our President, and there’s no staying out of politics anymore. This is not a typical Republican President. This is not George Bush. This is a man whose rhetoric doesn’t sound all that dissimilar from Kim Jong-un or Vladamir Putin’s. You love this country? You think you’re patriotic? You don’t get to stand on the sidelines any longer. Democracy and stability are not guaranteed.

So there’s that. You may agree with me, you may not, but as a privileged white girl who’s got a very small platform, I felt the need to say something. If you don’t agree with me on any of this, maybe we can agree on something else:

  • Ben’s accuracy sucked today. (As did our entire offense, defense, and special teams.)
  • The Ravens got slaughtered and it was awesome.
  • Sterling K. Brown and Reese Witherspoon are national treasures and must be protected as such.
  • Harry Styles’ album is fantastic.
  • Taylor Swift’s new music is terrible.
  • The Killers put on a great show and Brandon Flowers was really hot in the Mr. Brightside video.
  • No one was asking for Young Sheldon.
  • 90 degrees is too hot on September 24.
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