The Flag, the Protests, and Finding Some Common Ground (The NFL on REO Special Edition)

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Last week on The NFL on REO, I highlighted a few areas where the NFL needs change. While it was not my intention to use an entire article to deal with any one of those issues, sometimes events and cultural conversations become too large to handle in a paragraph or two. As most everyone is aware, over the weekend, President Trump made some very pointed and controversial comments about national anthem protestors in the NFL. The NFL and its players responded forcefully on Sunday during the games. That is the immediate context. The larger context is much more complicated.

Generally, I try to stay away from a few topics when I write about the NFL and the Titans. I avoid politics as much as possible. I avoid religion as well, for similar reasons. The majority of people that read articles about the NFL want to read about just that – the NFL. They don’t want another political screed, diatribe, or pontification. I hope this is not that. But, this topic is so big, so intense, and so interconnected with the sport I love the most, I feel it would be a massive oversight on my part to completely avoid it.

Instead of simply writing down my thoughts on this issue, which are tangled and not entirely coherent, I decided to bring some of the other REO writers to the table for a conversation. Joining me today are Gowdy Cannon and my brother, David Lytle. Hopefully, something said here will help those of you that are struggling with making sense of all of this.


Phill: To kick things off, I want to lay down some groundwork. First, I believe I speak for everyone at REO that the NFL players have a right to speak out and stand up for issues they are passionate about. Second, there are injustices in our country that need to be confronted, addressed, and corrected. And finally, this weekend was a mess.

Prior to this weekend, what did you think about the limited anthem protests that have been happening in the NFL for the past few years?

Gowdy:
Prior to this weekend my thoughts towards the protests were very mixed. My very first reaction was that the time, place and manner were unwise and that instead of creating dialogue and awareness, they only further divided the country along racial and political lines and brought about a new angle of racial justice promoters vs. Veterans and not just police. At first, I thought, that can only be a bad thing.

Yet at the same time I never for one second thought Kaepernick or anyone else should be disciplined or muted and especially not fired. Because of US history and current politics, I felt that could be yet another step to dividing us. I think the protesters need to be heard.

And as I have read and listened to people like Benjamin Watson, Lecrae, John Perkins and a whole host of others on racial issues in the United States, the more sympathetic I have felt towards the message behind the kneeling and I had changed my perception of it greatly. It may be divisive but I think I have to believe that either wise, Christian black people are way off on this, or that attention desperately needs to be brought to racial injustice in the US in 2017. I do not believe the former is correct. For that reason, I think it is worth making some people mad to start the national discussion. Surely some people will never change their minds. But some, like me, will.

I had some disagreement towards Kaepernick and Michael Bennett for reasons that were not specifically related to kneeling. But the act itself to me was something I would not condemn.

Phill:
I had a similar reaction Gowdy. If the NFL allows this sort of protest, which actually goes against the operations policy it distributes to each team, then these players have a right to kneel, or sit, or raise their hand. I have no problem with any of that. I’m not sure how much good it does in the long run, considering most fans didn’t agree with the protests, but it was their right to do it. My biggest issue stemmed from Kaepernick’s comments after his protest started and some of the other things he said, did, or the clothing he wore – police as pigs on his clothing. He made positive comments about Fidel Castro, which were ill-informed at best, and that completely ruined his credibility among many, myself included.

The issue was dying down. Most of the players that had protested with Kaepernick at the beginning had moved on to other ways of bringing awareness to what they saw as racial inequality in our country – one-half of one percent of the players were still protesting. The protests were going to be mostly gone, probably this season. And then Trump happened.

This has the potential to be a source of debate with our readers, but I don’t believe Trump acted wisely by saying what he did. In fact, it all feels very opportunistic and calculating. Trump gets beaten up on a daily basis by the media, unlike any other president I have seen in my lifetime. He is criticized for things he deserves and for things he does not. The media reacts to him like a petulant, angry, child would. So Trump occasionally makes comments where he knows he has the majority behind him – and he does on this issue. Most people dislike the anthem protests. His most rabid supporters hate the protests. Many of them have already turned their back on the NFL. He was preaching to the choir on this one and he knew it would ignite a firestorm because that is how he likes to operate. And the media played right into his hand, as we all knew they would because that is who they are.

So, I guess my question is, how do we deal with this? How do we condemn what Trump said but still understand the anger and the frustration many Americans feel when they see wealthy athletes kneeling or “disrespecting” the flag, the country, and the anthem? And how do we do all of those things while acknowledging that there are real problems with injustice in our country?

David:
It is a shame that Trump is bringing a new level racial tension and political division into America’s favorite sport. By having such strong and vulgar words aimed at NFL players, he made standing for the National Anthem a referendum on his presidency, when it was just a side issue having to do with basically one former player. He backed NFL players as a whole into a corner and forced the issue. When bullied, people punch back. I was not upset with the Titans for staying in the locker room. It seemed like a respectful way to let the president know that he shouldn’t bully. It won’t do any good, because its Trump, but it was an effort. An effort that did not infuriate me as much as the President’s words, but still bothered me deeply.

Gowdy:
I will echo you guys that Trump’s comments Friday were a disaster as far as national dialogue and unity. It is incomprehensible to me that a US president would speak using those words, as loudly as possible, completely unashamed. Other presidents have definitely helped divide us but the whole spectacle was unprecedented in delivery and pejorative, at least in my lifetime. I’m not one who gets outraged about everything any president does or says, but I am still stunned by the comments. My sympathies for the kneelers are at an all-time high as a result.

I don’t have many answers. Something that I have seen good, balanced Christians post to social media (that often gets drowned out) is James 1:19. As a Christian, I absolutely should be slow to speak, slow to anger and quick to listen. Yet this is so poorly practiced, by me and others quite often. But thanks to godly people in my personal life and on social media, I am trying to get better at it. I want to listen when Tim Scott, the only black Republican senator in the US, says that he had been stopped by police seven times in a year for driving a nice car and no other reason. I want to listen to Ben Watson when he says there is a fear in the black community of the police. I want to listen to an unnamed friend that talks about how they once had a gun pulled on them by police for playing their music loudly while driving. A good friend just lent me a book by “Coach” Wayne Gordon, a pastor in Chicago, called Do All Lives Matter? I read it in a day. It helps me want to live out James 1:19

I don’t have to agree with everything someone says to listen to them. But I will not argue with a non-white on this topic, especially if they speak of their experience. Data can be argued but I will not even do that because I personally feel that is counterproductive in most cases. Others may feel differently and that is fine. This is a topic and a time for me to practice James 1:19. At the very minimum, I wish people would stop talking in cliches and posting and tweeting without trying to understand others. Especially face to face. (Tim Scott and others have launched a huge movement of inviting other races into each other’s homes for Sunday lunch. Let’s do this, people!)

However, I am not a veteran or a cop and if I were I may feel differently. I can only imagine what it is like to be in battle and view the flag as a source of pride. I can only imagine because I’ve never been in battle. Right now I remain convinced it is worth the controversy because many veterans and cops support the kneeling and because many protestors have tried to be clear that people will not listen unless we go to extremes sometimes and they truly mean no disrespect to the flag, veterans or policemen. Based on US history, I personally am not comfortable constantly telling black people or other races or ethnicities how and when they should peacefully protest.

Phill:
I don’t disagree with any of that. I completely agree that dialogue is important. Listening is important. Empathy is important. We do too little of all those things. We are quick to speak and quick to anger and very slow to listen. Here comes the but…

We could spend hours and way too many words discussing the validity of these protests. We could talk about statistics, evidence, facts, and all those other things. I’m not really interested in that and I am definitely not qualified to speak intelligently about it. I want to keep this focused on the NFL, Trump, and how everyone can do a better job of having this public debate.

As David said, there has to be a better way to do this. And this is not saying minorities need to find less uncomfortable ways to protest. I would simply urge people to find wiser ways to protest – ways that will not give off the appearance of disrespect for our nation. They are less likely to change minds when you start from a position that puts people on the defensive.

The fact is, for too many, this protest is attacking everything they think the flag and the anthem stand for. For too many, these NFL players are showing contempt and disrespect for the flag and our country. These people will never be able to see past this form of protest. To them, it feels completely un-American. Kaepernick’s original comments were very pointed in their criticisms of the US. Too pointed for many. And they made it clear that he was showing contempt for the flag and the nation because he felt the nation was showing contempt for minorities.

And for people who agree with Trump, the NFL has only further confirmed in their mind that it is full of players that hate our country. I believe the overwhelming majority of these players love their country and meant no disrespect to the flag or anthem this weekend. But that is not how many people see it. And a productive conversation on this issue will never happen if we are starting on such polar opposite ends.

Without sacrificing their voice and their position, what can NFL players, the league, and the owners do to make their statements without alienating, angering, and inflaming millions of fans? And what can fans do to listen and understand what is truly being said through these protests?

David:
At the end of the day (or beginning of the game), kneeling for the anthem or even staying in the locker room is counterproductive. Perhaps attention is called to an area needing reform, but players can do a lot of good with their money and influence in ways that don’t make the nation think they hate their country. The flag and our national song about it, however, stand for the ideals of this nation, not the problems. The first and greatest of those ideals is that “all men are created equal.” Those who cannot stand up for this ideal are either tragically uninformed (like Kaepernick) or worse (like the dictator on his T-shirt).

I think Trump has been wanting to get back at the NFL going all the way back to his days as a USFL owner days. He resented being excluded from their club and now he is using his power to revive a dead issue and forcing the nation into a false dichotomy–Boycott the NFL or hate America. I won’t be Trumped.

Gowdy:
The events of this past weekend are still fresh so this is a quick reaction and could easily be ignorant in hindsight, but…is it too idealistic to think what the Cowboys did is a reasonable alternative? If you missed it they knelt as a team, including coaches, staff and even Jerry Jones, before the anthem. Could this still bring awareness and yet placate many veterans and others who feel that honoring the flag and anthem are important?  Again, my first reaction says it could work. But I also know if you try to please everyone you often please no one. I know there were boos by the Cardinal fans, though they could have been just a knee-jerk reaction/assumption without realizing what the Cowboys were actually doing. Or could be that they were just booing the Cowboys! And I can theorize on the other side some protesters still feeling silenced or unheard or feeling that kneeling before the anthem totally misses the point.

So I don’t know. Just some raw thoughts mere days after the incidents.

Phill:
My suggestions would be pretty simple: Listen more, react less. And while you are at it, ignore the media as much as possible. Don’t allow the media or the fringes to frame the issue. Those that are angry about the protests are not all racists and white supremacists. Those that are protesting are not all anti-American traitors. In fact, I would argue that there are very few on either side that fit those descriptions. There are real problems with equality and justice in our country – so even if we disagree on what those problems are or how widespread they are – we need to be willing to listen to people that feel strongly about them. And for those that are on the other side of the debate, be willing to empathize with those that don’t see eye-to-eye with your position and be very careful about labeling them as racists or evil because of their differing perspective.

We are much closer on most of these issues than the media, Trump, etc… would have us believe. Having real conversations where we really listen will go a long way towards helping us see that.

Phill Lytle

I love: Jesus, my wife, my kids, my church, my family, my friends, Firefly, 80's rock, Lost, the Tennessee Titans, the St. Louis Cardinals, Brandon Sanderson books, Band of Brothers, Thai food, music, books, movies, TV, writing, Arrested Development, pizza, vacation, etc...

14 thoughts on “The Flag, the Protests, and Finding Some Common Ground (The NFL on REO Special Edition)

  • September 27, 2017 at 11:53 am
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    Talk is cheap. Dialogue does nothing without actions. That’s my hang-up on all of this from both sides. Trump is just stirring the pot, acting like a middle-school bully with no true friends. What he said was absolutely vile and disgusting. The players (include the NBA in this conversation) don’t really care enough to really discuss anything. They only want their voice (or knee) to be heard, but not listen or offer any real solutions. Everyone wants to discuss, discuss, discuss…You can have as many debates about it as you want, with each extreme giving their take and not listening to the other side. But those debates and forums don’t fix the issue. Solutions must be presented and offered. Most of the time compromise in some form must be reached. Neither side wants to yield an inch on this issue, though, which is very foolish and arrogant. Actions need to taken, not small talk.
    The Virginia Beach Police Department this month has had 3 separate days where citizens have had opportunity to come in and present their issues or problems face-to-face with the police. I wonder how many in my community went and discussed things that were truly important to them. But at the same time of pointing a problem out, be able to offer a solution. Most people are problem-causers or problem-identifiers…but few are problem-solvers. I would love for Trump to Re-Rescind his invitation to the Warriors to come to the White House and talk. I would love for him to invite Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, and Alejandro Villanueva to the White House to discuss and offer real solutions to something. But at the end of the day, even that does nothing without grass-root actions and solutions being offered and tried.

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  • September 27, 2017 at 12:14 pm
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    David wrote:
    “I would love for Trump to Re-Rescind his invitation to the Warriors to come to the White House and talk. I would love for him to invite Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, and Alejandro Villanueva to the White House to discuss and offer real solutions to something. But at the end of the day, even that does nothing without grass-root actions and solutions being offered and tried.

    That would be a great start and a really good move by Trump. I wonder if any of those guys would actually accept his invite.

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    • September 27, 2017 at 12:52 pm
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      Bennet said he would. I wonder if he really would.

      I think I get what David is saying. I have no doubt that in large part there have to be accountable solutions presented in the police force and justice systems that are beyond my pay grade to suggest. The local BLM chapter here offered up 10 ideas to the CPD that were mostly reasonable but I’m not sure how it went (things like body cameras….and don’t let the BLM thing murky the waters; some people use those letters for good and others for evil, this was a good use).

      At the same time I know conversations need to be happening apart from solutions because conversations are the heart of relationship. I’d love to sit down and have a long lunch with Tim Scott even if we do not talk about next steps. I just want to know more about things I can’t learn otherwise. I don’t think David is saying differently.

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      • September 27, 2017 at 1:42 pm
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        Exactly. I want there to be discussions. But have real discussions, not just modern-day debate-style politics where both sides stick to their own talking points without any listening or give-and-take. There needs to be private sit-downs, with solutions being suggested and accepted, or at least compromises made where both sides feel their voices are being heard and still respected. There may even need to be a few high-profile public hearings or panels where issues can be discussed; but give an equal number of voices to varying platforms. The ESPN panels have been a complete joke, because they’re so one-sided. And President Trump’s voice has lost merit because he can’t speak to issues without hurling insults at those who oppose him. But the simple truth is, you don’t need to have a close relationship with someone before you can discuss things civilly and come to some type of agreement through reasonable solutions. That’s what I say is just part of “adult-ing.” Gowdy, I love your James 1:19 reference. I use it quite frequently when speaking to the kids at my school and church.

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  • September 27, 2017 at 12:32 pm
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    Well said, friends. Appreciate you guys.

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    • September 28, 2017 at 9:31 am
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      Thank you, Stephanie.

      Reply
  • September 28, 2017 at 12:53 am
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    I’m not an NFL fan, so I don’t have anything to offer from that perspective, but if the protests are disrupting the status quo then they are accomplishing their goal. Isn’t that the point of protest? I heard a similar comment on Mike & Mike this morning and it makes sense to me. Why would we expect any form of protest to please everyone? One may agree or disagree with the issue at hand, but it is brought to the forefront of the American consciousness nonetheless. One may agree or disagree with the method of protest as well, but the NFL players’ protests are peaceful displays of our 1st amendment right and should not be condemned, especially by the one person who is held above all others to defend that right. The protest itself is not intended to offer a solution to the issue. The intention of protest is to do just what these protests are doing – to get people to talk, think, and debate about an issue. There are plenty of unproductive conversations and sentiments as a result of the NFL protests, but that happens with any protest and is to be expected. There are also many thoughtful and productive conversations taking place, such as this article and subsequent comments, that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Thanks for the article guys. Keep up the good work!

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    • September 28, 2017 at 8:40 am
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      Thanks for the comment Joel.

      While I agree that protests are intended to disrupt and make people uncomfortable, wouldn’t it be wiser if the players that truly do have a problem with racial injustice or inequality, to protest in a way that doesn’t immediately turn off a large portion of the country? Doing the protests during the national anthem is a non-starter for many fans – so much so they won’t even be able to see beyond the protests and will never consider the underlying issues. I truly believe that if the players feel strongly enough about these issues and want to get their message to as many people as possible, another avenue of protest should be sought.

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    • September 28, 2017 at 9:30 am
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      Great perspective Joel. Good reminders. I only offer potential resolutions because I hate that many good veterans and police are offended by this. Those are groups that I want to listen to as well. However, I will support the kneeling because to the best of my understanding the veterans and police are not hurt by the kneeling nearly the way others are hurt by not having awareness brought to it.

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  • September 28, 2017 at 11:20 am
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    http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/20841570/san-francisco-49ers-safety-eric-reid-believes-message-colin-kaepernick-protests-lost

    Here is an excellent example of one of the original players who protested last year trying to make a difference. It’s much more than a sign of unity for a team or a sign of distancing oneself from the President’s harsh criticisms. Eric Reid gets it. He wants to go back to the original intent of the protests, not just send a message to the President.
    More people are talking about it right now than they have ever been. So try to capitalize on that by actually getting plans, solutions, and real work done for the cause. I have no problem with that sentiment.

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    • September 28, 2017 at 11:26 am
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      I’m not sure how they are doing in the public square but it is extremely obvious to me that the NFL players and having great conversations in private and are in large part committed to being unified even if they disagree about the flag and anthem as means of protest. I’m sure it’s not all puppies and rainbows behind closed doors but the public camaraderie has been a breath of fresh air. My life experience says that while sports can divide the public they are incredible at getting people on the actual teams to feel like a brotherhood without any regard to demographic differences. I played basketball in high school in a small town ripe with willful segregation and rampant racism. Yet on that team there was something special in how we treated each other. It was profound across racial lines. Reminded me a little bit of Remember the Titans except we were 1-19.

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  • September 28, 2017 at 7:50 pm
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    I think that it might be wise to try to find an alternate form of protest since the current form is being so widely misinterpreted. I’m also in agreement with the spirit of protest that accepts and expects people to be uncomfortable or offended, and on that level I think this is an effective means of protest. It is truly unfortunate that the result has been to put the protesters and many of our service men and women at odds. I’m torn between wanting to support the expression of our first amendment right while also believing that the existence of the right doesn’t imply that all of its manifestations are a good idea.

    Then again would another less offensive means of protest have been noticed? There will always be groups of people for which a protest is a non-starter. Would there be as many conversations about the real issue being protested if the players came up with a more polite or less offensive form of protest? How offensive were the lunch counter sit-ins and similar protests to the majority of Americans during the civil rights era? Look at some of the pictures of those peoples’ reactions to the protests – the response was visceral opposition, yet the protests were ultimately effective. And the expectation on the part of the protesters was to be hated, misunderstood, misinterpreted, etc. I’m not putting NFL players on the level of the freedom riders here by any means. I’m just pointing out that at least some of the most effective protests in our nation’s history have probably really pissed off a large segment of some population. We probably never heard about the ones that didn’t.

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  • September 28, 2017 at 8:12 pm
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    My husband is a die hard Cowboys fan. I could take or leave football. I keep thinking this is a spiritual issue at it’s core. Obeying authority. These players are defying authority by kneeling, and disrespecting the flag. Yes, in our country, they do have that right because someone fought and died for them to have that right. But, I keep going back to what is REALLY going on here. I think this is more of a spiritual issue, and have been praying hard for people to WAKE UP, and realize it! Are we praying for those around us? Are we telling others about Jesus? Are we telling our own children that Jesus is returning and we need to be ready for that day to come? Just my two cents. Thank you.

    Reply
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