Tuesday, May 29, 2018

'People gather to forget about life's realities'

      I actually didn't need to write a column for Monday. A vacation day, in theory. But my column on the Ivan Albright show came together quickly and I realized I could write another and say something about the flag and the protest without cutting into my holiday weekend.
    I'm glad I did. Lots of reaction to my Memorial Day column, from people who loved it, to those who cancelled their subscription.  So much reaction that I began to categorize it. Three types: praise, insult and argument. Of the three, the argument is the smallest group—takes effort—and the most interesting, because a few readers people made various points I hadn't thought of or had under-appreciated. The email I found most persuasive are those who said, in essence: We watch sports to relax. We don't want our societal problems shoved under our noses. We want a beer instead.
     That was summed up best by this, from a Chicago firefighter. I've added paragraph breaks for readability. 

     I enjoyed your article.  This entire situation is controversial and divisive.  One thing I’ve asked and never gotten a satisfactory answer on is regarding the timing of the protests.  I’m a firefighter in Englewood so I’ve seen my share of society’s problems and injustices up close.   

     What if, while in uniform, I decided that instead of doing what my job required I would take a knee in protest.  What would happen?  Would I be considered a person exercising their 1st amendment rights or a person not adhering to requirements of my employment?  
     I don’t have to be a firefighter.  If I don’t like the rules the fire department imposes while I’m in uniform, or out of uniform for that matter, I can resign and pursue a different employment.  
     As for my question above, my opinion is that while I’m in uniform, being paid for my performance in that uniform I am required to adhere to the rules and regulations set forth by the fire department.  If I want to advance any agenda or set of beliefs on my days off, or my own time I am afforded that opportunity and it should not be infringed on.  I believe the same is true in the NFL.  I applaud the players wanting to use there social status as a means to improve society as a whole.  Just do it on their own time.  Not when 55,000 people paid to see them perform in that uniform.  
     It’s no different to me than a music artist preaching during their performance.  I don’t want to hear it, I paid to hear you sing, dance, act.   People go to sporting events, concerts, etc. to escape life’s difficulties if just for a few hours not to be reminded of how bad things really are!  If I wanted that, I’d watch the news.  So I ask again, does the timing of these protests really help social injustice or is it just self centered performers with a look at me complex?  I don’t think we’ll ever truly know.  I do know one thing however.  If I went through with my scenario above about not doing my job and protesting instead I would be disciplined.  Severely.  And rightly so.  When you put on a uniform to go to work whether you’re a UPS driver, police officer, flight attendant, or even a football player you are agreeing to act in a manner that is decided upon by your employer.  Perhaps the most important uniform is that of Military members.  
     On this Memorial Day, as we honor those that gave their life for our freedoms, people who wore that uniform until the end, maybe we should re-examine whether one day a year is enough for their sacrifice.   Maybe, we as a society need to reminded before sporting events and other venues where people gather to forget about life’s realities for a while about the sacrifices that were made to allow us to live as we do.  Maybe standing in a respectful manner for a two minute patriotic song is exactly what this country needs.  Being told to rise, kindly remove all caps, and pay attention as we honor America with the singing of our National Anthem is not forced patriotism, it’s respect that has been bought and paid for by every single person who has worked to make this country the place it is today.   The fact that so many don’t see that is the real problem.  

     I could poke a few holes in this—sports events are to have fun and forget life's harsh realities, when it comes to protest, but also a time to honor the courageous fallen. Which is it? My understanding is that these patriotic displays originated during wartime, as an attempt by professional franchises to deflect the question, "Why aren't these strapping young men fighting?" Seems the public bought the hype all too well, as it often does.

    But I don't want to re-argue the point. I suppose I would add that going to a knee during the national anthem is a very quiet and under-stated kind of protest, and it seems the protesters are being blamed for the over-reaction of the people doing the blaming, for the way their protest was seized and twisted and made into a political football by the president and his ilk. But we can have this discussion another day, and no doubt will. Thanks everybody for writing in. Well, almost everybody...

17 comments:

  1. In general African Americans and other people from under represented groups have few platforms from which to be heard. Anyone saying that while they are at work in uniform they shouldn't be allowed to protest injustice is forgetting their employers were allowing them , sometimes even joiningjoi their protest.
    I believe this is what you like to refer to as a straw man Neil.

    But still the public demanded these protests end and the league caved..

    I'll bet the protest continue and the players continue to pay the price both literally and in the court of public opinion .

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  2. If people are truly gathering "to forget about life's realities", the anthem could be removed from sports, and nobody would care. That's not what's happening, here. Battle lines are always being drawn, and it thrills us to choose a side. It's us against them. Isn't that why we go to sporting events?

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  3. My understanding is that these patriotic displays originated during wartime, as an attempt by professional franchises to deflect the question, "Why aren't these strapping young men fighting?"

    Hmmm...interesting. Never heard that before, but it makes perfect sense.

    Which war, though? Because during World War II, pro baseball players, at least, got drafted all the time, which was why teams like the Cubs and the Browns, who would never have gone anywhere in peacetime, made it to the Series.

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    1. According to "Wrigley Field Year-By-Year: A Century at the Friendly Confines", fans began singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before each game during the 1942 season, and the song's lyrics appeared on the inside of the scorecard. No mention of how many verses were printed...or sung.

      And I have to wonder how long the practice continued once World War II was over. From the early Sixties until around 1970, give or take a year or so, the Anthem was only played and sung on Opening Day and on holidays. And I remember the musicians (Henry Brandon and His Orchestra) behind home plate. Don't recall what was done at Comiskey, though, since I never went there very much.

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  4. My largest problem with this theory is that while they are kneeling they are not doing their job. "I decided that instead of doing what my job required I would take a knee in protest" At that moment, what is their job? What part of the job are they failing to do?

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  5. "What if, while in uniform, I decided that instead of doing what my job required I would take a knee in protest." To pretend that the job of a professional athlete, the reason he is paid large sums of money, "requires" one to salute the flag is a bit disingenuous. What if the City of Chicago decided that the start of each shift at the firehouse required the firefighters to recite an oath of loyalty to the mayor? Clearly not a task remotely rested to the necessary functions of the job.

    I don't have any major issues with the playing of the anthem at sporting events, even though it clearly has no more relevance in that setting than in any other. I will always stand and usually sing if appropriate. But I wouldn't begin to believe that anyone should be forced to do so, from the players on the field to audience members to the vendors in the stands.

    The letter writer seems to be saying that an employer can make any behavior it wants a condition of employment, regardless of whether it actually applies to the job. I disagree.

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    1. Except where it says "rested" instead of "related"!

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    2. What's funny is that I read it as "related". Didn't even notice.

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    3. I couldn't have said it better Coey. The "job" involves blocking, tackling, running, throwing and catching.

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  6. If we accept the argument that it is not forced patriotism but respect for the country as it is today, isn't that exactly the point of the protests? Is it so hard to understand and accept that some people, especially some of our black brothers and sisters, don't share that respect? Everyone sees the tragedy when a young black man is shot dead by a police officer only to discover that the shiny object in his hand was his cell phone. Taking a knee during the anthem seems like a pretty mild form of protest to me.

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  7. The writer of the letter does not see the inconsistency of saying he wants to have a escape from life's difficulties and not be reminded of how bad things really are while saying in the same breath that attendees need to be reminded of the sacrifices the military made on their behalf. Apparently, what he really means is only reminders that fit his own agenda should be allowed.

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  8. I'm all over the place on the current patriotism issues. Respect is good, especially for those who offer up their lives for love of their country and their countrymen; loyalty is good, though it's usually only exhibited bottom up, not top down; ceremonies are nice, but they rarely move me much; knowledge is desirable though ignorance can never be obliterated; true bare-boned honesty is hard to attain, maybe impossible; I don't like Trump, which bothers me, because my political opinion is definitely biased against him, such that it would be difficult to believe anything he says even if he said anything believable; I admire protesters all the more because I cannot see myself ever protesting publicly.

    john

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  9. If the players were taking a knee in the middle of a play the firefighter would have a point. But as you said, Neil, this guys argument crumbles under the weight of the ridiculous inconsitency of the "I just wanna relax and have a beer" purported objection and the "you need to stop your enjoyment and think about the fallen" demand.

    I think there coukd be some good arguments against the protests but this ain't one of them

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    1. The best argument against it, it seems to me, is simply (and sadly) that at this point the original meaning has been obscured.

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  10. It's interesting -- you see the same thing in "classic rock" from a segment of its listeners. When the music was released, much of it was often overtly political or at least commenting on real world issues. But it reached a lot of folks when younger, and now reminds them of a more-gauzy-and-innocent-seeming time, and the listeners forget the original context in favor of how it makes them feel currently. Which I guess is fine, but I sure do understand DJ Lin Brehmer's exasperation when angry listeners tell him to "just play the music" when said music and the artists that made it were explicitly political. Steven Hyden's new book "Twilight of the Gods" talks about the slow death of classic rock and touched on this phenomenon. His previous book touched more on it, and how artists respond (or don't) to demands from their audience.

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    1. Personally, I'd be happy if idiots would just stop misinterpreting "Born in the USA" as some sort of rah-rah patriotic anthem. Actually listening to the lyrics would be a good start.

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