Trump vs. NFL: What Are We Accomplishing?

I am not writing to you as a white person, the wife of a Jew, a “religious nut,” a heathen, or any of the derogatory names which ignorant and bigoted people have called me of late. I am writing to you as a mother. If you’ve stuck your finger in the winds of the political climate lately, you will understand exactly why I open my letter this way. One can rarely have a conversation on social media anymore without a hysterical zealot accusing you of being a “Trump thumping white supremacist” or a “Hillary loving baby-killer.” And yes, I’ve been called both those things this week for no sane reason. The first was because I said, “I don’t believe cotton plants are symbols of racism.” The second was because I said, “President Trump shouldn’t call for boycotts of law abiding American businesses.”

This climate of hyper-dramatic intolerance from both sides has to stop. However, our leaders, and many in the media, are stirring the pot.

Actions committed and words spoken this week have ignited a firestorm of controversy and pain. While NFL football players may not have the legal authority of President Trump, they do have the power to influence our children and alter our country’s emotional temperature. When it comes to the future happiness and peace of American children, I do not care about the feelings of multimillionaire athletes, or the pride of a President whose speeches my children’s ears are occasionally too young to hear. All I care about is creating a world where my children can enjoy peace, make friends among people of all colors, and never know a day when they are judged based on something as superficial as skin tone.

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The NFL National Anthem protests first began during the autumn of 2016, when Colin Kaepernick knelt. The kneeling, he said, was to protest wrongful police shootings of black citizens. This is a noble cause. However, many interpret Kaepernick’s actions, and the actions of football players who follow his example, as protesting The National Anthem itself and the flag so many have fought, bled, and died for. It is not hard to see why there is confusion, yet Kaepernick and his colleagues have done nothing to adapt their tactics to improve their messaging.

Until recently, these protests had taken a back-burner in the press and on social media. However, this past weekend, President Trump fanned the flames during an Alabama campaign rally. During a speech supporting Luther Strange in his primary election run, Trump veered off topic.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired! He’s fired!” Trump said. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner … they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

Later, Trump tweeted recommending that people boycott the NFL.

“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country,” Trump tweeted, “you will see a change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”

He also retweeted a tweet by Donna Warren that reads, “You can boycott our anthem. WE CAN BOYCOTT YOU.”

I Cannot Help But Wonder:

1. How does all of this promote peace?

2. What are we doing to heal wounds and fix problems?

Racial tensions will not be alleviated by protests that (mistakenly or intentionally) communicate disdain for our flag and our veterans. Cultural divides will not be lessened by profanities and incendiary threats from our national leadership. A President’s call to fire or suspend American employees and boycott American businesses sets a dangerous precedent that should not be underestimated. This is not the first time Trump has called for boycotts. In fact, he has also encouraged people to boycott Macy’s department store, Apple electronics, Starbucks coffee, and Megyn Kelly’s uber conservative FOX News show.

I feel that we are chickens running in circles with our heads cut off. We are not moving forward. If anything, we are moving backwards.

Two men in particular caught my attention this past weekend. The first was Alejandro Villanueva, a U.S. Veteran and player for the Steelers who stood courageously alone during The National Anthem on Sunday. The second was Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs, who got down on his hands and knees and prayed to God for peace and unity.

“I feel like people are complaining about kneeling and people are complaining about standing, but I feel like it’s pointless,” Justin Houston says. “They’re not changing anything, and I feel like prayer changes everything … I pray that we come together as one instead of being separate … You’ve got guys standing and kneeling. What are you kneeling for? What’s going to change? Prayer is power. So I believe if we pray together, the more we get together, we come together as one in prayer, we can make a change.”

On Sunday, Army Ranger Veteran, Alejandro Villanueva was a lone figure with his hand on his heart as The National Anthem played. The rest of the Steelers stood in the shadows of the tunnel, in a failed effort to appear neutral amid the controversy. While Villanueva has apologized for making his “teammates look bad,” perhaps his teammates should also apologize for not standing by their friend and honoring the flag he served and defended.

“I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that’s providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year … when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year,” Alejandro Villanueva said back in 2016 regarding Kaepernick’s protest. “I will be the first one to hold hands with Colin Kaepernick and do something about the way minorities are being treated in the United States, the injustice that is happening with police brutality, the justice system, inequalities in pay. You can’t do it by looking away from the people that are trying to protect our freedom and our country.”

Following Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, the people of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida reminded America what it means to “love thy neighbor.” Black fathers rescued white children from quickly flooding homes. White fathers waded through murky waters carrying Asian mothers and their babies. You are likely familiar with the viral photographs to which I am referring. For a Heavenly yet Hellish period, we were not divided by color, accent, culture, or politics. We were simply Americans. We knew we were all God’s children, and we acted accordingly.

It used to be that football and sports were a blessed reprieve from politics. Families gathered, neighbors hosted parties, and friends of any racial background or political leaning could relax together over nachos and hot dogs. Not so anymore. Now it’s awkward. Now there’s tension.

When I was a child, it used to be that my parents would encourage me to watch Presidential speeches on TV. Presidents – while often controversial – were important historical leaders, and not the sort you’d expect to use words like, “bitch,” brag about the size of their sexual organs, or make jokes about a woman’s menstrual cycle on live national television. I think the first time my parents turned off the television during a President’s speech was when Bill Clinton discussed his second-term affair with Monica Lewinsky. The first time I, as a parent, clicked the volume down on a speech by Trump was well before he was ever elected to office.

We should not have to hide our Presidents – or even our candidates for any office – from our children for fear of what they might say. We should not have to assess our next door neighbor’s political views before we invite them over for a game-day BBQ. We are Americans. We should strive to be better than this. Our children deserve better than this. This is pathetic.

Whether you, my reader, are a pro-athlete, politician, or simply a salt-of-the-earth, peace-loving American, who wants to leave our kids a better world, I implore you to do these things:

1. Build relationships between children and police officers and veterans. Our children need to know and respect the men and women of all races who serve day and night to keep us safe. Yes, there are some bad cops, and yes, the stress and danger of their jobs can make good people make bad choices, but the majority of officers are wonderful family people with kids of their own. Likewise, our officers need to know our children, and be reminded of who they are protecting and why they signed up for such a demanding job.

2. Actively help keep kids away from drugs, gangs, and crime. While police shootings go viral on social media, and are printed in three inch tall headlines on newspapers across the nation, they are actually very rare occurrences. If we as parents and influencers in our communities stay heavily involved in the lives of children and teens, we can help them avoid involvement in crime, and subsequently, avoid unnecessary confrontations with the law.

3. Do not fall for an emotional hijacking. Many so-called activists constantly stir things up, but fail to ever generate peace or foster understanding. Whether we are talking about President Trump’s incendiary tweets, or riots coordinated by the KKK, Nazis, Black Lives Matter, or Antifa, we must use careful judgment. We must weigh the chaos and stress created by these influencers against the level of peace and unity they are creating. Are they forces for unity or division? Are they proponents of equality or sowers of outrage? Are they making American great again or turning us into a political soap opera? Do they really care about minority lives, or do they merely enjoy vandalizing school campuses and burning cop cars?

4. Do not base your perceptions of American culture solely on the words of a powerful few. Make a conscious and intentional effort to get to know a diverse number of people; police officers, neighbors, pastors, city councilmen, congressmen, and people of all races and religions whether immigrants or natural born citizens. You will find, when you get to know them, that America is far less bigoted and angry than some would have us believe.

5. Pray. I agree with Justin Houston that prayer is powerful. Not only are you calling on God for aid, but you are interceding and wishing blessings down upon others. Looking outside of ourselves and desiring what’s best for those around us is the first step in opening our hearts to tolerance, peace, and understanding.

Someday, when our children and grandchildren read history books about our era, I do not want it to be said of us, “They hated whomever they were told they should hate, and they rioted and protested when they should have united.”

We live in dangerous times. The American Dream – which men like Martin Luther King Jr., Sgt. Jonathan Michael Hunter, Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, and James Foley died to defend and preserve – is balanced precariously on a powder keg of wanton outrage and imminent threat.

Between natural disasters ravaging multiple states, North Korea threatening nuclear war, ISIS and their ilk terrorizing the world, and a host of other lethal challenges to overcome, the last thing we need is to be divided by frivolous outrage and dissentious propaganda. This is not my America.

My America is one where people of opposing beliefs can have a calm and polite discussion exchanging their views and comparing ideas. My America is one where I can let my children watch Presidential speeches without worrying whether or not they’ll hear inappropriate words. My America is one where I can invite absolutely anyone over for a Super Bowl party and not worry that things might get awkwardly political. My America is one where people can peacefully take a knee – whether in prayer or in protest – and not have their job threatened by the most powerful leader in the world. My America is one where people strive to communicate their ideas clearly, and change their tactics if they’re being misunderstood as anti-American or anti-veteran. My America is one where “progressive” means to build up and move forward, not tear down and regress back toward the 60’s.

My America is one where I won’t get hate mail for writing this article, but I probably will. That’s because my America is a dream, and a goal, and a hope.

I will never stop striving toward it, and neither should you.

May God bless the USA!

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