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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Once again, we’ve got a lot going on in my hometown of Cleveland that’s attracting national attention.

Even as I write on this Wednesday afternoon, the background noise of my television is making me dare to believe that our baseball team is about to make American League history by winning its 21st consecutive victory.

Shh. I just typed that in a whisper. I’ve got no use for jinxes or other crazy superstitions except when it comes to Cleveland baseball.

This column isn’t about baseball. It’s about Cleveland Browns football players, the national anthem and a police union president who has a habit of making us sound like a town of time travelers who just arrived with a thud from somewhere in the 1950s.

First, some history: Last year, now-former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested racial oppression and inequality in the United States by sitting down during the national anthem before a preseason game. In later games, he kneeled when the song was played.

Kaepernick remains a free agent this season. Apparently, this is what happens when a black athlete dares to exercise his First Amendment rights during a white guys party.

Until Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, I had no idea so many Americans think there is a constitutional exemption for black men who play football. This is especially curious when the white Founding Fathers agreed to set the census value of a black slave as 60 percent of a free person.

Aaaanyway.

Kaepernick is teamless, but his protest lives on. Throughout this preseason, a number of teams’ black players sat or kneeled during the song. A week after Browns coach Hue Jackson said “everybody has a right” to protest but he hoped his team wouldn’t do such a thing, about a dozen of his players kneeled.

Most were black, but not all; Browns tight end Seth DeValve joined them.

That got attention, in a “what’s this white guy think he’s doing?” kind of way. An inevitable fascination, I suppose, when so many white Americans still want to believe racial injustice is just black people’s problem.

DeValve said the U.S. is the “greatest country in the world” but equal opportunity for all remains elusive. “I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee,” he said. “I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me, and I want to do my part, as well, to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.”

His wife, Erica Harris DeValve, is black. In a blog post for The Root, she cautioned against making her husband the hero of this story. He’s an ally, she insisted.

“To center the focus of Monday’s demonstration solely on Seth is to distract from what our real focus should be: listening to the experiences and the voices of the black people who are using their platforms to continue to bring the issue of racism in the U.S. to the forefront.”

Our young people will save us from ourselves, I swear.

Steve Loomis, who is head of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, was having none of this. His union members, he declared, would boycott the Browns’ pregame flag ceremony.

Loomis is white — but in that way that makes a lot of us white people wince.

Two years ago, Cleveland was the focus of critical national coverage after a white police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Loomis repeatedly defended the shooting and characterized Tamir in increasingly menacing terms. At one point, he texted a photo to me of a student drawing, hanging in a high-school hallway, that depicted a white police officer harassing a black man sitting at a lunch counter. It was titled “Civil Disobedience.”

“Connie, this is what we are up against,” Loomis wrote. “The kids should be taught to respect elders and authority not defy it.”

This was during Black History Month. I called the principal to confirm the obvious: The man in the drawing was Martin Luther King Jr.

Last Sunday, during pregame ceremonies, the Cleveland I love came through loud and clear. The Browns aired a one-minute video starring white and black players and Coach Jackson. They emphasized their commitment to justice and their support for the promise of America.

During the national anthem, Browns players locked arms with law enforcement agents and emergency workers and stood tall and strong.

And then they played football.

(P.S. The Cleveland Indians just won game 21. I’m whispering.)

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

5 Responses to All Rise, Or Not, For The United States Of Football

  1. Indians lost last night, so it’s 22 straight. Still something to enjoy.

    But that’s part of the glory of baseball. It’s a game of failures. Pitchers rarely throw a perfect game. Almost all don’t even get to complete the game they start. No batter gets 4 hits in 10 at bats. One home run every 3 games still puts the hitter into elite status.

    Suggest the NFL attitude is significantly different.

  2. Another black athlete, Curt Flood, gave up his career to challenge the status quo in baseball. He challenged the reserve clause that bound a player to his team forever–unless the team wanted to trade the player. Flood was traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies, but he didn’t want to go. He wanted to be declared a free agent. He sued Bowie Kuhn, baseball commissioner, for the right to be declared a free agent, but he lost. His career was over, but he did set the stage for free agency in pro sports. (See Ken Burns’ “Baseball.”) Similarly, John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave the Black Power salute at the Mexico City Olympics. While their careers did not end as a result, they faced death threats and a measure of ostracization from sports. (The silver medallist, Australian Peter Norman, a white man, wore a badge during the medal presentation in support of the Smith/Carlos protest and was not selected for the 1972 Australian Olympic team as a result.) These are only three instances of protest and retribution, but there are many others, especially college sports where the NCAA controls even what athletes may eat and when and with whom they may associate.

    It seems that things don’t change a whole lot over the years when it comes to oppression of black people. Flood, Smith and Carlos, and Kaepernick (and those who have joined his protest) suffered and are still suffering for opposing that which they see as unfair. We have this notion that sports should be apart from the broader society, that protest should be confined to places where nobody needs to see it and where it will have no effect–just let people complain on their own time, and let the rest of us ignore it. Well, when every game begins with the national anthem and often some sort of elaborate flag ceremony, sports cannot be separated from injustice that violates the principles upon which the anthem and the flag are supposedly based.

    • You make a very good point. When a sports team begins game activity with the playing of the national anthem, or a flag-raising ceremony, that team is making a political statement. Of course, that political statement has the support, at least superficially, of a large majority of the people attending the game. But if an athlete, or any other participant in the game activities, makes a political statement that does not have the approval of the majority of fans, or the approval of the owners of the team’s organization, that person is condemned and ostracized. So, theoretically, we American citizens have a First Amendment right to express our opinion without fear of arrest or prosecution (although there have been exceptions even to that), but when we express an unpopular opinion, we may not be arrested and jailed, but we will be ostracized and pay a heavy economic and social price for doing so.

      • Many of the signers of the declaration of independence lost everything so that people like Kaepernick, Carlos, Smith, and Flood could oppose oppression, whether real of imagined. It is certainly the right of any American to criticize the actions of these people, but it is not the right of any American to deny them the right to express their grievances. Just because many people, mostly white, don’t understand these grievances doesn’t mean they don’t exist. When we think of racism, we see some black people despising white people because of the way black people have been treated and continue to be treated in America by white people. When we see some white people despising black people, it’s usually because of the color of their skin or some misguided notion that black people are in some way privileged. Who has more of a right to complain?

        I really have no problem with the national anthem or a flag ceremony at a football game. I don’t see the connection, but if people want to do it, it’s OK with me. However, don’t criticize, ostracize, or threaten people who feel they have a good reason for not participating. I say that Kaepernick (et al.), Carlos, Smith, and Flood deserve to be honored for being willing to take a stand against what they see as injustice, just as the signers of the Declaration of Independence deserve to be honored for being willing to lose everything for what they believed.

  3. I used to watch football every weekend, and then again on Monday nights.

    Now, rarely. And you know what? My life seems no less enjoyable for it.

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