The protests by football players over the past few months has led to a variety of miscommunications by a variety of people. Of course, it began with Colin Kaepernick, who went to one knee during the singing of the national Anthem. He later told NFL Media “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
That may be Kaepernick’s message, but not that of the other NFL players who display varying levels of protest during the singing of the National Anthem. They state explicitly that they do not want to show disrespect to the flag, the country or to the troops fighting for our country; they want to protest police mistreatment of African Americans and stand in unity with them.
However, that message is not heard by the NFL fans. The fans look to NFL players as their heroes: white and black children, as well as adults, look up to the players as their heroes, and become excited to wear their colors and their gear, with no regard as whether the player is black or white or another race. However, the protests during the national Anthem are perceived as disrespecting the flag and the troops – the very opposite of the stated goal of the players. They have pitted themselves as heroes of the football field against the heroes of the battlefield – and they will lose that battle in the minds and hearts of Americans.
Pastor Hamm’s Statement
Pastor Kevin Hamm of First Baptist Church in Gardendale has contributed to the problems of communication by suggesting that the protesting players move to another country. First, that disregards the facts of law: it is not a crime to protest the National Anthem and these are U. S. Citizens who have as much right as he does to remain in America. Assuming that Pastor Hamm is pro-life, there are folks on the political left who would be interested in having him move to another country because they have no legitimate argument against the right to life for the unborn. Removal of the folks with whom we disagree is not any solution. In fact, it brings to mind people who wanted the Civil Rights leaders and anti-war protestors to leave America if they did not love it.
We are Christian and American. Christians are quite diverse among themselves but they share one faith, and one Baptism in Christ Jesus. We need to provide a model of diversity that maintains unity in Christ. We can provide a model for communication with respect and dignity that is absent from unbelievers, especially those of the relativistic type (see Occupy Wallstreet Protests as an example).
Our task is to seek the wisdom, understanding and counsel that are gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-3) so as to see more deeply into the crises of our culture and offer a wisdom that exceeds the world’s foolishness. The wisdom that God bestows will help us resolve issues that the worldly raise. This is our call as preachers of the Word of God.
Fr. Mitchell Pacwa, SJ, Ph. D.