I hate football season. I hate the nasally din of blowhard announcers and the monotonous green-turf glow that emanates from my living room for hours on hours, months on months as my husband and son sprawl over the sofa like toddlers, yelling stupid things at people who can’t hear them.
I hate the tedious, arbitrary, meaningless debates that football ignites: Who’s the best running back of all time, why that call was bull, whether the ball was fully inflated — and the notion that one group of large men is incontestably superior to another group of large men because the first group’s jerseys have a horsey on them.
But last week I watched football. And I kind of loved it.
Because last week, football — or at least football player Colin Kaepernick — ignited a fascinating debate so fraught with meaning that it had fans setting fire to their jerseys, Americans questioning the very ideals on which our nation was founded … and Sean Hannity tossing the word “Muslim” into the fracas just for fun.
At an August 26 game, Kaepernick refused to stand up with his teammates during the national anthem, later explaining that he didn’t want to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” The 49ers quarterback, who is half black, went on to reference “bodies in the street” and cops “getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
While some, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, applauded his protest, many were gravely offended by it. The enraged parent of a fallen soldier decried it as the ultimate in disrespect, and Kaepernick’s own biological mother (he was raised by white, adoptive parents) tisked him in a tweet. Because that’s how life works now, apparently.
But to me, Kaepernick’s stand — or rather his sit — is gripping not for the roar of boos it provoked at the Chargers’ Salute to the Military game (no one is anything but grateful to humans who put their lives at risk for others; relax). And not even for the statement it makes about police brutality and racial injustice (there’s no denying it’s an abominable problem with no simple solution; I mean, really).
What makes this debate so compelling is the myriad other questions it raises — important questions that we ought to have been asking all along. Like these:
— Why is respect for fallen soldiers paramount to respect for fallen citizens?
— Who decided that the American flag has to always symbolize our military? Kaepernick seems to view it as a symbol of our laws and ideals, which we’re not currently upholding for some Americans.
— When did the NFL begin French kissing the armed forces? Wherefore the uniformed soldiers, dramatic flyovers, and camo goal posts? And frankly, why do we sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting events, anyway?
— Why don’t NFL fans foam at the mouth like this when a player, I don’t know, gets arrested for dogfighting, child abuse, or rape? A man sat down, folks. Because black people are being murdered and he thought we should think about that.
Kaepernick is a showboat quarterback known for kissing his biceps after a touchdown. But his best days are years behind him, and he may lose sponsorships — or even his job — for this stunt. “To me, this is bigger than football,” he says. “It would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
I give him props for courage, and for reminding us what liberty looks like. Far as I’m concerned, any bench that upholds Kaepernick’s much-booed butt is the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.