I live in house with two sons, a husband and two male dogs. I am the only estrogen in my house. This translates into 22 consecutive weeks where pretty much the only thing on our television is football. There is literally a game every freaking day and night: professional, college, high school, flag. My house is fully vested in each and every thing that happens during the season. Me, not so much. I’ve tried so hard to like football but it’s just not my thing. But what is happening now in the league, that I am into.
When I hear or read people (many whom I love and respect) equating these young men’s protests with disrespecting the military it feels to me like I just asked someone how their day was going and their response was, “Tuesday.” Huh, Tuesday? Like we are not even having the same conversation. If adults are struggling to understand the protests I thought my ten and twelve-year-old sons must be really confused. So I sat them down separately and asked them what they thought. My ten year-old sounded like most of white America: he didn’t really understand it and he just wanted to watch football. Fair enough, he still sleeps with a teddy bear so social protest understandably doesn’t hit his radar. My twelve-year-old said it has to do with the stuff in Charlottesville. Okay, I’m giving partial credit for that answer. Neither of them had any interest in talking to their mom about social injustice. Not when football season had just started and their fantasy football teams were in the lead.
But I didn’t give up. I insisted on them listening while I explained that these protests have nothing to do with the military, because we have nothing but respect for those who serve our country. I reminded them that they have two grandfathers who served in the Army and Marines including one who fought in the Vietnam War. I told them that the national anthem belongs to all Americans. We are all represented by it. And the protests are by young men who feel like their country is letting them down. These aren’t young men who hate their country. These are men who love their country and are asking it to do better by them. It’s that simple.
I’m pretty sure their eyes glazed over about five words into—what I felt was– my eloquent speech. Ten and twelve-year-old boys oddly enough aren’t very interested in what mom has to say in general and definitely not when it comes to deep discussions of social importance. So I was delighted when Malcom Jenkins, a safety and defensive team captain with the Philadelphia Eagles, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post that explained exactly what the protests are and what the next steps need to be. Messaging from NFL player: good. Messaging from mom: boring. Point taken. My boys read it and I encourage you to do the same.
In a league where the average age of the players is twenty-seven and 68% are African American, the white supremacist demonstrations, the subtle (and not so subtle) bigotry of the current president, the police shootings of unarmed black men and women and subsequent court’s dismissal of these cases is deeply personal to them. I saw a posting on social media that summed it up perfectly: “If you are tired of hearing about racism, imagine how tired some people are of experiencing it.” The unfairness of our system is what they are protesting. It is what we should all be protesting. You might not see things the same way as the NFL players who take a knee. But put yourself in their shoes. Try to imagine how close to home these injustices are to them. They aren’t asking the military to do better for them. That is a lie. The truth is they are asking us all to do better for them.