For generations, football was the most unpolitical and un-ideological of pastimes in America. Indeed, it was a point of unity that overcame political differences and fostered healthy local rivalries. Not liking football was almost un-American.
Now times are changing in our nation. Nothing can be left untouched by the liberal keepers of the culture. Even football is becoming political and finding itself on the front lines of America’s Culture War.
The Antics of Colin Kaepernick
The offensive attack began last year when Americans were shocked by the antics of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He started the practice of dropping to one knee or sitting during the playing of the national anthem as a sign of protest against racial violence.
Kaepernick did the unthinkable. He interjected politics into the sports scene. Worse, he insulted the flag and those who defend it, by refusing to stand before it.
By his protest, Americans saw that the ceremony surrounding the game was more than just a feel-good thing. The quarterback’s defiant action touched sentiments deep inside the American soul that speak to us about love of country, freedom, service, and the blessings of God upon our nation.
A Healthy Reaction
Many reacted to the unpatriotic gesture by rejecting the quarterback and even the football league. Kaepernich lost his job, and everyone knows that no team wants to risk hiring him for fear of the ire of the fans. Many offended Americans simply stopped attending or watching the National Football League games.
This season, everyone hoped that the matter would be over and the games could go ahead once again as normal.
However, there is no time out. As many as two dozen players have chosen to kneel or raise their fists in the air in protest at this year’s pre-season games.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett remained seated with a towel over his head during the national anthem at the team’s pre-season opener with Los Angeles Chargers. At another pre-season game, Oakland Raider Marshawn Lynch sat on a cooler while holding a banana during the anthem. Numerous other players knelt while fellow players showed support by putting their hands upon their shoulders.
The problem is not going away as the football stadium is now the theater of political dissent.
A Case of Political Suicide
The NFL has everything to gain by banning these practices. It is certainly within the rights of club owners to discipline their players. They have banned similar actions of improper dress, gestures or behavior on the playing field.
However, the club owners and managers are not clamping down. In an act of political suicide, they are caving in to the politically correct tyranny now sweeping the nation. Not even the almighty dollar can influence their decisions as they are losing money by their refusal. They allow the behavior because they do not have the courage to stand up for principle.
And the principle is this: Americans have the obligation to honor their country. Being a citizen brings not only benefits but the duties of reverence, honor, and aid.
Should a person disrupt the game by failing to respect the flag and anthem, the owners should treat it like any other improper behavior that they can and do it.
The Practice of Piety
The debate over the anthem is a symptom of a greater problem—a lack of piety toward the country. The Church teaches that love of country is part of the virtue of piety. It is derived from justice. Piety inclines us to render to our parents and our country all the acts of honor, service, and gratitude that are due to them. It can even lead us to give our lives for our country if need be.
We sin against piety by an exaggerated nationalism that disdains the qualities of other nations. We can also sin against piety by an exaggerated individualism in which we fail to respect and serve our country in any way we can. This can include disrespecting symbols like the flag or the national anthem that represents the moral commitment to the common good of the nation.
The Legitimate Role of Protest
This love of country, of course, does not mean we cannot disagree with or even protest against the policies of the government. However, we must make the necessary distinction between the nation and the government.
One thing is the nation that forms a cultural, social, economic, and political unity over the course of centuries. Like the institution of the family, the nation tends toward union, peace, and community through shared goals and ideals. Yet another thing is the government, which is the political system and institutions by which a State is administered and regulated. The government is the means by which we resolve our disagreements and protests.
Thus, virtuous protest should respect the common good of the nation. It should not offend others needlessly. It should ardently desire solutions within the institutions of order. Just as a son respects his parents even when they have defects, so should we show piety toward the nation when protesting the shortcomings of our government.
Is It Protest or Revolution?
This is why the kneeling football players are wrong. They needlessly insult those who have defended or died for the flag. They do not propose any concrete solutions for the problems they protest. They insinuate that the problem is not a governmental policy but that America herself is wrong and irredeemable. If the latter is the case, their aim is not protest but revolution—and Americans need to be aware of it.
Indeed, the football controversy has all the characteristics of a typical liberal maneuver against the nation. It has always been a tactic to exploit a crisis to convince others they are oppressed by a whole system that must be radically changed. In this case, however, they have wildly succeeded in convincing millionaire football players that they are oppressed.
Liberals have long perceived the importance of culture to push forward their agenda. Now it is national football’s turn to be utilized as a tool of revolution, even if it means destroying the sport as we now know it.
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One of the unexpected surprises of the Culture War is that it is teaching Americans to look beyond the materialistic notion that life exists merely for our pleasure. It forces us to reject a shallow culture, full of gadgets and social media, that is detached from political, metaphysical or religious meaning.
Americans are finding out that this concept of life is wrong. Culture matters. Everything has meaning. Even the most unpolitical topics of life, like football, suddenly appear profound and find themselves on the front lines of the cultural battlefield. There is no time out in this struggle. We need to trust in God and engage in the fight—even when it appears on the gridiron.
As seen on Crisis Magazine.