First off, of course this is speculative, since I am not actually on an NFL roster, (and probably wouldn’t land on one after a post like this). And secondly, this has NOTHING to do with veterans (I address them later in this post.) So before you have a knee-jerk reaction over why I would sit during the national anthem, hear me out…
I grew up middle class, in Corpus Christi Texas. My parents worked hard to provide a better life for our family. Even scrounging up resources to send us to a private Christian school. The education there was great, but as you can imagine, there wasn’t much diversity. Really the only diversity I saw was an Egyptian kid named Omar. Everyone else was white, just like me.
At that school, and growing up for that matter, the topic of diversity and racial issues weren’t talked about. Not because of avoidance or anything sinister, but simply because I think it’s human nature to only consider the immediate issues in front of us. Which at the time, didn’t include how minorities experience with America was vastly different from mine.
If you think about it, everyone seems to be more concerned with their own problems, over the problems of others. Call it narcissism or whatever you want, but it really just stems from how our brains are hardwired to identify personal threats, and keep us alive. Let me explain further. If I am being bullied at school, that is a level ten experience for me. Meaning, it is on the forefront of my mind constantly. For a random grandmother living in a retirement home in Florida, that event is a level one. Not because she doesn’t think it’s important, but simply because she isn’t aware. Until she becomes aware of my situation, she will never empathize with it.
Ok, so brace yourself here. If your experience with racism is at a level ten, and another persons is at a level three, it’s unfair to expect them to be at the same “level ten” you are, until we have made them fully aware of what is happening. So… this is me trying to peacefully make you aware, of why I would sit during the national anthem, with the hopes that by hearing this from a white guy, other white people will be able to empathize with the pain so many minorities are in. Hoping that if you are at a level three of your “awareness of social issues,” this will put you at a level ten.
My experience in the NFL caused a massive shift in my heart. I was now in a world with men I most likely wouldn’t have had any contact with, and vice-versa. When I played for the Seattle Seahawks, I would hear guys making hateful comments about white people, or venting their frustrations about “white privilege.” I didn’t get it. And honestly, I found myself frustrated a lot of the time.
One day at practice, we were gearing up for field goal period. Arguably the most important time of the day for me as the long-snapper. As we were about to set up, I made a comment to the D-line, “hey boys, we are gonna line up on the left hash.” What happened next, shocked me…All of a sudden, the majority of the defense began screaming at me. Hurling heated epithets of hate towards me. I was stunned. What on earth just happened? Why am I now the most hated guy on the field? I had no clue.
After four abysmal snaps, another guy walked up and began shouting at me… He was horrified over my choice of using the word “boys.” To him, I might as well have used the “n-word.” I was devastated. (I took a personality test one time which said one of my top gifts was “includer.” Which means I would rather set myself on fire than for anyone to feel marginalized.)
I pleaded with him to see that my experience with saying the word “boys,” was like saying “guys,” “fellas,” “dudes,” or “compadres…” Or literally ANY other word which could be used for “friend.” But none of that mattered. In his mind, I was forever a racist. And once someone puts that label on you, there’s no coming back from it.
In my ignorance, I said something that struck the very core of the men I found myself playing alongside. What I hadn’t understood, was that the word “boys,” was a term used by white slave owners to emasculate their male slaves. White people, who believed they were the superior race (disgusting), would intentionally degrade and belittle the black people they owned. They thought that if they could cripple their self esteem, they could control them forever. Continuing to exploit them for their own selfish gain. Quite simply, white people used the word “boys,” as a weapon to repress black people. The word was dehumanizing. And while it was a level ten to him, unfortunately, it was a level two to me. I was clueless of it’s implications. But that day, my level two, became his level ten, and I was confronted with the painful reality of how much hurt so many minorities are still carrying everyday.
I think most of white America is like how I was a few years ago. They are at a “level two,” in their understanding of what is going on. It isn’t malicious, they just don’t know. I think those who are fighting for social justice need to remember that. Thankfully though, with technology and social media, we are able to thrust social issues out to the masses quicker than ever before, and change happens at an expedited pace.
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, I was angry about it. Probably for the same reason most people were angry about it. But honestly, it had more to do with me being too arrogant to understand that someone else might have had a different experience than I had, and being unwilling to listen to his “why.” But once I started doing some research of my own, my perspective on Colin’s protest changed.
The United States flag is supposed to represent freedom and justice for all. And whether you like it or not, there is a huge part of our country that is in a ton of pain. They don’t feel the same sense of freedom and justice, that white people feel. So of course they are going to be reluctant in showing allegiance to a nation that has left them feeling marginalized!
I’m grateful for my time in the NFL because it opened up my eyes to see pain I didn’t know was there. As I began to ask guys about their experiences, I discovered this wasn’t an isolated issue. Suddenly, my eyes were opened. I began to see how different the world was for many of the men I played with. One guy (one of my favorite dudes) told me how he was dating a white girl one time. He told me how when he met her dad, her dad was disgusted that my friend was a black guy, and that his daughter would mix with someone like that…I mean, how traumatic is something like that?!
As someone who is a Christian, I try to live how Jesus did. There is a verse in scripture that says “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Really, God just wants everyone to show empathy towards each other. I’m hoping that if you are a white person, you will realize that right now, African Americans are weeping. So I’m going to do what Jesus said, and weep with them. I’m going to stand against racism. I’m going bring things into the light. And as a white guy who saw first hand, the pain that many African Americans are in, I have to speak up about it. So If I could, I would sit next to Michael Bennet on the sideline, during the national anthem at Seahawks games. Not because I am disrespecting our country, but because I believe God cares about peoples’ felt pain. I want minorities to know that there are in fact white people, who want them to experience the same privilege that I do. You see, the price God paid for humanity was the same, because the value of each person is the same. Jesus didn’t die harder for white people, and that BS about whites being a superior race, is straight from the pit of hell.
Lastly, I want to say to the soldiers who have fought and died. to give people the right to protest. There are some countries that will put you in prison for not standing during the anthem. They forget that if love and allegiance isn’t given a choice, it isn’t love at all. To the veterans who have fought to give us that choice, thank you. Because of your sacrifice, our nation is one where we are given the right of free speech. This conversation couldn’t have happened without you.
My prayer is that you will have an open heart about this. That you will make practical effort to learn more about these issues. If you are a white person, go watch “The 13th Amendment” on Netflix, or go read the book, “The New Jim Crowe.” Familiarize yourself with the issues. Together, we can bring the peace, unity, and love, we are all after.