Much Kneeling About....Nothing

By Samir Shukla

Here are some thoughts on football players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem sung prior to the game. It is not about whether your ideology considers this act offensive to the country or whether your ideology considers this a form of valid protest to make a statement. Both sides have a point. It's about freedom of speech. It's about simple respect. I get it and will not get into an endless debate about appropriateness.

I ask a simple question. What does kneeling for a couple minutes as a protest accomplish against racial injustice and racism? Not a damn thing. This is because social change and judicial progress are slow evolutions in any society. It takes selfless, like-minded folks from various walks of life working together to better their neighborhoods, schools, and cities, while embracing diversity, over the course of years, even decades, to affect positive change.

It takes a steady hand of personal rectitude willing to work to mend fences with those of opposing views or offensive social character to impact change. There will always be racists and misogynists. There is no perfect world. We can work together to minimize these social problems while bringing light to darkness.

A football player kneeling during a two-minute national anthem will change people's minds about racism? Really? Racist folks will automatically become nice?

“Oh look, honey, he is kneeling during the anthem to protest injustice. Hon, let's not hate anybody. Let's go over to the neighbors' and exchange hugs. Right now."

Wasn't that easy? Isn't society better now? All it took was a dude kneeling during the anthem before a multi-million dollars commercial extravaganza.

I understand the players' passions about injustice and if they think it will make a difference to kneel during the national anthem, more power to them. Reality speaks otherwise. This action simply feeds into growing national disunity. The pro and anti-camps are already lit with fire. I won't go into the politicians or talking heads or a scattershot president feeding this fire because what started as a one-man action is now a national un-conversation. Disunity has now seeped into sports, one of the few things that normally unites people.

Peaceful protest has a long and effective history. Protest is fine, but I'm interested in thoughtful action. Clearly, despite all the positive social changes we have accomplished over the decades, much work remains to bring equal justice and opportunity for all.

Here's a suggestion for these players. In every city where professional football, basketball or baseball is played, there are economically depressed neighborhoods that need help. This is ground zero. There are schools needing funds, but more importantly, role models and mentors. This is the long-term investment. There is broken trust between people of authority – police, government – and local denizens that needs to be addressed. There is immediacy here. Why not put some of their own money and, more importantly, time, working with teammates and well-funded teams, to come up with layered, measurable actions?

These players have star power, able to attract diverse audiences to the game (there are no righties or lefties when jubilant fans are high-fiving each other after a touchdown), and can spend a bit of personal time working in neighborhoods to bring folks together during their off season. They can work with local governmental organizations, NGOs, religious institutions, teammates who are already invested in philanthropy, and other concerned people to enact long-term action, including steady funding in needed places, to make the curtains of distrust slowly fade and disappear over time. Work to solidify trust among fellow citizens. It is distrust that feeds prejudice leading to injustice.

It's the slow drizzle of community and social involvement that makes a difference in the long run. Stable neighborhoods and diverse, peaceful cities don't evolve on their own. Justice is a slippery ball, requiring much effort and constant vigilance to achieve.

We have enough cultural disintegration, mistrust, broken communication and unbending ideology in this country. A meaningless gesture, kneeling for a couple minutes and then running off to the field chasing an oval ball for a couple of hours, only feeds the beast of groupthink behavior. Let's just accept that there would be no first amendment without a country and national anthem while a country and its anthem are less meaningful without the first amendment, and move on to bigger things.

We have too many people crawling into tribal caves, unwilling to come to the table to work on problems hell of a lot tougher than arguing about dissing the country or making statements. Protest, any type of protest, has meaning if it instigates conversation and action that will create positive, albeit slow, change. Otherwise you're just pissing in the wind, whether standing or kneeling.