Countering arguments against the national anthem protests

Introduction to the cause at hand


What an usually divisive time for us as a country.

Here in the United States, players of the most watched and attended professional sport in the country today knelt, locked arms or just weren’t present during the traditional playing of the American national anthem before the games.

They’ve done this largely due to recent tweets by President Donald Trump saying members of the teams who chose not to stand during it should be fired. NASCAR owners, meanwhile, have reportedly threatened to fire anyone who protests in such a way.

Here’s my official stance. It is my own and mine alone, and I admit it’s undoubtably overdue. But here it is:

I’m glad players and teams are doing this and I think NASCAR fans should be ashamed, especially because of the number of confederate flags often present at their sport’s events.

I applaud the members of the Los Angeles Sparks for staying in their locker room during the anthem ahead of the first game of their league’s championship series, as reported by ESPNW.

The tweets by our president, in my opinion, reek of blatant hypocrisy.

The President calls out players for not respecting our flag as a country, essentially saying their lives and livelihoods should be threatened through their firing because he doesn’t like the way they propagate or exercise their freedom of speech and expression.

Yet he himself is a beneficiary of the nearly absolute protection he now says these athletes should be stripped of. He tweets, from the highest ranking office in the U.S. things that are frequently racially insensitive, broadly disrespectful, and that occasionally border on obscene.

He can get away with calling many immigrants “criminals” during his election campaign. He can talk about the sexually-harrassing of women as if it’s ethical.

Somehow, though, when it comes to these players refusing to honor America in the way Trump feels best, they should somehow be stripped of their First Amendment protections.

I categorically disagree with this, and detest the possible wide-ranging precedent which firing or even threatening these athletes with such would set.

I also, however, find a small precipice of middle-ground here, in that he should still be allowed to continue to tweet it.

Despite how serious in nature his words inherently are due to the fact that as president, anything he says or supports can be and is a statement of the official policy of my U.S. government, the fact is he is a man and a citizen of the United States. Whatever my views on his personal character, the fact is that he is an American, and to discount him his rights is, in my opinion, hypocritical as well.

I won’t do that. I think he, for all the reasons listed above, has a duty and an obligation to exercise extra care in what he says and who he says it about. I don’t, however, believe that any perceived or real failures on his part to abide by that duty mean he ought to be stripped of his personal rights.

When I read things online and see comments both through Twitter and through ESPN about the responses they receive, I generally hear two arguments for why these protests are bad and/or should not be allowed. The first is that it’s disrespectful to the flag at all and that these players are displaying a lack of patriotism. The second, which is tied somewhat to the first, is that these players make so much money they have an obligation not to protest a country which either A. They didn’t fight for (implying that somehow you have to earn your right to protest) or B: Which by virtue of its choices in entertainment allows them the so-called privilege of making more money than the rest of us (implying, in my perception, that being better off somehow entitles you to fewer civil rights).

I vehemently disagree on all accounts. Here are my arguments against each.

My Rebuttal to the first argument I hear the most

On the first account, I disagree with those who say this is a protest against America or the flag or the national anthem in the first place.

I think the public seems to be muddying the waters in terms of what this protest is about.

Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback in the league, started these protests largely in response to instances of police brutality across our country last year. Kaepernick is on the record as saying he has protested because he doesn’t agree with what he believes that flag represents. In my opinion, there’s a careful distinction to make there. Kaepernick isn’t saying he hates America or is in any way ungrateful for the institution which allows him the wide-ranging voice he now has; it simply means he hates how minorities in this country are being treated in the name of that flag. He’s not, in other words, arguing against the institution itself, or the physical symbol or the merits of democracy. He’s arguing and protesting its execution.

That ought not to be seen as rebellious or disrespectful. It ought to be seen as patriotic.

After all, our country itself was established because a group of people had protested their government and felt they were not being heard. The minority spoke up, and felt they were utterly ignored, and our nation is founded on the idea that when people feel their government is ignoring them, they have not only a right but a duty to petition. Knowing that, it seems foolish of us as a population to label these protests as disrespectful.

I also believe our government is based on the underlying principle that those in the majority, in this case white-people like myself, have an ethical duty to listen and protect the minority, including and perhaps especially from slights or oppression by us ourselves. Because of this, I believe that now more than ever, these protests not only need to be allowed, they need to be heard and seriously discussed.

And whether we agree or disagree on the facts behind those slights (I believe they’re real but understand not everyone does) that Mr. Kaepernick and the others are protesting are real and factual, one thing we shouldn’t be able to disagree on is the fact that he and those protesting have the right to protest as they feel necessary, so long as it’s peaceable and doesn’t disrupt or endanger others.

You can’t convince me the silent kneeling during the national anthem disrupts or endangers me in any way, especially not so as to merit restricting freedom of speech or expression.

Some will argue back and say “Well, his/their lack of acknowledging the flag respectfully disrespects me.” This is a foolish argument because these protests are inherently silent. Therefore you have to choose to be offended by it. You have to deliberately notice it (when, by tradition, you should be looking at the flag anyways) and you have to somehow be restricted from practicing your own form of respect for the flag by these protests in some tangible way.

“Because his actions offend me, they disrupt me because they make me angry” is not a valid reason to suppress these expressions either. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t protect your feelings. It makes no amendment which ends with “so long as it doesn’t upset or offend anyone.” So this whole argument against these protests, is in my opinion utterly invalid.

My rebuttal he second argument I hear the most against these protests

One of the other prevailing arguments comes from detractors who say “Well, he didn’t fight for that flag, others did. So he needs to respect their sacrifices on behalf of it.”

I disagree with that also.

I do not speak for all U.S. military veterans, nor do I speak for anyone in service or who will at any point serve.

I only speak for myself, and as far as I’m concerned, nobody who fights for the U.S. Constitution does so for any single part of the document or the idea behind it.

When you take an oath to service, be it military or political, you take an oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

You don’t, however, get to choose which amendments you fight for.

You don’t get to say “I’ll take a No. 1, a No.2 (I like my guns) and a No. 5 (because being compelled to testify against myself would really suck with some of the stuff I’ve done).”

You don’t get to do that. Service to our country is not a “have it your way” kind of thing. You don’t get just the toppings or ingredients or Amendments that you specifically ask for and then get to leave the others out, and you most certainly don’t get to decide who you’re buying for. You’re buying for everyone.

So when I hear military members and veterans say they didn’t fight for the rights of these players to “disrespect” America, I counter with this:

That’s exactly what you fought for.

You fought for the rights of all to help execute and effect an increasingly improved government for and by the people.

You fought not just for those you like, or with whom you agree, or who practice the same traditions or like the same sports that you do. You didn’t fight exclusively for any of that.

You fought for those voices which you disagree with too, perhaps not realizing that having both is absolutely necessary for our government to thrive, prosper, and improve itself.

So just because these men did or didn’t fight for the flag is irrelevant. Our military protects and defends the Constitution of every American citizen, whether they served or not. This is absolute, so the second argument I’ve listed is absolutely and terminally flawed.

Final Thoughts

We are in perilous times.

But in much the same way hills are miserable for the runner, so too are times of such strong and heated debates for democracy.

I believe that both running and democracy are similar in that are self-correcting processes. Hills, though agonizing, are shown scientifically to cause the body of the runner doing them to self-correct flaws in their running form, completely involuntarily. In the same way, such discussions over our national traditions and over issues such as institutional racism, however agonizing, are also absolutely vital, necessary, and must be protected for the benefit of both our democracy and those democracies abroad which look to it for example.

Let us not forget that although these protests are limited at the moment to American sports, the impact of our actions and discussion will be felt far more broadly than just our own little shores.

We as a nation, whatever our agreements or disagreements about anything, have an ethical obligation to set a good example. It can’t just be our politicians. Heck it may be outright in spite of our politicians. It has to be all of us. I cannot be just athletes, just minorities, just those with money, just those who like sports.

This time, this issue, this cause affects more than just any one group. It affects humanity as a whole. We have both an ethical obligation and a duty, every single one of us, to invite and propagate these discussions now.

Not just for us, but for all humankind.

I hope you’ll be bold enough to start a conversation, either here or on Twitter, with me or anyone else who has a viewpoint other than your own.

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Sports: Week 1 College Football Observations: Bama’s Good, Texas Is Unpredictable, And OU’s Offensive Line Is A Vulnerability

By tonight’s end, the first week of college football will be in the books for DI schools. With that, here are a few observations. Enjoy.

Observation 1: Alabama = ….just…damn.

Everyone in the country knew Alabama probably wouldn’t drop off too much from last season, but the defense was one area of concern entering this season in part because seven players from the Crimson Tide’s defense went in the 2017 NFL Draft, according to SaturdayDownSouth.com.

Everyone got their answer Saturday in the Tide’s 24-7 win over No. 3 Florida State. This was the fourth straight year the Crimson Tide recorded three sacks in their season-opening game. The most recent two were against the No. 20 teams in the nation.

That doesn’t bode well for Alabama’s next opponent, unranked Fresno State. Neither does the fact that the Tide haven’t slowed down off those performances, winning their last three week-2 matchups by a combined score of 116-20.

Week two should be a cakewalk for Alabama. In case you somehow thought Fresno State had a chance before…

Observation 2: Texas is too inconsistent to predict, both now and for the next two-to-three years.

In his Monday press conference, first-year Texas head coach Tom Herman said “We’re in this for the long haul.”

Herman was equally as candid about the depth of work needed in the program immediately after Saturday’s 51-41 loss to Maryland.

“If we all thought that we were going to come in here and in nine months, sprinkle some fairy dust on this team and think that we’ve arrived, then we’re wrong,” Herman said after the game.

Last year, the famous quote that came from broadcasters during Texas’ 2OT win over Notre Dame to start the season was “Texas, is, back folks.”

First, Texas isn’t.

Second, I’m not sure we’ll know in any one second when they are.

I don’t think that when Texas actually is “back,” there will be one defining moment when we know. I think we’ll look back at maybe a season, or a couple of them in a few years year, and realize “OK, Texas can legitimately contend this season.”

That’ll only happen if Tom Herman gets time though, something Texas fans and regents have historically been reluctant to allow. Still, looking back statistically at previous seasons, there really aren’t a lot of scoring trends that point to simple conclusions like “Texas needs to play better defense” or “They need to score more points” to be able to armchair-quarterback Texas to success.

Realistically, Texas just needs to play better.

If they give Tom Herman time to make the cultural-shift he’s curating work, then they’ll be back at Alabama’s level before long.

But it will take two to three years.

For now, I wouldn’t bother trying to predict what they’ll do until they do it, because Texas is just too unpredictable at the moment, and it’s impossible to say how long that will last.

Observation 3: Oklahoma’s offensive line might be a real vulnerability this season

This morning, I watched the replay of the first half of the game Saturday between UTEP and Oklahoma.

My opinion: Oklahoma kind of got away with one in that game.

Who knows, maybe I’ll eat what I’m about to say next week. Maybe Oklahoma will come out, drop the hammer against No. 2 Ohio State in the Horseshoe.

But watching that replay, the part before OU quarterback Baker Mayfield came out, that Oklahoma offensive line did not look very good. Here are some statistics to back that up.

UTEP had a sack and five tackles-for-loss against the Oklahoma offense. OU, ranked No. 7 in the nation going in, had a sack, and four tackles-for-loss against the UTEP offense.

Same number of sacks.
UTEP had more Tackles for loss.
OU had more points and got the win.

In the half I watched, UTEP got fairly regular pressure on Mayfield, who started off 16-16 passing and ended up going 19-20.

Still, this was the first time since 2014 Oklahoma has had fewer sacks than an opponent in a season-opening game, and won.

Last year, they were out-sacked 5-2 by No. 15 Houston, who pulled out the huge upset under the guidance of then-head coach and now conference-rival Tom Herman. Two weeks later hosted No. 3 Ohio State, losing 45-24 and again getting out-sacked, this time 3-1.

Now, Oklahoma only gets a week to prepare for a road-game against an Ohio State squad fresh off beating Indiana 49-21 behind senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, who had 150 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions on 14-20 passing last year against Oklahoma.

Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe this week, the Sooners players will get a lot better from week one to week two just like many teams do after they’ve tasted actual gameplay for the first time in a season.

But I’m predicting Ohio State will win by at least 14 points, largely because their defensive line will rock Oklahoma’s offensive line.

Turning A Page Through High School Sports

I wake up this morning feeling like I’ve turned a new page.

I spent just under five years working at the Kansas State Collegian, the student newspaper at Kansas State University. I served in a lot of different positions, not always well and certainly never perfectly, but always intently.

Today though, when you turn the pages to the middle of the Manhattan Mercury, you’ll be able to find what is in many ways a turned page for me as well. Perhaps fittingly, that page is turned to the Sports section.

Last night I wrote my first article post-Collegian work, you can read it here. I covered Rock Creek High School’s first game in the 4A Division II high school baseball tournament here in Kansas.

It was a series of firsts for me. It was my first baseball game covered at any level. I’ve been a fan of baseball since elementary school, my love of the game predates my love for every other major sport except hockey, but I’d never covered a game. I’d never been to a high school game, let alone been in a press box for one. I’d also never covered a sporting event for any publication other than the Collegian, where I was blessed enough to cover K-State Soccer, Women’s Basketball, and to help cover Football in 2016-2017. And while last night’s coverage was far from perfect, it was a start I’m hopeful about.

I’m hopeful for the way I was able to write it and get it submitted fairly rapidly and with little instruction. I’m hopeful about the way I was able to travel and handle the multiple logistics that come with traveling to a game alone to cover something. I’m hopeful about the way I was able to get it right without a better journalist looking over my shoulder, and the way I was able to basically blend in among the other press-box media members and game officials.

None of these things of course is the least bit remarkable. Any journalist of any mediocre ability should be able to master them without err 100% of the time. Yet left alone independently I was able to not screw up. I didn’t lose the proverbial game for my proverbial team. I didn’t win it for them either, but human history is rife with examples of people who started their careers simply by not screwing up big opportunities they were given. In doing so, they left the door open to receive bigger ones later on. History is also rife with examples of people who tried too hard to make the most of their initial opportunities and who ultimately failed because of it.

I’d like to think I’ll prove to be in the former group, but even if I am to fail, I don’t think (having not gotten any feedback yet from my new bosses) that it’ll have been because of yesterday. I don’t intend to throw away my shot, but even if I throw one away, I don’t believe it was yesterday’s.

And that, friends, pumps me the heck up.

Sports: K-State’s Women’s Basketball Victory Was About More Than Standings.

And I got to write about it!

Read about it by clicking here. 🙂

The reason I am writing today, though, is to tell you about how excited it made me feel to watch such a beautiful game played with such artistic resilience, by both teams, especially K-State. :).

When Kansas State University’s women’s basketball team played undefeated Connecticut earlier this season, they started slow and ultimately couldn’t overcome it. They showed grit in that game, dancer-like determination as they fought back from 25-8 at the end of the first quarter to bring the game to just 11 points later on, but the prospect of an upset never to me seemed realistic after the first quarter. UConn was just too good to give their lead up, and they’ve proven it since, extending their record-setting winning streak to 101 games.

That was a heck of an atmosphere, one I’ll never forget. Bramlage Coliseum, with its 12,528 seats, was completely sold out. Every seat was spoken for, if not actually filled. Friends of mine in the pep-band told me leading up to the game that the band was receiving instructions to be as big as needed to be strong, but to be aware that space would be limited.

Tuesday’s crowd was less-impressive than the one against UConn, 4,377 according to ESPN. The grit shown by the team, however, was not.

If you ever have followed sports for an entire season, regardless of the sport, you can appreciate the value of finishing a season strong. Teams can start rough, but if they finish the season on a winning-streak than they can set themselves up to place well in the standings and enter the playoffs/tournaments feeling confident.

This fundamental truth to competition applies regardless of sport or athletic endeavor. A competitive runner almost-never hears their coach or trainer emphasize starting strong over finishing strong. That doesn’t mean they don’t try to start strong, but they know a powerful push at the end of the race is both the most difficult and most effective way to leave the course, with confidence that you can close the show even if you’re tired.

That applies to dancers too, who try to perform perfectly always but who dream not of opening the show but of closing it. There’s an old sports proverb (from the movie “The Replacements”) that says “Champions always want the ball in their hands at the end of the game.” The same is true for all athletes and performers.

While Tuesday night’s game was not the end of the season for the Wildcats, it was a strong showing by a team which has had its ups and downs this season. Sure, prior to Tuesday’s win they had beaten the No. 12 team in the country in West Virginia, but hindsight is 20-20 and we know now, with just three games left in the regular season, that West Virginia was probably not nearly as good as the No. 12 ranking suggested. They have long-since dropped out of the top-25 altogether.

Oklahoma was a very different story though, and K-State beat them.

The Sooners have lost seven games this season, but only three of those have been to unranked teams (unless you count West Virginia on the grounds of my argument above, who was ranked when they beat Oklahoma last calendar-year but no longer are). K-State was the most recent, but they hadn’t lost to an unranked team since before calendar-2017 started, going 11-3 in that time. They’d lost to Baylor, and Texas, the only two teams ahead of them in the Big 12 conference standings, and to West Virginia, but that was it.

So what the Wildcats did Tuesday night was big. The Wildcats, who have had a much rougher season, ended up busting out to a lead against a much-higher ranked team that was on a five-game winning streak and was playing good basketball at the end of the season.

And despite a furious comeback by the Sooners, the Wildcats held on.

Tuesday’s game likely won’t mean anything to the conference standings, but it should mean a lot to those in purple who were there: both to the fans who watched it, and to the women who played in it.

Sports: Countering The “Today’s Game Is Harder” Argument.

One of the biggest comments I often hear from younger sports fans of some of the old-school greats is “Well, the game is different today than it was back then. It’s harder.”

I don’t buy that logic.

Sure, today’s athletes are in many ways bigger, stronger, and faster than they were as recently as the 1990’s and the 1980’s, and of course the gap gets bigger the further you go back in time.

That argument, however, fails to account for the fact that today’s sports are in many ways easier than they have ever been as well.

The argument that today’s sports are harder than they have ever been is used seemingly without fail to support the theory that today’s athletes are the greatest of all time. Most often, this argument is used by people in my generation, the Millennials.

Everyone wants to think they’re watching the best athletes ever and sure, that’s probably technically true in some ways.

Regardless of sport, many of the records in professional baseball, hockey, football, and basketball have all been either set or challenged recently by players or teams who played after the turn of the millennium.

Last year, the Golden State Warriors broke the record held by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls for the most wins in an NBA regular season, and the 2007 New England Patriots challenged the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only team to win every game, including playoffs, in a season, falling one game short of perfection with a loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl that year.

But the argument that today’s players are better than ever simply because the game is “harder” is inherently fickle.

We are a society of “what have you done for me lately” thinking. We as a culture, like the minds of us as individuals, have a far greater appreciation for recent memories than for more distant ones. We feel the bitter windchill outside and think “today is the coldest it’s ever felt” even if two years ago the weather was actually colder.

Such thinking is inherently self-centered, however, and that’s where the argument for today’s greatness over yesterday’s runs into its greatest problem; it doesn’t account for the mental toughness of the players who already are considered the best ever.

Saying today’s game is more difficult than it used to be, whether it’s basketball, football, baseball, hockey or any other sport Americans compete in at the professional or intercollegiate levels might be factually true. Baseball pitchers may throw faster pitches than ever and they may have more pitch variations than ever existed. Football players may run faster or jump higher than they ever have. Rules in football or basketball may make the game less physical than each sport has ever been, meaning players of old might not have been able to get away with some of the physicality they played with in their times.

Yet however true these facts may be, and however harder today’s sports may be for all the reasons listed above, this particular argument inherently fails to take into account how today’s sports are easier than they’ve ever been as well.

Today’s technology is just one example. Technology is better than it has ever been. We can analyze and study film in ways players like Micheal Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain and Joe Montana and Dan Marino never could. Pads are more durable, lighter, and smaller than they have ever been because of technology only recently developed or mastered, allowing athletes to move more easily, efficiently, and safely than has ever been possible.

That isn’t all either.

Instead of practicing every day with pads, NFL teams are able to supplement on-field practice with tools like virtual reality headsets, like the Arizona Cardinals have.

Computers track information in ways coaches like Mike Ditka never had available to them as recently as the 80’s. Sure, today’s athletes are faster, but that’s at least partially because of science. They’re able to achieve such feats more easily because the understanding of human nutrition has never been better. A torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow used to be a death-blow to a baseball pitcher’s career. Then, in 1974, Tommy John surgery was developed. Now, players not only recover, but actually often have better careers because of the surgery and the recover affiliated with it.

Modern science continues to help athletes both lengthen and improve their careers.

That isn’t to say today’s greatest players couldn’t compete with the greats that came before them either, don’t get me wrong. I just think we as fans often overlook one key piece of information when we compare today’s athletes to yesterday’s:

A person’s success is a manifestation of the mind within.

Regardless of the field in which we exist, whether that be as professional athletes or as professional anythings, it is the mind that creates success, not the body. The body is a manifestation of the mind within, not the other way way around. The same is true with success.

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever play not because of his physical ability but because of his mental ability. He played on Father’s Day in an NBA Championship series despite his father’s death just three years earlier. He played the famous “Flu Game” in the 1997 NBA Finals, in which Jordan earned 38 points despite playing through what was either the flu or severe food-poisoning.

Mental toughness, and the desire needed to accomplish such things, transcends the rules of the game as they are now or as they were then.

Such feats show the mental toughness and the desire Jordan had. And Jordan isn’t unique among professional athletes who demonstrated such mental toughness.

There’s the late Gordie Howe, who played professional hockey until he was 51. There was Nolan Ryan who played 27 years and still holds the record for most career strikeouts as an MLB pitcher with 5,714. He’s a whole 839 better than Randy Johnson, No.2 on the list, and 2,988 better than C.C. Sabathia, who has the most of career strikeouts among active pitchers with 2,726, according to baseball-almanac.com.

Jordan, Ryan and Howe were all great athletes because they possessed incredible mental toughness, and that toughness manifested itself in their athletic endeavors.

Such toughness adapts, regardless of the challenges it faces, and prevents those who have it from ever being forgotten.

It also prevents me from ever believing these players wouldn’t have been just as good in today’s sports as they were when they played.

 

 

Portfolio: Video Highlights of K-State Versus Oklahoma State

I shot this video in October 2015 for the Kansas State Collegian. I was assigned to shoot video of the K-State versus Oklahoma State football game which K-State lost. It was my first experience with videography. The video editor did help me with cutting the video and getting the background music set up, but all the video was shot by me alone, and the quotes from the press conference within the video came from audio I recorded as well.

http://www.kstatecollegian.com/2015/10/05/football-k-state-vs-oklahoma-state/

Kansas City @ Arizona, How One Preseason Game Meant More Than The Final Score

In November of last year, two things happened. Arizona Cardinals Quarterback Carson Palmer tore his ACL, and Kansas City Chiefs Cornerback Eric Berry was diagnosed with a Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of Cancer. Each situation immediately ended the season for the players involved

Saturday night, both players returned to the field for the first time. Berry, did not accumulate any statistics despite being on the field intermittently throughout the night, and Carson Palmer only played one drive, according to ESPN stats and information.

But sometimes in sports as in life, the mere effort rather than the results are worth something. Eric Berry’s return to the game meant more to him than how he could have played, it meant coming back from a possibly life-threatening condition and the start of return to his ‘normal.’ For Carson Palmer, it meant the start of a return to his ‘normal,’ as well in that the November ACL tear was his second of his career in a field where few players at his position every completely recover from even one.

So for both players, and fans of both teams, and fans of humanity in general, Saturday night’s preseason opener meant so much more than the 34-19 final score. This was a night where the final game wouldn’t mean anything in the long term, (teams’ records over the next four games are reset after the fourth of these games), but where the human impact would be much longer, both for individuals in the situations themselves and their fans.

On a night where the first female coach in the NFL and the first female referee made their debuts, the human stories, the stories of how each of four unconnected individuals worked their hearts out  to even get to touch the grass of last night’s field, vastly eclipsed the relevance of the final statistics.

But then again, I WOULD say that.

I’m a Cardinals fan, and we lost…