This weekend saw another flare up of social tensions highlighted on Sunday at NFL stadiums across the country. You know what happened. Last season, a mediocre but marginally successful (by league standards) quarterback in San Francisco, fed up with the treatment of young black men by several law enforcement officers, would kneel in silent protest during the national anthem. Earlier last week, President Trump unwisely decided to speak up on the topic saying, in monumentally unPresidential language, that NFL owners should fire players who chose to protest in similar fashion during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner prior to each game. Of course, Sunday came and there were protests across the league at every stadium and every team. There were displays of solidarity from players and various statements from owners addressing the situation. The reaction from fans as well as formerly disinterested parties has been as vibrant as it has been varied. From supportive posts on social media outlets to passionate vows to never watch NFL ball again, folks responded. This issue that had been relegated to the backburner and almost become stale, has been revived and now it’s all we can talk about.
In light of this, I’m struck by the reality that my daughters are completely unaware and virtually unaffected by any part of this issue. None of them show anything more than a passing interest in watching, much less playing, the game of football. None of them have been affected by the words of a President. None of them have experienced anything other than fun and trust in the presence of police officers. Every bit of this would be foreign to them. But, yesterday as I watched the late games, I started to think about my own reaction to this. What does a Dad do with this? What can I teach my daughters through this? I started thinking about the next few years. As they grow and mature and come to an understanding of the complexities of adulthood, what kind of training can I provide them that will help them navigate these kinds of things? What must my reaction be?
As I read responses in my news feed and listen to radio and television interviews and coverage of this story, I hear passionate stances on all sides; all with merit and validity. But, I cannot help but notice our propensity to weigh in on specific circumstances with complete opinionated clarity while having incomplete knowledge of these specific circumstances. We are unquestionably comfortable with allowing our preconceptions to fill in whatever gaps exist in the facts. We do not jump to conclusions. We cleverly construct them out of feelings and biases, and then we lean so heavily on them that they become our truth. We are quick to make judgment and quicker to pass sentence. From the comments about players needing to be made to remember that they get paid millions of dollars to play a game for a living to the calls for police officers to be completely disarmed to opinions about the employment decisions of professional sports team owners, our decisive judgments are characterized by haste and ignorance. We are quick to throw our stones and my guilt in this is shameful.
Regardless of how I feel about the manner of the protest, I can teach my daughters the habit of empathetic listening. I can frame each side of this current scuffle with honest conversations.
I can talk with the girls about what it must feel like to constantly have to watch your back when encountering law enforcement officers. I can highlight for them the fact that I can drive hundreds of miles passing dozens of cops without even a second thought of being pulled over but I have dear friends who seem to be stopped every single time an officer drives by. We can talk about specific instances of police brutality. And we can talk about very real racism. We can empathize together although we’ve never experienced these things.
I can talk with the girls about how unbelievably difficult it must be to work as a police officer. We can discuss the constant scrutiny and pressure thrown their way every minute they are on the job. We can talk about their compensation and about how it does not come anywhere near matching the value they provide. We can think about what it must feel like to do everything within your power to be light to a dark place and then, if they make it home, go to bed at night feeling like nothing is good enough. We can empathize together although we’ve never experienced these things.
I can talk with the girls about how the combat veteran must feel as he or she watches all this play out. We can discuss how the memory of all they sacrificed still works many of them over on a daily basis. We can think about how they visit the graves of their friends who didn’t make it back. We can try to put ourselves in their place as they deal with what must seem like an ungrateful nation. And we can imagine the deep sense of betrayal they must experience when they see our national symbols disrespected. We can empathize together although we’ve never experienced these things.
I can talk with the girls about how Colin Kaepernick must feel. We can imagine the scenario where regardless of how much money he makes or how much notoriety he garners, he seems to want to use the only platform he has to attempt to call attention to mistreatment of folks who don’t have his platform. We can think about how he must feel to have perfect strangers hate him for it. We can empathize together although we’ve never experienced these things.
I don’t know what the solution is, here. It seems we have a long way to go. But I do know that, of all the things I want my girls to see in me, the most important lessons are that I am helplessly devoted to their mother and that I always treated everyone with empathy. I want them to see their father walking miles in the shoes of others.