Edward Curtin: Trump, Kaepernick and the great football wars of 2017
The hypocrisies of this lurid spectacle continue to mount daily, led by a super patriotic president who years ago made sure he stood for the national anthem as he made even surer he didn't get drafted or volunteer to fight in Vietnam.
Kaepernick knelt on principle during the Obama presidency. His was a lonely act. He paid a price. Now that the buffoonish Trump, who is an easy target, tweets and speaks his grotesqueries, it has become easy to emerge from the woodwork and join the crowd in supporting the man who made his solitary witness. Who among those kneeling today in solidarity with Kaepernick is willing to pay a price? What's the NFL's price? The tycoons who own the teams?
Who among them agrees with a man who gave his life for black liberation, Dr. Martin Luther King, who made it emphatically clear that the fight against racism involved opposing a trinity of devils: racism, capitalist exploitation, and militarism? You can't get rid of one, he said, without getting rid of the others. When he vociferously condemned the Vietnam War, MLK said that it was "white people sending black people to make war on yellow people," and war, racism, and economic exploitation had to be addressed together.
It is great that many players join in solidarity with Kaepernick. Racism must be opposed and freedom of speech exercised and defended. But it would be better indeed if more of those who rightly oppose Trump's disgusting comments and support Kaepernick spoke out about the triple devils King warned about. The system of racial exploitation does not stand alone; never has. Nor will it fall alone.
How many of those in solidarity with Kaepernick today know what King said and stood for?
"The Star Spangled Banner" is a celebration of war, meant to stir martial emotions. It also contains racist lyrics. And football is the war sport par excellence, extremely violent, and deeply tied to the spectacle of cruelty that dominates American society today and that has caused so much suffering for black people and other people of color for centuries.
Gridiron war zone
In the 1960s, Brazilian television, in an effort to distinguish football (soccer) from American football, aptly termed it "military football." And while it, like other sports, has been an avenue to wealth and "success" for some black Americans (a tiny minority), its war-like structure and violent nature is noted with a nod and a wink. Heck, it's fun to play and exciting to watch, and is just a colorful spectacle that we can't do without, despite all the concussions, pain killers, and crippling life-long injuries. Lasting effects similar to those suffered by veterans returned from war zones. The gridiron is a war zone.
Trump is an easy target. He makes himself one. Titillate, provoke, tweet garbage sure to arouse passions. Agitate the audience. He is an expert at feeding the beast that is America's entertainment circus, the spectacle of con-men and prestidigitators extraordinaire. All the while, who is linking arms for all the innocent victims killed by Trump in eight months in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc.?
We are a schizoid nation: look here, not there.
Great ironies abound here. Who among Kaepernick's current supporters said one word when the mixed-race, neo-liberal Democrat, Barack Obama, suavely mass murdered his way around the world with seven wars, while showing his "cool" skills on the basketball court? Coolness works. Obama was given a free ride. More than that; he was treated like a rock star by the entertainment/sports complex. And now that he is cashing in with speeches to Wall Street, who calls him out on that?
Who will take a knee for a radical redistribution of economic and political power? Who will link arms for the end to capitalist exploitation and the amassing of obscene wealth by a few at the expense of the many? Who will refuse to support war and war-making? Who will tell it like it is and say that the demon of racism can only be eliminated if the others are? Liberals won't. Conservatives won't. Who will? Who will pay a price?
MLK paid the ultimate price for confronting these demons. When U.S. government forces killed him in Memphis, he had taken a knee for all the exploited and oppressed people of the world community,"the beloved community."
Welcome to the phony circus, where the man on the hire wire, the daring one, Colin Kaepernick, is home studying American history and learning about all the confidence men.
So I hope and pray.
Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely, nationally and internationally. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and at Berkshire Community College. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.