I had planned to write today about the importance of understanding the New American Majority. Understanding the NAM, who it is, what NAM members think, what matters to them, and what makes them vote, is critical to the future of our elections. But, and this won’t surprise anyone, Donald Trump changed my train of thought. I shouldn’t let him do that to me, particularly because there are so many commentators who claim that is exactly what he’s intending to do – shift the conversation away from what matters; distract the left (or right) from the crisis right in front of our eyes. But today, I’m going to let him win. And not only am I going to let him win, I’m going to let him make me think about, and talk about, sports – a subject I’m not at all qualified to talk about. And you know why I’m going to let him win? Because he’s also giving me the chance to talk about one of my favorite movies! But more on that later.
You couldn’t be breathing and have missed Mr. Trump’s attacks on the NFL, the NBA, and a host of players in these leagues, nor his perhaps-unwanted praise of NASCAR. The fuss, of course, was all about Trump’s rallying his base in Alabama to cast those who peacefully protest police brutality or other societal ills by kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. No violence. No outburst. No disruption of the game. Just a peaceful – you might say, respectful – dropping to the knee.
If you haven’t read the OpEd piece in the New York Times by Eric Reid, talking about why he and Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee, it’s a must-read. It eloquently describes why and how these two athletes decided how to use their “voice” to raise awareness about the social justice movement. One of Reid’s most important thoughts, in my view, is this: We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L. … We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture.
If Tommie Smith and John Carlos were allowed to write an OpEd in the New York Times in the days following their peaceful protest back in 1968, might they have shared these same thoughts – the use of the platform provided to them? We all can only use the platforms we have available to us. Politicians do it. Business people do it. Entertainment figures do it. Musicians do it. I’m doing it right here. So why shouldn’t athletes do it? If people don’t like it, they can vote with their wallets and feet. Isn’t that what our basic capitalist, free market principles say should happen?
So how does this relate to one of my favorite movies? Well, let me explain. Call me whatever you want to call me, but among my favorite moves, along with The Shawshank Redemption, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the original Batman (yup, I said that!), is The American President. Laugh if you want to, but is there anyone reading this post who wouldn’t prefer Martin Sheen or Michael Douglas as our actual President right now?
To me, growing up outside of Chicago and watching the fight surrounding the Nazis wanting to march in Skokie, Illinois in 1978, there is not another 75 seconds of film history that sums it up this well.
America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”.
So Mr. Trump, yet another lesson for you – not that you’re listening or care. Rather than demonize these athletes for using their voice and platform, let’s celebrate their willingness to use those voices, to use their platform, to fight for social justice in the most polite, peaceful, and respectful manner. Let’s celebrate their willingness to put their jobs, popularity, and futures at risk. This is what makes America great. America is already great. But we can always, always be better.
-Josh Kanter, Better Utah Founder and Board Chair