ACCEPTANCE PART III – THE ANTHEM, KNEELING, AND COPING LESSONS FOR US ALL.
Quite often events that take place on a large stage have considerable relevance for effective coping at an individual level. Thirteen months ago NFL player Colin Kaepernick began staging a protest against racial injustice by sitting or kneeling during playing of the National Anthem before the game. As I noted in a September 2016 post, his action produced a lot of discussion that centered on his protest method, but not on the issue he was protesting. No surprise there.
And now, a year later, here we go again, although this time more NFL players are involved in the sitting/kneeling protest. Once again, the impetus behind the protest, racial injustice, has been lost in the uproar about the method of protest. POTUS, a self-proclaimed champion of honoring our war vets and current troops, has led the charge accusing players of disrespecting the flag and US service personnel who have died protecting it (although in expected hypocritical fashion, POTUS has spent more time ranting against the NFL than in honoring four US soldiers killed by ISIS two weeks ago in Niger).
NFL players need to face reality and accept the fact that they will lose this battle. Not only do they face one of the most gifted showmen at “playing” the masses who ever lived, but also the patriotism card will always trump the race card. So here’s what I would say to the NFL players:
Accept it, men. You can’t win this one; your coping technique is inappropriate and continuing it is a form of denial. Your method of protest has been hijacked from you and turned into an issue, patriotism, that is not what you are protesting. But the hijack has succeeded and now beyond your control. By continuing your method of protest, you are violating the first rule of effective coping: Determine what is within your sphere of control. What your method stands for in the eyes of others has been co-opted and placed out of your control.
OK, what coping alternatives might exist for you that you can control? Let’s remember that you are high-profile men with considerable financial resources. Why don’t you seek more proactive actions based on your strengths and resources? First, reach out and attempt to partner with other players, coaches, owners, the Commissioner’s office, law enforcement personnel, the armed forces, and the media. Get together with them to brainstorm and strategize about positive ways to attack racial injustice in America.
Just off the top of my head, you could pour lots of money into already-existing, and new, programs designed to increase contact in favorable settings, and improve communication, between warring factions, notably communities of color and police. Pitch law enforcement to communities as an honorable profession. Ask law enforcement how to minimize misunderstandings between police and citizens. How about working with the armed services is developing strategies to foster a positive view in young people of serving the country. Invest funds to improve ROTC programs in junior high and high schools. Bring recruiters and police into the neighborhoods with you and give presentations that illustrate how to treat audiences with respect, not with suspicion. And through it all, involve parents and families!
Work on the rich fat cats who own those luxury boxes at NFL stadiums to donate to your cause, and to invite disadvantaged youth and their families to watch games, accompanied by veterans, current troops, police, and high-profile athletes. Make doing positive things with all these constituencies the norm, not the exception.
Imagine walking to an NFL stadium gate and seeing other fans, police officers, military personnel, families and kids of all races standing at the gates with contribution jars for your programs. The point is, you should structure things so everyone can become a part of your effort. One way or the other, get people to commit, even if it means dropping a buck into a jar. And get the media to give you immense publicity for all your initiatives. Saturate the airwaves with free coverage and paid advertisements.
I hope you understand that the key here is to ally yourselves with constituencies admired and respected by those who have been led to believe that protesting during the National Anthem can only mean one thing: You are un-American. Now you’re playing on someone else’s field. Take back your issue by allying yourself with all those admired and respected constituencies and demonstrate that, contrary to being un-American, you are showing that by taking positive steps to protest racial injustice, you are glorifying and strengthening America by bringing people together.
Remember that one who “plays” people using deception, indoctrination, and distorted facts weakens our great country by dividing us. Division produces frustration, hurt, anger, and hostility, causing us to act like meek sheep and passively attach ourselves to the false messenger. On the other hand, if you show people what can be accomplished by working together, you destroy the messenger and strengthen our bonds of humanity.
The point is, guys, kneeling ain’t gonna do any of us any good. However, by partnering with all sorts of constituencies, by designing good positive programs, and by persevering, you can change society. Accept the fact that you will not change society by kneeling; it’s a losing battle. Accept that harsh reality, and find new and proactive coping methods to deal with the hatred you face. You will feel empowered, satisfied, and productive, and you may be surprised to discover just how many folks are on your side.
There are also coping lessons at an individual level that I hope are clear from what is said above. You must accept certain realities, and that includes those emotions you don’t want to face. Denial and avoidance will not work, nor will trying to control everything. You must determine what things are within your sphere of control, and apply your strengths and resources within the boundaries of that sphere. Coping techniques outside those boundaries will fail.