to kneel or not to kneel

When the NFL recently announced their new policy that will fine teams if players on the field fail to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, a rousing chorus again ensued in regard to whether or not kneeling during the National Anthem was appropriate behavior. In case any of us were somehow unaware, there seem some strong opinions on this issue. 

So let’s attempt to extract the emotion for a moment — an exercise that might be wise for our news sources to employ in order to reveal a little less bias. Let us simply ask relevant questions…

First, do players have to be on the field for the anthem?

No, players may protest and not incur a penalty by remaining in the locker room until after the anthem is finished.

How did this protest begin?

Former 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, told the media he sat to protest the oppression of people of color in the United States and ongoing issues with police brutality.

Is the reported origin of the protest accurate?

No one can say for sure. Kaepernick had lost his starting job and there were attempts to trade him in the off-season. His behavior also went unnoticed for two games before he mentioned any protest.

Does the questionable origin matter?

Excellent question — and the answer is subjective. The Intramuralist would opine “no,” as the protest has evolved to a point in which multiple players participate — and many others have fervently weighed in.

Why is the protest a problem?

Many feel the act is disrespectful to the United States, its flag, and its military.

What is our right to protest under the First Amendment?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Does the First Amendment apply to employers?

Unless we work for the government, the Constitution provides no protection for keeping our jobs based on what we say. Paraphrasing the words of former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “An employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”

Is there inconsistency in what employees are allowed to express?

You bet. (Ok, that was opinion there.) The point is that the deciding factor in maintaining current employment seems to be what rubs an employer the wrong way (i.e. see Barr, Rosanne).

Why might this particular protest rub NFL owners the wrong way?

NFL ratings fell 9.7% during the 2017 regular season, according to Nielsen. A typical game was watched by 1.6 million fewer people.

Can the ratings drop be attributed to the protest?

Not with certainty. Ratings were down 8% the year before.

What do we know in regard then to how the public feels about this issue?

The public is divided, but discernment on what a majority of the public believe depends on how the question is asked. Borrowing from the wisdom of Kathryn Casteel, who writes about economics and policy issues for FiveThirtyEight, the public’s answer depends on whether the question posed focuses on patriotism, free speech, or race. When posing the question in regard to patriotism, “surveys tend to find that more people disapprove of the protests than approve.” When posing the question in regard to free speech, “a majority of Americans think players should be allowed to kneel — whether the respondents like it or not.” And when posing the question in regard to race, “it’s not clear.” Writes Casteel:

“Despite the many conflicting poll results, we can say a few things with confidence:

1. A plurality of Americans don’t like the NFL protests — at least if they aren’t told what the players’ goals are.

2. But Americans generally dislike protests involving the flag or anthem, so it’s not clear how much that might affect public opinion in this case.

3. Most Americans think racism is a problem in the abstract, but people are less likely to support the Black Lives Matters movement, which aims to stop police violence against African-Americans.

4. Americans are broadly supportive of the importance of free speech in general, though opinions are more muddled when people are asked about kneeling during the anthem in particular.

But looking at the overall numbers obscures an important fact: Opinions on these issues are incredibly polarized by party and race.”

So last question: how do we love and respect all people well when such a passionate issue is polarized by party and race?

And that is the most excellent and necessary question.

May we each humbly ask ourselves: how do we love all people well?



a fictional, unconventional, poignant conversation

Man #1: “Excuse me, sir. Is this seat taken?”

Man #2: “No.”

(#1 nods. Sits. Across the table from #2. Neither were expecting to be here together. Not sure if someone planned this meeting or not. It’s a little uncomfortable. Hence, several awkward minutes of silence pass, until the two realize they’re the only ones at the table. #2 initiates the conversation…)

#2: [subtly but warmly] “I haven’t seen you lately. Busy?”

#1: [also subtly] “Yeah, not with the usual, but yeah, busy. You?”

#2: “Yeah, trying a couple new things. Not sure if it will work or not, but trying. How about you? I heard you were looking for work. How’s it going?

#1: “Frustrating, but ok. I quit last spring, but rumor had it they were going to get rid of me anyway. Looking for job isn’t easy. Everyone has all these preconceived notions about you, regardless of resume.”

#2: “So true, man. I thought I did pretty well in my last job. We did some good stuff out in Denver. But people still said I wasn’t good enough — not the right skill set or something.”

#1: “You think they were telling you the truth? … why you got canned?”

#2: “Maybe. I mean, I think everything happens for a reason, so that’s enough for me. I also know that some things are just a game. Life’s more important than that.”

#1: “You can say that again.”

(Another few minutes of a little less awkward silence commence, this time with heads bowed, somber faces, not looking at each other but each pondering, separately but together… #1 initiates conversation this time…)

#1: “Hey… you think all those people — the zillions who call you names, flip you off, judge you, all that other vulgar crud — you think they understand you?”

#2: “No. Not at all. I guess I just figure other people’s behavior is out of my control. My job isn’t to play to the audience, but to instead be who God calls me to be, say what he wants me to say, do what he wants me to do.”

#1: “You always do that?”

#2: “Are you kidding? No way. I am totally, 100% imperfect, you know.”

#1: “Yeah, I heard that.” (…they share a sincere chuckle, looking briefly eye-to-eye…)

#2: “What about you? Do you think you’re doing what you’re called to do?”

#1: “I think so. But it’s hard. It’s hard when people think I want to spit in the faces of our veterans or have no respect for any other race. Heck, my biggest fans don’t always get that.”

#2: “Mine either. Sometimes they praise me, when it’s not praising me that I strive for. I’d really rather they praised God instead of me. I think we too often worship people and things other than God.”

#1: “Agreed. I’ve said before publicly that I believe God guides me through everyday. We’re all equal in God’s eyes, but I feel like my brothers and sisters of color are still sometimes oppressed. I want our country to talk about that — to do something! I’m exhausted by the multiple examples of unfair treatment and disrespect I’ve seen.”

#2: “That’s really hard. I’m sorry, man.”

#1: “Me, too.”

(… silence again ensues, but this time, it’s not so awkward… the two recognize some sort of greater connection…)

#2: “Hey, you mind if I ask you a question?”

#1: “Sure.”

#2: “Why do you kneel?”

#1: (… with a slight smile and affirming nod…) “Good question. I’m just trying to bring attention to what I care about. You?”

#2: “Same.”

#1: “Do you, well, do you ever wish you would have picked a different way to do it?”

#2: “Sometimes. Sometimes it seems way bigger than me. People have agendas and jump on bandwagons. Then the politicians get in the way, usually trying to somehow use my actions for their benefit. Then more join in and get rude and nasty, and for some reason think it’s totally ok to judge people who don’t think like them.”

#1: “Isn’t that the truth! Don’t they realize that we’re fighting for respect for all people?”

#2: “True. [slight pause] How ‘bout another question — although a little more personal, if you’re ok with it?”

#1: “Of course.”

#2: [humbly] “I know you grew up in the church, went to church through college, and often still talk about God and Jesus publicly. You wish to honor him?”

#1: “Absolutely, brother!”

#2: “Would you mind then if we took a knee here together, privately? … recognizing that life is tough on this planet, yet we are each loved by God, regardless of our imperfections?”

#1: “Let’s do it!”

(… and with that the two men reverentially kneel… another few minutes of silence pass, but no awkwardness whatsoever now… the two slowly stand, stretch a bit, grasping the sobriety of the moment. They realize their time together has come to an end…)

#2: “Hey, man. I appreciate this. Even in our differences, I see we have more in common.”

#1: “I wish all people could see that — both those who cheer and jeer. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and respectfully.”

#2: “Amen, bro! Prayer helps us see that — bowing to someone bigger than we.”

#1: “Submission to a God who created and thus loves us is perhaps most unifying. We need to change some things around here!”

#2: “Yes, we do. Hey, what’d you say your name was again?”

#1: “Colin. Colin with a ‘C.’ ”

#2: “Hey, Colin. I’m Tim. Nice to meet you. Thanks for coming to the table today.”

#1: “You, too, Tim. Maybe more will join us.”


the kneeler

Last week the president of Black Lives Matter New York, Hank Newsome, and his supporters came face-to-face with Pres. Trump supporters at a very vocal rally in Washington, D.C. Newsome’s expectation was “to come down here with my fist in the air in a very militant way, exchange insults, maybe some dirty looks, or who knows what.”

But a funny thing happened after Newsome was spontaneously welcomed onto the stage and invited to speak. He and the audience found places where they agree. If one watches the now-gone-viral, powerful video, agreement was specifically found on the assertions that:

(1) Black lives matter.
(2) All lives matter.
(3) We need justice when a black life is unfairly lost. And…
(4) If we really want America great, we do it together.

In other words, when the approach was altered, agreement was found. Our approach often impedes understanding.

Introducing exhibit #1… the kneeler.

I ask first, no less, that we remember the circle metaphor… If we are all standing in a circle staring at the same object in the middle, there are a minimum of 360° to look at the exact same thing. From 360 angles, it will look and feel differently. And… because we each have an unobstructed view, we will confidently assume we have the absolute, only correct perspective… even when we are looking differently at (I repeat) the exact same thing. Hence, the Intramuralist continues to contend that this is not solely a two-sided issue. I also contend that because of the chosen approach, there is minimal understanding; people are talking past each other.

Note the explanation of a friend of a friend, Martin Carbaugh: “As I see things, the two sides are talking past each other. The kneelers are kneeling to bring attention to racism and unjust police actions against African Americans. Many just want to get a national conversation started. In their hearts, they aren’t protesting our military.

Those so frustrated by this see the American flag and our National Anthem as unifying symbols of our country that should be honored and respected because of the countless lives that have been sacrificed to give us the freedoms we have today. They see the kneeling protests akin to spitting in the faces of returning veterans from war.

Where I come down is that what the kneelers are protesting, I can agree we should have an open honest conversation about, but the way they are protesting is not an effective way to get the nation you want to converse with to listen to you. It is offensive to those who have served our nation in war. It is also offensive to the vast majority of police officers who serve and protect with honor.

The protesters see anyone who doesn’t like their method of protest as not agreeing with what they are protesting when in reality most just disagree with how they are protesting. On the other side, those who don’t like the protests assume the protesters are unpatriotic, military haters when in reality a majority of the protesters just want something done about unjust police shootings.

This is my take. My advice to the protesters is to find a way to get your point across without offending so many folks. I mean, if I really want to get attention and have the country listen, it is best if I don’t offend you in the process. For those offended, try and understand those protesting may not be doing it the right way at all but they may have something we need to chat about and do something about.”

I admit… I still have more questions than answers… did this initially start as a protest or pout, since Colin Kaepernick had just been benched by his team? … why did Pres. Trump feel he needed to get involved?… were the athletes this past weekend standing more for Colin Kaepernick or against Donald Trump? … and why does this all have to happen during the National Anthem? 

But perhaps the best question — and not an easy one, but maybe the one most necessary to answer — is: when will people quit talking past each other?

As Hank Newsome shared after speaking with the seemingly un-likeminded, “When I spoke truths, they agreed. I feel like we made progress. I feel like two sides that never listen to each other actually made progress today…”

Maybe progress starts with changing our approach… maybe it starts by inviting the un-likeminded onto our stage, inviting them to speak, and actually listening to what they have to say.


who chooses what we see?


Maybe I just shouldn’t go here. Maybe today’s angle would be better left unstated — like we sometimes do with that younger generation and the teens around the house… we don’t say anything — just stay silent. We sit back, allowing reality to slowly sink in, wondering at what point the embedded irony will speak for us…

First full disclosure: the Intramuralist is a fervent football fan. No, not that hot, burning with intense passion kind of person — I mean, it doesn’t ruin my day if my team loses, and I don’t “hate” any opponent. I just enjoy watching the game, cheering the guys on, appreciating excellent play. In fact, for an extended glimpse into our household, starting last Sunday, our family got back into our fall routine, with 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time commencing our annual “watch-8-games-on-the-screen-at-one-time” exercise. 🙂

Our fandom actually extends into Monday, where on the inaugural annual weekend, the NFL treats us to two games. Game two last week featured the St. Louis — I mean Los Angeles — Rams vs. the San Francisco 49ers. Ah, yes… the 49ers. My sense is that far more than the casual fan is aware of the 49ers these days, as one time starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, remains on their roster. He has received increased attention, choosing to sit in recent weeks during the pre-game National Anthem as a stand against perceived police brutality.

As he kneeled (because in my opinion, kneeling looks better than sitting), ESPN’s cameras focused on him, maybe four, five times. Play-by-play broadcaster Chris Berman and sideline reporter Lindsay Czarniak supplied ample info on Kaepernick’s protest, even taking intentional time out at the conclusion of the anthem to share with us a few thoughts about the quarterback, how his protest is perceived to be received, all prior to pivoting back to actual football.

No problem. Each of us is free to choose how to respond to Kaepernick’s actions. As stated here previously, the Intramuralist does not care for Kaepernick’s behavior, as from my limited perspective, he makes his point by disrespecting other people, but I solidly support his right to express his opinion. I support the individual freedom of speech. No one should be forced to stand. I stand — and actually sing — because I’m mindful of all those who’ve fought for us, who’ve fought for that flag, who’ve defended us so that we could be free… and express those varying, individual opinions.

But the target of today’s post isn’t about Kaepernick. In fact, I don’t really pay all that much attention to him. Today’s post is about the irony of what happened later in the game.

Admittedly, even as a football fan, the game was kind of boring. There wasn’t a lot of exceptional play, no razzle-dazzle, and the Rams were especially, offensively challenged. They often seemed to get the ball, run three plays, and then give the ball away.

Knowing I needed to hit the hay (as two games in one night creep past my weeknight bed time), it had become a bit of a yawner to me… that is, until a little unexpected excitement a few minutes into the fourth quarter. With the teams lined up and the Rams futilely attempting to again move the football, all of a sudden the players slowly rose, as “time” had been called on the field. Momentarily, we saw a very enthusiastic 49ers fan come sprinting across the field. He was grinning and laughing and running notably fast (his speed seemingly uninhibited by the other substances in his body). A funny thing then happened…

On ESPN, for a moment, the cameras followed the young man, moving as if to cover him. Yet simultaneous with an awkward silence, the cameras stopped showing the fan. Announcer Berman then shared that there was a fan on the field, but — and here’s where my yawn instantly morphed into an ironic chuckle — Berman said something along the lines of, “Well, we don’t show you that because we try not to pay too much attention to people like that.”

What? You mean you are choosing for us what we should see and what we should not? You are choosing for us from a media-perspective what is worthy of our attention?

Fascinating. Just fascinating.

For the record, I laughed more a day later, hearing tape of the radio broadcast by Westwood One announcer Kevin Harlan. In his all of a sudden, revved up voice, Harlan said,“Hey, somebody has run unto the field. Some goofball in a hat and a red shirt. Now he takes off the shirt! He’s running down the middle by the 50! He’s at the 30!… Now he runs the opposite way! He runs to the 50! He runs to the 40! The guy is drunk!! But there he goes! The 20! They’re chasing him! They’re not gonna get him! Waving his arms, bare-chested — somebody stop that man! Oh, they got him! They’re coming from the left! Oh! They tackle him at the 40 yard line!”

Harlan had a little fun. He also allowed the audience to decide for themselves what was important.


the world is not our stage


With the recent acts of questionable protest and patriotism, it got me thinking. (Ok, true — I think a lot.) But I return to where this week’s conversation started: what are we focused on?

Many are focused on the NFL quarterback who refuses to stand for the national anthem.

For some, the reaction is disgust. For a seemingly lesser few, it’s a “way to go.” For most, no less, it seems a “you have that right, but that’s the wrong way to show it” (… see Kaepernick, birthmother…).

With Colin Kaepernick suggesting his motive is to support African-Americans and people of color, It causes me to think about how we best support other people — the way in which our support and good deeds are done… the way in which we make a significant difference.

Kaepernick — and let me add a semi-subtle caveat here, as my perspective is so limited, and I have no desire to be judgmental — but Kaepernick has said he is protesting until people of color are no longer “oppressed” and until the flag means what it “should.” He has a right to that expression; and we each have a right to agree or disagree with his behavior.

I wonder about that behavior. I mean, is this all he does?

Again, let me not be judgmental. But I wonder… he sits when all eyes are on him. When the world is watching, he takes a stand of support. So what does he do when the public is not watching?

… does he get involved? … does he volunteer? … does he invest in community relations? … does he utilize his celebrity status to bring police and various ethnic communities together?

And… does he use any of his $19 million salary to support the causes for which he says he is passionate?

In other words, are his public and private behavior aligned?

One of the things I appreciate is how so much of the ancient scriptures have become accepted truth. We don’t always recognize that — and sometimes, we fight against them, wanting to figure wisdom out on our own a bit — but typically, we find wisdom already, generously provided. When I focus on the big picture here, the following wisdom comes to mind:

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.

When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure — ‘playactors’ I call them — treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it — quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”

The world, my friends, is not our stage.

We are not the stars.

We have been blessed with communities and cultures that provide beautiful opportunity to support and sharpen one another. We need to help the least of these. We need to support and care for one another, especially the oppressed.

Some will say, no doubt, that Kaepernick is doing good by utilizing his celebrity as leverage. There’s a valid point in that; he’s getting people’s attention. That then is where how he spends his time and money also comes into question.

Am I consistent in how I care for others? Are my public and private behaviors consistent with one another?

Or… am I utilizing the world as my stage?


bugged & unpopular


Calling this a post a perspective on the freedom of speech isn’t entirely accurate. That’s a bit too simplified.

Do we believe in it? Do we not? Said freedom is embedded in our Constitution, although U.S. courts have often struggled to define what it means and what it does not. The legal definition is: “The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction.” We don’t have a right to scream about a fictional fire in a crowded theater, but we do have the right to express the unpopular. The challenge is that we don’t like the unpopular.

In recent days, two key freedom of speech scenarios have received ample attention (although true, one could make the case as to whether such are so deserving).

First… as previously referenced, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand for the National Anthem during preseason games. Said Kaepernick, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick rose to fame when only a few months after his first NFL start, as a second year player, he led his team to the Super Bowl. San Francisco then had high hopes for the young, articulate star. However, in the three years since, after signing a multi-million dollar contract, questionable behavior and poor play have led a lesser role on the team for him. He is (was) no longer the focal point of their team.

And second… the University of Chicago sent a letter to all incoming freshmen, quite different from the more stereotypical, anodyne letters sent to new students across the country. Said the Dean of Students, John Ellison, “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

Both Colin Kaepernick and the University of Chicago are advocating for free speech. It looks different, manifests itself differently, prompts different angles and questions, but both are advocating for the right of a person to express their beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction.

Both are also advocating for what to many, may be perceived, as the unpopular.

Here’s the bottom line of today’s post (… and this is why we began by opining that it wouldn’t be accurate to label today’s post as simply questioning the freedom of speech; there’s more to it than that)…

I think most of us believe in free speech — albeit only to a point. And that point isn’t the crowded theater and the fictional “fire” chant; the point is that expressions of free speech are unpopular — and often we want that squelched.

I’ll admit… Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” bugs me. Our anthem isn’t about policemen; it isn’t about race, ethnicity or religion. It’s about what American servicemen and women have defended for centuries — here, there, from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. It’s about what other people have sacrificed for you and me.

However, as much I believe Kaepernick’s behavior is disrespectful, I believe in his freedom to express his opinion in a way that hurts no one (but potentially himself). It is precisely because of our honorable servicemen and women that Kaepernick has that freedom.

Others, no doubt, are bugged by the Chicago school’s stance… how dare they! … it’s not politically correct… it’s insensitive!

I agree. I agree that expressing unpopular opinion can be insensitive. Insensitive, however, does not necessitate the extinguishing of freedom — not in Chicago, not in San Francisco.

Granted, it still might bug me.