(programming note: if you want a beer rec, go drink one of those Budweisers that said America on them until the NFL cans started. ed note: fixed typo re: Harbaugh)
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Colin Kaepernick has drawn extensive coverage, praise, and criticism for his kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness of inequality in society and the racial oppression he believes is still rampant in America. He’s putting his money where his mouth is, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity. And some NFL execs have gone so far as to label him a traitor.
Megan Rapinoe of USWNT fame has notably knelt with Kaepernick, causing NWSL ownership to move the anthem to before the players come out. Some NFL players are starting to echo Kapernick’s sentiment. And some have criticized it, most notably one of the league’s most recognized personalities, Drew Brees.
Athletes have long taken advantage of their platforms. Several athletes and coaches have been known to evangelize. Curt Schilling regularly uses his platform to spew vitriol and hate. I am proudly blocked by him on Twitter for asking what rationale he uses before firing off his opinions into the universe. Mike Ditka went with the tried and true "if you don’t like it you can leave" approach. I will say this again and I do not want to detract from the positive message of this blog but this is an insane and hugely problematic way to deal with change. It is not what our country has been built upon and it is not helping make things better for anyone, including him.
As a personal aside, I work in politics, and the insanity and debate and PC/nonPC culture gets rough sometimes. But when it comes to football and my beloved Michigan, I take the separation of my particular personal church and state seriously. I love the escape that is three hours of football a week and the spectacle around that. I try not to drag folks into politics or drama. This is a blog about football and beer and a growing community that doesn’t need to wade into the morass of drama and BS that is our political atmosphere.
But some issues are too important to ignore.
There’s a double standard we so often live under that is both weird and sad. Our fanbase regularly throws out platitudes like "This is Michigan" and we sing about being the "leaders and best" but I fundamentally believe this means we need to take action to make our communities and our world a better place. Michigan is an amazing place and gives people the platform and the tools they need to do just that. Look at the amazing stories of Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson that have gotten national attention. And it starts with expressing your opinion about where you think things should go or what’s wrong and needs to be fixed. Jim Harbaugh kind of did, kind of got it wrong, and kind of apologized/clarified, and I at least commend him for speaking his mind. But I haven’t really had an athlete from a team I support stand up to a controversial topic and use their platform and their experience to start a conversation.
That is, until today, when John O’Korn posted an eloquent and brave statement on his Instagram - a photo of himself and his friend and teammate Moe Ways, in uniform, on Michigan’s field.
This dude right here is my brother. He's my roommate. He's my best friend.... That's why it kills me to see what's going on in our country right now. I DONT GET IT. I never will. I'm so thankful that when society tried to tell me in first grade that I shouldn't be friends with a black kid that my parents taught me to live colorblind. They taught me not to look at others through the lens of society but through the lens of progress. Tensions right now are higher than ever and only get worse with each hashtag. We NEED change. But we don't need POLICY change. We need HEART change... In the officers whose intentions aren't pure.. In a man in a helicopter who classifies another as "bad" simply by the color of his skin... So many of our country's issues are rooted in our own ignorance & pride. We have this misconception that we actually understand what other people go through. But WE HAVE NO IDEA. So thankful for @_moeways and the daily conversations we have that open eyes and shatter perceptions. Conversations are everything. Elected officials aren't going to change a thing, we are. It's up to us...
Conversations are everything, and I’ve never been prouder to root for a man or a woman wearing maize and blue.
Michael Bennett of the Seahawks recently posted something to the effect of "it’s great black people are standing up, but until we have white allies in our fight, nothing’s going to change." He’s right. That’s why I’m writing this. This is a necessary conversation. It's why Drew Brees' failure to act as an advocate or even as an ally is hugely disappointing at best and actively setting back progress at worst.
I fundamentally believe we can all do something to help make our community and our country stronger. It starts with conversation. It starts with using the platforms we have to tell others how we believe positive change can happen.
I have a platform, dammit, and I’m going to use it. We have a problem with racial and economic inequality in this country. All is not lost. There are positive changes we can make. But if we do not make them, millions of people will continue to struggle. And we can help them in ways ranging from small and gradual to meaningful and transformational.
Here are four things I have done that are simple you can do right now.
- Consider making a donation to a community advocacy group in your neighborhood. Here's a way to start: go to Charity Navigator and find a reputable charity that does what you want it to do. Chip in what you can.
- Or hop over to our friends at Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody and make a donation to Democracy Prep, a school in Baton Rouge that desperately needs your help. I just did.
- Share a statement on your social networks. It’s a start. Or write a blog. Or a letter. Shout something from your respective rooftop.
- Continue this debate with your friends, family, and anyone who will listen on any platform, including just talking about it, because at the very least we need to keep talking about this.
I won’t pretend I’m fixing this overnight, but I’m taking a step I can easily take right now. And I’ll look for what I can do tomorrow and the next day to keep furthering this cause. We can’t brush this under the rug anymore.
It is perfectly reasonable for you to be a Bears fan and love the Bears and think Mike Ditka is a xenophobic asshole for what he said. It is even reasonable for you to advocate for opinions that are not this opinion, in most cases.
I fundamentally believe this:
It is your responsibility as part of this great society of ours to use the platform you have to express your views on the issues that matter to you. And if others feel differently, express yourself as well. But don’t stifle the debate or criticize those you disagree with for speaking their mind. It’s your choice to listen to them.
That is the bedrock on which our nation was founded. From the town criers of the Revolutionary War period to ordinary folks posting on Instagram today. If you see something you truly care about, it’s on you to demand change.
You have the right not to remain silent. It is also your responsibility.