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Bruenig writes: "Like all civil peace, American contentment depends on its people believing in a certain story about how this country functions."

San Francisco 49ers Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem on September 12, 2016. (photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
San Francisco 49ers Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem on September 12, 2016. (photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

All Colin Kaepernick Ever Did Was Ask

By Elizabeth Bruenig, The Washington Post

24 May 18


ike all civil peace, American contentment depends on its people believing in a certain story about how this country functions. Elementary school civics lay the groundwork: We live in a democratic republic, wherein the organs of government reflect the will of the people and the legitimacy of every act of governance can be traced back to the collective consent of so many rights-bearing persons. Individual rights are to be protected above all else because individuals matter above all else. Somewhere way downstream of all this comes football. 

There’s some patriotic pageantry with all highly televised and profitable sports, but the National Football League has always seemed to approach its displays with a grim determination. Maybe it is because, for a while, at least, they were a business transaction. A 2015 joint oversight report commissioned by Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain found that the Pentagon had paid the NFL nearly $7 million for salutes, color guards, anthems and more during games. The Pentagon and the NFL both say they’ve cut it out since.

So I guess it must be love, not money, driving this latest spasm of patriotic fervor. NFL team owners agreed upon a rule Wednesday (without consulting the NFL Players Association, naturally) that would give players the option of staying in the locker room if they would rather not stand during the singing of the national anthem, but would issue fines if those players chose to kneel publicly during the anthem instead.

On one level, it does seem just as cold and calculated as the old days, when the NFL was swapping salutes for cash. If you have to threaten someone into showing respect, whatever they end up showing isn’t respect but a simulation of it for someone else’s consumption. The fact that the rule has already been made public just means that everyone is aware that this is the portion of the game when the NFL forces its players to stand still while they play a song, or else. The meaning of it all washes out; the fines make it entirely situational: It’s a workplace compliance issue, a matter of the NFL making its performers sell its customers what they want to buy. The content is meaningless.

And yet this latest panic over kneeling during the anthem does seem to be more than strictly business. A wiser group of all-business chief executives would have at least considered the bargaining agreement before unilaterally moving on such a contentious matter, especially considering the attention it was bound to receive — which suggests the potential costs, in bad press and lawsuits and arbitration headaches, were all simply worth it, that there was something more important in it for them.

If not money, then what? There is the evident racial component, bolstered by the bizarre involvement of the president, which has everything to do with disciplining black people in public, a long-running American obsession. But I suspect there’s something more, something wider and stranger, at the root of all this fury over a few athletes quietly kneeling during their country’s anthem. For one, there’s the straightforward fact that kneeling isn’t a sign of disrespect, and nobody brought up in a country with the faintest hint of Christian culture actually thinks it is. As Luke Bretherton, a professor of theological ethics at Duke University, wrote last year in The Post: “New Testament stories describe people who kneel before Jesus in supplication or lament. With their kneeling, these biblical figures say: Something is desperately wrong, please hear us and use your power to help us. Their act of submission signals their faith that healing will come and their prayers will be answered.” 

Kneeling during the anthem was always a kind of plea — for an America that works the way the civics textbooks say it does. But making the plea raises the fact that America doesn’t, in fact, function according to its founding story; we’re not all individuals whose rights are equally protected, whose wills are collectively represented in the organs of government, whose interests are advanced according to our common say in how we’re governed. Some are protected more than others, and some better than others, and some at the expense of others, and it isn’t clear that our representative bodies are interested in doing anything about it. All Colin Kaepernick and others ever did was ask.

But that’s the one thing the American story is just too weak to survive. your social media marketing partner


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+5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-24 10:14
Of course the Wapo, too, contributes to the groundwork of American contentment and complacency. If fact, it builds the superstructure of American ignorance of the reality of the society we live in. It is right about this article, but so wrong on most others.

For example, all Trump did was ask the DOJ to look into the allegations published by the NYT and Wapo about a CIA/FBI covert op to infiltrate his campagin. That request or demand set off a firestorm at the Wapo and led to totally bogus assertions that the DOJ is an independent branch of government and if a president demands an investigation he crosses a red line and opens a constitutional crisis.

Well Kaepernik sort of opened a constitutional crisis, too. His action has demonstracted that police are above the law and that status will be protected by all branches of government and most media.

The Wapo's crocodile tears here are not very convincing. All Kim Jong-un did was ask to end the war of the 1950s. All Black Lives Matter did was ask for an investigation of police shootings. All Palestinians did was ask the US to stop giving weapons to Israelis. All anyone ever does is ask the powers that be to ease up a little.
+2 # REDPILLED 2018-05-24 14:56
You are probably aware that the Wapo is owned by Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, and Amazon has a $600 million contract with the CIA. So, by extension, the Wapo & the CIA are linked, if not partners.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-24 17:46
RED -- yes, this is true. The Wapo has from the very start been the CIA's newspaper. Philip Graham worked for the OSS and later the CIA but when he married Eugene Meyer's daughter, Katherine, he was given the Wapo as a wedding present. Eugene Meyer said his daughter was not going to be married to a spook.

Graham was good friends with Frank Wisner, who was one of the original founders of the CIA. Wisner told him he could do more for the goals of the CIA as owner and publisher of the Wapo than anything he could do actually working for the CIA. Together Wisner and Graham created Operation Mockingbird, which recruited journalists to write and publish CIA stories in their papers and TV stations all over the world. Operation Mockingbird was run from the offices of the Wash. Post.

There has never been a time when the Wash Post was not a mouthpiece of the CIA. This is a real problem. The CIA is a criminal organization, as made clear in Doug Valentine's new book, "THE CIA AS ORGANIZED CRIME: How Illegal Operations
Corrupt America and the World."

The Wash Post is an essential part of this criminal empire. Bezos has only made it worse.
+21 # chrisconno 2018-05-24 10:49
So the American military can buy tribute but the players cannot ask questions. We are a democracy devolving quickly into a sickly terminal cancer patient with only hopes and prayers in silence and private as a placebo to assure us that everything is a okay, no matter what it looks like.
+4 # REDPILLED 2018-05-24 14:59
We are not a democracy, and have never been one. The Framers distrusted democracy, so they created a "republic" for those like themselves: white, male landowners, many "owning" slaves.

The U.S. is a corporate oligarchy with a global military empire. As Hannah Arendt warned: "Empire abroad entails tyranny at home."
+9 # dotlady 2018-05-24 11:32
Perhaps we should choose a date and time when all Americans who feel the U.S. needs to correct its bigoted racial system will get down on one knee for a minute of silent prayer - or call it recognition - at the office, in the schools, in the streets, in Congress, everywhere. Photographs should be taken by citizen-owned drones and broadcast. Will they come for many millions of us?
+4 # HenryS1 2018-05-24 11:52
Great piece. Well done, lots of care in the message. A good job of re-framing the divisive spin on this issue towards being genuinely thoughtful about what we believe in.

+6 # Robbee 2018-05-24 13:46
All Colin Kaepernick Ever Did Was Ask, 24 May 18

only in the the histrionic world of twisted, white supremacy is kneeling demeaned as "disrespectful"

frankly, throughout human history kneeling has proven the supplicant's greatest respect - supplicants humbly kneel before a monarch! who daily dispenses advancement, property, justice and life itself!

hence, Kaepernik's choice of gesture was a genius tactic on his part! showing greatest respect for our flag!

Kaepernik's gesture is seen by shameless, white supremacists, stadiums full, NOT as "disrespectful" , but, rather, as "defiant!" - the worst "dis" of all!

patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels, who shamelessly demean civil rights protesters!
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-26 17:55
good point. He was very humble and reverent.
+1 # laborequalswealth 2018-05-26 14:01
There are at least three levels here:

First, I can understand the owners saying "this in on the time I'm paying you for." Legally, they have a point.

Second, if this is a Free Speach issue, the why couldn't a player come out with a Confederate flag pinned to his chest? Would we all defend that?

But the third and real issue is: While the plutocracy has instant access to Big Media to sell it's version of reality. What Kaepernick did was try to even up the volume of the speach.

It is not free speach if all you can do is cup your hands while the other guy has stadium speakers. Kaepernick was just using the only reasonable avenue of exposure available.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-26 17:57
There probably are Confederate Flags around some football stadiums. I worked for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970s, and there were certainly a lot of KKK types around all the time. No one seemed to object. Maybe they would now. I hope so.

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