Political football

In an era of outrage fatigue, I find I have deep reserves of anger for people who are shaming anyone who protests, including NFL players refusing to stand for the national anthem.

To play “political football,” according to William Safire, is “to thrust a social, national security, or otherwise ostensibly non-political matter into partisan politics.” The idea has been around at least since the 19th century; an 1889 cartoon from Judge magazine shows poor President Benjamin Harrison on the ground, asking, “What can I do when both parties insist on kicking?”


Now football is political. Oh, for the simpler days, like, say, 1969. From a NYTimes article on Nixon:

When a Moratorium March against the war was announced for Washington in November 1969, the president announced that he would not “be affected whatever by it.” Instead, the White House said, he would be home watching televised football, enjoying the patriotic pageants staged during halftime.

Similarly, a friend of mine during the last election specialized in what I call hit and run attacks: she would make some attack on Hillary Clinton, and when I, often after having researched, responded with counterclaims (and usually more than one point against her opponent), my friend would say, “Oh well I just can’t think about it anymore.” Or, in one memorable case, after I went to lengths to debunk her latest Clinton conspiracy, she simply texted back, “I’m watching football.”

How infuriated Nixon would be now, and how bewildered my friend is (I know because she’s told me) to see that even old fashioned American escapism is tainted by citizens expressing themselves.

God forbid that Black men (two-thirds of NFL players) who are paid to engage in controlled violence with each other who in many cases destroy their brains and bodies should ever draw attention to actual violence happening to Black bodies and Black futures across the country.

But what if they didn’t vote, you say? It’s a common water cooler truism to announce that not voting forfeits your right to complain. It’s also complete bullshit. Actually that right is protected by the veterans the protest-shamers like to speak for. (For all the hoopla about mentioning race or sex, no one seems to mind playing the Veteran Card.) If you take away freedom of expression from what soldiers fight for, you reduce their sacrifice to protecting our asses and our oil interests.

An article two days ago about this issue by Roy Peter Clark has some zingers in it. Among them, this:

Everyone who removes a cap and stands in the sun to sing the anthem is making a political statement protected by the First Amendment. Every player who kneels to pray with his friends and foes after a game is making a political statement protected by the First Amendment.

From the Donald’s post-election lies spread about the NYTimes to this week’s Hamilton boycott, there is every indication so far that we are going to enter another Nixonland: the ones who claim to be tough often can’t seem to stand any challenges. The only question remaining is whether dissent will be merely discouraged or actively punished.

Why not use George W. Bush in response: “My answer is, bring ’em on.”


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