Viewpoint

Let’s keep politics - and kneeling - out of football

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ron Brooks kneels during the National Anthem before an NFL preseason football game against Miami last month.
Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ron Brooks kneels during the National Anthem before an NFL preseason football game against Miami last month. AP

I never thought I would say it, but perhaps the case can be made for safe spaces, at least in the context of watching the upcoming NFL season. By this I mean the gridiron space should remain safe for the game to be played, purely and without politics.

Here’s what I mean: Watching football with fans you don’t already know is a good tonic for the times. Whether at the stadium, in a tavern or just to ease an airport layover, this is a span of hours where barriers come down and new relationships can be formed.

And not the familiar kind of relationships. Bonds with people outside your tribe who think differently from you, strangers as you are, united only by love of your team. This is getting dangerously hard to do in America.

Which brings me to the flag. Just one man’s opinion, but taking a knee during the national anthem, while surely a player’s right, befouls this common ground, even before kickoff.

Its effects are felt far beyond the stadium, for it reduces the occasions for friendship, indeed grace, that can transform a nation.

A lot to expect from two strangers at bar stools, this laying down of arms? Perhaps. But as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” We have it in us.

kerrigan
Mike Kerrigan

Of course our country must change for the better, now as ever. But change comes faster when we love our countrymen. You cannot love what you don’t like, and you cannot like what you don’t know.

Three hours spent not divided but united in common purpose – say, cheering on victory over a division rival – is a great first step on the journey toward knowledge.

And a natural step, too. Football, the game of inches, is ultimately about struggle. More particularly, America’s struggle. Like yardage gained and lost, our history is marked by times of progress and times of regress.

What matters is that we keep returning to the metaphorical line of scrimmage, line up and try to, as pigskin poet Hank Stram would say, matriculate the ball down the field. All of us, together, as a team.

Of course, as Hurricane Harvey reminds us, football is struggle writ small. On a much grander stage, every day we see ordinary Texans doing extraordinary things in the struggle of their lives.

Their actions remind us of something very timely and important. Deep down, we Americans really do care for one another. The home of “Houston, we have a problem” is now telling us “America, we have a solution,” if only we’ll listen.

Perhaps the small gesture of making an unlikely friendship over football – he of different politics, different faith or no faith at all – will stoke the nation’s hearth. A small thing, but doing small things with great love makes all the difference in the world.

I bet Texans, who take their football very seriously, would enjoy seeing the rest of us, inspired by their example, using the game to become better citizens.

And so this day, may we Americans all begin anew. May our anger recede with the flood waters. And may the Carolina Panthers return to 2015 form. Amen.

Mike Kerrigan is an attorney in Charlotte. Email: mkerrigan@hunton.com

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