Strangers to Irony

“I support our players when they want to see change in society.  On the other hand, we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL.”

–Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, on quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s sitting or kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice.

“We decided to play the anthem ahead of schedule rather than subject our fans and friends to the disrespect we feel such an act would represent.”

–Spokesperson for the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League, on the possibility of Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign sitting or kneeling during the national anthem in support of Kaepernick.  Rapinoe had done so in a previous game.

I don’t doubt Roger Goodell’s belief in patriotism.  But it seems rigid, narrow, and limited, as if it were wrapped in a protective layer of dogma, shielded from doubt. It fits with his view of the right to protest.  He supports it strongly, but only in the abstract where it lies at rest, atrophied and sterile.  If you actually exercise protest, as Kaepernick has done, it gets battered and bruised but also grows strong and muscular—strong enough to withstand the slings and arrows of paper patriots.

As for the fans and friends of the Washington Spirit, my heart goes out to them.  While their delicate sensibilities were spared the horrifying spectacle of Megan Rapinoe not standing for the anthem, they must have heard about in the news and suffered nonetheless.

Or am I wrong?  Maybe Spirit fans are tougher and more thoughtful than the spokesperson gives them credit.  After all, their team is the Washington Spirit.  The name brings to mind the spirit of ’76 and the image of George Washington; it conjures the likes of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Tom Paine, Samuel Adams, and the perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party.  They all have something in common:  They were protesters; they protested the injustice of the British.  Come to think about it, the United States was founded on the bedrock of protest.

That’s the funny thing about thinking—one thought leads to another.  Before long, if you’re not careful, you could be seized by this thought:  Of the four participants squaring off in the current controversy—Goodell and the spokesperson versus Kaepernick and Rapinoe—which are the patriots and which are the Tories?

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