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This past weekend on September 11th, there was a great deal of interest in the days leading up to the game as to whether or not the Seattle Seahawks were going to stage a Colin Kaepernick inspired protest during the singing of the national anthem. When it became known what the team's plans were (standing arm-in-arm to show team solidarity,) the brightness of that spotlight seemed to dim somewhat. Then, four members of the Miami Dolphins generated a media storm by taking a knee during the anthem. Running back Arian Foster, defensive back Michael Thomas, wide receiver Kenny Stills and linebacker Jelani Jenkins joined Kaepernick in kneeling, as a statement intended to protest systemic racism in the United States. 


The response to this protest, as all across the nation, has been a mixed bag of emotionally charged outcries, some in favor and many condemning either the action itself or the choice to take this stand on September 11th. It seemed disrespectful to many to use this opportunity to make a political or social statement on a day which is the anniversary of a day of national grief; a day intended now to inspire unity among all segments of our society. There are so many voices shouting their opinions loudly and angrily, from all sides. The media response is predictable as well, greedily taking advantage of the opportunity to increase sales/clicks/name recognition by eagerly reporting anything that will feed the controversy. 


But there is something missing from all of this, as there has been with too many discussions of race relations.


Very few people seem to want to do the one thing that is needed for any substantial improvement to happen. 


Very few people seem to be willing to LISTEN.


I don't mean the kind of listening where you are just waiting for another opportunity to state your case. I mean the kind of listening that implies a genuine desire to hear and understand the other's position. Arian Foster, in his explanation to the media of why the players decided to do what they did, had this to say: "

“It’s more important to create a healthy dialogue. It’s easy for you to just sit here and say, ‘Shut up, you stupid (N-word)’ rather than saying, ‘Why do you feel like that? And if you do feel like that, tell me more about it.’ It’s just so easy to hate. If you really proclaim to be a true American, freedom runs in your bloodline, right? It’s supposed to. And so if somebody’s telling you they don’t feel like they’re free, then why wouldn’t you listen to them if you’re an American?”

I am a middle class white American man. I served in the United States Army, as did both of my brothers, my father, and his father before him. That grandfather served faithfully in World War I and is buried in Arlington cemetary. I love our country. I love the principles that it was founded on, even as I acknowledge that the reality for some American citizens has not always reflected those principles of equal opportunity and treatment regardless of race, religion or social status.

Here's the thing. I think I've been too quick to dismiss the message. Oh, I've heard the complaints. Heck, I've spoken some of them aloud. "These guys are among the top of our society in terms of income, social status and public adoration. When an athlete gets into legal trouble, they are able to afford such legal representation that puts them at a huge advantage over any of us "commoners." They are the elite, and here they are taking a stand against oppression that they do not from our perspective seem to experience much." I get it. Spoiled rich athletes whining about how bad they have it. But I've got to tell you, if we believe that's all there is to this, we are missing the point. We're not listening.

I don't know that I agree with the tactics of Foster and the others. But he's no dummy. He's not a guy you can just dismiss as attention-seeking. He is a deep thinker, and a philosopher. He insists that they mean no disrespect. And he's absolutely right about this. Part of what I served in the military for was to defend the rights of people like him... like you and me... to speak out for what they believe in. It's a complicated issue and I don't want to make premature judgments without listening first. Kenny Stills added this to the discussion: 

“We want people to understand where we’re coming from and we want to understand where other people are coming from,” Stills said. “It’s no disrespect. There’s no hard feelings. There’s no hatred. There’s none of that. And that’s why I feel like as adults we should all be able to do that. And the people that can’t do that — it hurts. It stinks. You should be able to have tough conversations. Why can’t we? Why can’t you disagree with what I’m saying and us still have a relationship?”

So my point is this. Maybe you don't agree with their tactics. Maybe you question the validity of their cause. Maybe you're even right, if such a thing is possible in this kind of situation. BUT. Before we decide to disagree, or worse yet to be disagreeable in our disagreement; before we respond with hate, condemnation and draw a line in the sand, before we dig our heels in and defend with clenched fists our position, let's try doing the one thing that might actually help.

Let's try to listen. 

Maybe we won't change our position at all, but... maybe, just maybe, we will understand why those we disagree with feel the way they do. 


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