On Football, and Taking a Knee

We’re a family of musicians. Together we like to run and bike, hike and swim, but we’re not big sports enthusiasts. So when we were given tickets to a college football game, we jumped at the chance, knowing this would be an opportunity to enrich our kids’ lives by participating in sports culture.

Here’s the reaction from my 11-year old as we walked to the stadium (he’s got an old soul):

Why are they having a party in the parking lot? How many people are HERE? When did they get here? And they’re drinking BEER! Why can’t they throw their cans in the RECYCLING BIN! How long do you think it takes to clean all of this up? How much money would I make if I collect all of these cans?

Inside, the conversation continues:

Beer costs EIGHT DOLLARS?! (We bought one.) It’s too crowded in here. How long are we staying?

Meanwhile I’m sitting beside my 9-year old, both of us so confused. Whistle blown. Men inching down the field. Whistle blown. Men inching down the field. Cheers from the crowd. Is that good? Wait, what color is our team again?

so confused

Completely oblivious. First college football experience. Not one half of one clue. #soconfused. #weknowotherthings.

Don’t get me wrong, we had our fun. But my passionate, humanitarian mind starts calculating the cost. $15 per car to park here, times a lot of cars. Expensive snacks and beverages, cost of tickets, fairly new stadium, etc. etc.  How many mouths could we feed, how many people could we clothe, how much clean water could we provide with all of this money? We put a high price on college and professional sports.

I recognize football is engrained in our culture. We idolize the game and the athletes.  It’s a national pastime; as American as apple pie. This week we’ve heard a lot about the NFL players who took a knee during the National Anthem. There’s already been a lot said from all the people, so I won’t say too much about it here. But I do see that there are white folks who are still questioning systemic racism and so I want to speak out about it. I am still a student and not the authority, but I’d like to give a few practical “next steps” for those of us who want to do something, but are paralyzed by the huge amount of work that needs to be done.

First of all, we must acknowledge that simply by being born white, we are privileged. If you’re a man, even more so. If your eyes have not yet been opened to this truth, it’s time for us to do some homework.

#1. Listen to what your friends of color have to say, like with actual words. Mine are teaching me a lot.

#2. Listen to what is NOT being said. The NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem is not unpatriotic. It is a silent protest against the oppression that POC (people of color) have felt here in America for generations. It’s brilliant actually. In a climate where there is so much talking and not enough listening, they took a national platform and spoke, using no words. The truth is, racism has always been there; thankfully white people are finally waking up to the fact that it still exists. It didn’t end with the Civil War or the Civil Rights movement. It’s still very much a thing. In the NFL, 70% of players are black, and if we’re going to acknowledge their greatness on the field, let’s acknowledge their greatness as humans first and foremost.

#2b. I would like to add that we must also listen to what white people are NOT saying. What I’ve learned is that silence is deafening to those who are marginalized. Frankly this will only get better if white people step up, acknowledge the fact that racism still exists and then denounce it. After Charlottesville, we visited a church where we were vacationing in VT. It was a litmus test for me: would church leadership talk about it? We sat through the continuation of a summer series about Superheroes where we essentially watched 20 minutes of the new Batman movie, followed by a short video message by one of the pastors who made very weak connections to the movie we just watched. My 11-year old son leaned in, and then my daughter. What does this have to do with church?

Not one word mentioned of white nationalism and every opportunity to do so. That would have required them to go off-script, but THAT would have been church to me.

I let them know. I wrote that they missed a huge opportunity to stand up in front of their mainly white congregation to denounce racism, repent of it and tell them that Jesus would have none of it. I gave them my email address. They had our phone number. No response. None. (The very happy-clappy people at the door were very excited to give us all free t-shirts though).

In exchange for those t-shirts, we gave them our contact information as “new guests”. A young woman called my husband about a week later (remember, I never got a call) and she asked how we liked the service. Earl explained that I had filled out the connection card with my concerns. Her response? “Oh, yeah. I shared that card with the Pastor. He said that these things happen all of the time. We couldn’t possibly address them each week. Our services are already pre-planned.”

Really? Five minutes. That’s all it would take to address it, to take the next step. I wouldn’t attend a church that wasn’t willing to talk about these things. No thank you. No ma’am.

Listen to what is NOT being said.

#3. Sign up to be in the “Be the Bridge” online community. I grew up in a small, rural town. I could probably count on one hand how many POC I went to high school with. If you don’t live in a diverse community (and even if you do!), Be the Bridge led by Latasha Morrison is doing great things in regards to racial reconciliation. Their Facebook page is another great resource. The best part? For three months after joining the online community, you can’t post anything. You’re only allowed to actively LISTEN. ????

#4. Invite someone who doesn’t look like you into your home – someone you don’t know well, but would like to get to know better. Connection happens with proximity. We live in a very diverse community and I love to learn about different cultures. But I’m often too afraid to extend an invitation for fear that culturally I’ll say or do something stupid, or maybe I’ll have a hard time understanding due to a language barrier. Don’t let fear keep you from taking this important step. (This is going to be my next step and feel free to keep me accountable.)

#5. I’ve heard this phrase several times: “My kids are color blind. They don’t see skin color.” I understand the intention here – we’re teaching our kids not to be racist. That everyone matters. But there are systemic policies, practices and economic and political structures that place POC at a disadvantage. We need to teach our children to challenge these systems. And we need to be teaching our children to see the BEAUTY IN COLOR. God intended it this way. What if he made all of the flowers purple? What if we could only fill our dinner plates with rice and bread and pasta? Don’t we as parents spend all of our dinner hours stressing the importance of a colorful plate? It’s where we get all of our nutrients! Our kids are smart. They know that Luis’ skin is darker than theirs. Let’s teach them to embrace the diversity and the colors of this world, while challenging the systems that keep POC oppressed.

Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:29-30)

If I am to love my neighbor as I love myself, that means I should want the same things for him/her that I want for myself. When the world gets too loud and too wonky, I always fall back on these words. Love God, love God’s people. Jesus says there are no greater commandments than these.

Systemic racism is real. Name it, denounce it, expose it, condemn it. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m hopeful we are going to get there.

I challenge you to take one of the action steps I listed above. And if you have any other “next steps”, I’d love to hear them.

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