Fair and Unbalanced

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Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Littwin: Why are we so wounded by the knee?

Littwin: Why are we so wounded by the knee?

I tuned into the Broncos’ season opener Thursday night because it was a big game – the much-anticipated Super Bowl rematch between Denver and Carolina – and because I’m a sports junkie who told myself I needed a 31/2-hour break from the news of the day and because, sadly, I’m even more of a news junkie who needed to see whether some Bronco would take a Colin-Kaepernick-inspired knee to protest during the National Anthem.

And sure enough, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, one of the stars of last winter’s Super Bowl and a Kaepernick college teammate – took the knee.

Marshall explained after the game that “I’m not against the military. It’s not against the police or America. I’m against social injustice.” And whatever else you think about the protest, it’s undeniable that Kaepernick has put the issue front and center (and linebacker and quarterback).

It was headline news, of course, but hardly shocking, unless you consider shocking any time an athlete takes a stand that is not in his own interest. In fact, the most shocking thing about the Kaepernick protest – and protests, remember, are designed to bring simmering issues to a near boil – and those that have inevitably followed has been the relatively restrained reaction to them.

I mean, the National Football League might as well be a U.S. military adjunct, but one on otherwise-league-banned steroids. There’s flyover country and then there’s jet-fighter-flyover country. You can’t have a Super Bowl without at least one camera constantly trained on troops watching the game from some country most Americans can’t find on a map while, back in the States, they’re unfurling a football-field-sized American flag to show just how much, as measured in cubic yards, we love America.

I remember covering a Super Bowl in Tampa the year of the first Persian Gulf War. On that day, the unabashedly pro-war NFL – which handed each fan a tiny American flag, presumably to show you can love America even when waving an inexpensive, disposable, probably-made-in-China flag – proved that you don’t need to wear patriotically revealing outfits to be a cheerleader.

Here’s what I wrote that day: “What the NFL philosophy majors are telling us, in effect, as the hundred million-plus viewers around the nation look on, is that support for the war is the only possible response to the Gulf crisis. And, even better, they’re telling us that a football game is the proper forum to express that opinion.”

So, I was shocked to see NFL commissioner Roger Goodell basically support Kaepernick’s right to protest. When asked about it, Goodell wanted to be clear that “we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL” and that he clearly wished that Kaepernick would just get with the program and that, by God, he always stood for the National Anthem or any other song with America in the lyrics. But he also said, “Players have a platform, and it’s his right to do that.” You know, so long as the players are respectful and don’t put anything on their helmets not specifically endorsed by the league or, God forbid, celebrate too vigorously following a touchdown. There are limits, after all.

And while people have, of course, burned Kaepernick’s jersey in protest of his protest – as is their right – his jersey is also the biggest seller in the league just now.

And, sure, Kaepernick has been burned himself for weeks on social media, but the same could have happened if he’d thrown an ill-considered pass at a critical moment. At the Broncos game, untried quarterback Trevor Siemian was actually booed at times during some of his rougher moments and all he had done was failed to get a first down. It’s a tough world out there. Just ask Olympian Gabby Douglas, once America’s sweetheart, who was brought to tears by social media critics who didn’t like her, uh, facial expressions.

But it’s also a difficult time for the love-it-or-leave-it crowd. The best remark I’ve seen about Kaepernick was in a tweet from @BettyBowers, who wrote: “FUN FACT: Most people saying Colin Kaepernick is unpatriotic for criticizing America are wearing red ball caps that say America isn’t great.”

Meanwhile, those same people are having to defend Donald Trump’s full-on embrace of Vladimir Putin, who has crushed Russian democracy while harassing, jailing and/or killing those who oppose him. Is it unpatriotic – or simply ignorant – to compare Putin favorably to Barack Obama?

In either case, it’s his right, just as it was Brandon Marshall’s right. In Marshall’s case, the stakes are much higher. The idea that rich, spoiled professional athletes risk nothing by making a stand betrays, well, not a deep understanding of how the games work. Marshall risks everything. Even as his coach, Gary Kubiak, has expressed his support for Marshall’s right to protest while also saying he wished all the players would stand, everyone knows that Marshall’s right not to stand extends only as far as Marshall’s ability to stand up the next running back he encounters. This isn’t Muhammad Ali’s territory, but you can’t doubt that football careers matter, too.

As a quarterback, Kaepernick had even more at stake. For many, he’s a pariah. And while his status on the 49ers was already in question, many fewer teams would now be willing to take him on, because while, say, accused rapists usually get a second or third chance, taking an unpopular political stand is an entirely different matter.

This Sunday, there will be other individual protests. And there are rumors that some of the Seattle Seahawks are planning a group protest. And the unlikely movement just may grow, or maybe it won’t. But in the end, it was just football. The Broncos won, and I’m guessing most Bronco fans, whatever their politics, can live with that.

Flickr photo by Erwin Bernal

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About the Author

Mike Littwin

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
mlittwin@coloradoindependent.com | Twitter @mike_littwin

3 Comments

  1. Patricia Greenberg on said:

    Donald Trump can bash this country every time he opens his mouth, bash the people who live in it who don’t agree with him or are of a different race or gender, and he’s considered a patriot. A lot of the yahoos in the stands at football games talk, holler, and drink beer while the national anthem is being sung and no one utters a word. Some would say, well, Kapernick is a role model. He should do better. So are the yahoos in the stands who are parents and their kids are watching them way more closely than they are a football player. Kapernick simply sits down to protest racial injustice that white people are still in denial about all these years, protest being the basis upon which this country was founded, and he’s vilified, told to leave the country for speaking his mind, another principle upon which this nation was founded. I don’t get where my country is going but I do know I don’t like it, and I don’t know what to do about it.

  2. JohninDenver on said:

    Interesting that we honor athletes for visiting the sick in a hospital AND for using their celebrity to raise awareness and money in the general fight against diseases. We attack athletes for personal acts of domestic violence or creating a culture accepting such violence.

    But when it comes to police violence, there is no room for siding with the victims or for challenging the aggressors. There is an assumption that any such action is an attack on ALL police.

  3. Don Lopez on said:

    He almost did it! Mr. Littwin almost wrote an entire column without mentioning Donald Trump but, in the end, was unable to resist the urge and so, in a column ostensibly about Colin Kaepernick he threw in a gratuitous mention of Mr. Trump.

    Writing a column without mentioning Mr. Trump this election year is not unheard of but it is extremely rare. For example, in January Mr. Littwin published a column evaluating eleven possible Republican presidential nominees. Eleven. He even evaluated a candidate, Mitt Romney, who said he wasn’t running. But, incredibly, he failed to mention Donald Trump.

    You can’t make this stuff up!

    Mr. Littwin’s seeming inability to write a column sans Mr. Trump is simply another one of his idiosyncratic tics which only serves to widen the already Grand Canyon-size gap between Mr. Littwin and a Pulitzer.

    Making this column even more embarrassing than his July, 2015 quote “ The Donald, who (I’m reasonably sure) will never make it to the Iowa caucuses.” was Mr. Littwin’s assertion that “I’ve always had a pretty good handle on politics. For one thing, it’s not that complicated.”

    You can’t make that stuff up, either.

    And while Mr. Littwin pointed out that “Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall…. took the knee” he failed to mention that the other 105 NFL players—the overwhelming majority of whom are black–on the field Thursday stood during the National Anthem. So Marshall’s gesture represented less than 1 percent of those NFL players. Statistically irrelevant.

    There are many possible reasons those 99+ percent chose not to kneel: job security, disagreement with Kaepernick’s muddled message, realization that the optics are terrible, unable to reconcile his views with his background, differ with Kaepernick’s definition of what the American flag represents, recognition that for the last eight years America has had a black president or maybe, just maybe, those 99+ percent realize that while America has flaws the perfect should never be the enemy of the good.

    And what do others think of Kaepernick’s stand? Here’s what his biological mother thinks:”There’s ways to make change w/o disrespecting & bringing shame to the very country & family who afforded you so many blessings.” Well said.

    Here’s what former Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis said: “Listen I understand what you’re trying to do, but understand, take the flag out of it. I have uncles, I’ve got brothers, going into the military, that said I will never see you again. To understand that I will always respect that part of what our patriotism should be. And that’s the side that I think if Colin just really steps back, to effect change, to effect true change in what he’s trying to say, if you don’t have a real solution, if you ain’t seen as a true activist, to go into hoods and do these things on a daily basis and not just jump up and just protest off this one thing because you’re sick of it — we’ve been sick of racism for 400-plus years.”

    And here’s what NBC football analyst and former NFL player Rodney Harrison said:

    “If he really wants to make change, sitting his butt down [during the anthem], that’s not going to change, that’s going to get people very upset and he has to understand that. If you think sitting during the national anthem, a lot of people really served before his time, now, trying to give him the freedoms and the liberties that he has … and I tell you this, I’m a black man. And Colin Kaepernick — he’s not black. He can not understand what I face and what other young black men and black people face, or people of color face, on a every single [day] basis. When you walk in a grocery store, and you might have $2,000 or $3,000 in your pocket and you go up in to a Foot Locker and they’re looking at you like you about to steal something. I don’t think he faces those types of things.”

    Now, in addition to providing scores and commentary, the media are reporting who did/didn’t stand during the National Anthem. For example: Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters raised a gloved fist during the National Anthem on Sunday so was he supporting Colin Kaepernick or Tommie Smith? Or was his hand cold?

    It’s clear that Colin Kaepernick is unable to control the perception of his message—whatever that is– but it’s also clear how uncomfortable Mr. Littwin is with the relationship between the NFL, the flag, patriotism and the military.

    “I mean, the National Football League might as well be a U.S. military adjunct”

    “You can’t have a Super Bowl without at least one camera constantly trained on troops watching the game from some country most Americans can’t find on a map while, back in the States, they’re unfurling a football-field-sized American flag to show just how much, as measured in cubic yards, we love America.”

    “I remember covering a Super Bowl in Tampa the year of the first Persian Gulf War. On that day, the unabashedly pro-war NFL – which handed each fan a tiny American flag, presumably to show you can love America even when waving an inexpensive, disposable, probably-made-in-China flag – proved that you don’t need to wear patriotically revealing outfits to be a cheerleader.”
    “Here’s what I wrote that day: “What the NFL philosophy majors are telling us, in effect, as the hundred million-plus viewers around the nation look on, is that support for the war is the only possible response to the Gulf crisis. And, even better, they’re telling us that a football game is the proper forum to express that opinion.”

    Maybe Mr. Littwin should kneel while he’s watching the NFL!
    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    “Let’s get straight to it: Hillary Clinton’s comments Friday at a fund-raiser that half of Donald Trump’s supporters could be put in a “basket of deplorables” wasn’t a smart political play.

    Candidates do themselves a tremendous disservice when they attack voters rather than campaigns. Whatever advantage is procured through the rallying of one’s own base is outweighed by what will be read as divisiveness and disdain.” New York Times

    “My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California . . . ” – Hillary Clinton during 2008 campaign

    “September continues to be a good month for Donald Trump when it comes to polling, as the billionaire businessman has significantly cut into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s lead in polling averages and predictions.

    At the start of August, FiveThirtyEight gave Trump only a 13.6 percent chance of taking the White House. One month later, Trump has significantly impacted the site’s election forecast, surging to 30 percent odds heading into the second full week in September.” – AOL.com

    “As Hillary Clinton’s health moves from the fringes to the center of the 2016 presidential campaign, there’s a lot we still don’t know about her scare this weekend.

    Here’s what we do know: Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday. During a Sept. 11 memorial event on Sunday at Ground Zero, she was unsteady and clearly needed help getting into a van after becoming “overheated and dehydrated.” And Clinton canceled a planned to trip to California for Monday while she rests at home.” – NBC News

    “After a coughing fit…..(Hillary) Clinton chose to not tell the public that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday.

    Instead, the coughing had been attributed to seasonal allergies.
    Why not just admit the pneumonia? It’s not as if there’s a stigma to catching it. After all, Hillary Clinton’s full-time job right now is rushing from place to place on those tube-shaped petri dishes called airplanes, speaking for hours on end with little sleep, and then diving into crowds of often unwashed deplorables thrusting babies into her face.” NY Daily News

    Mother Nature once again graced the city with gorgeous weather for the 9/11 memorial ceremonies — yet Hillary Clinton was somehow overcome by the mild, low-80s temperatures, and left early in obvious distress.
    Clinton’s health is no longer a background issue in the presidential race.

    The footage of her entry to her ride out is especially troubling: She’s leaning oddly backward as she waits, and plainly almost collapses as she moves toward the vehicle; a mob of aides then conveys her inside.
    Also telling is that her staff avoided alerting the press that travels with her — and were left to catch up after noticing her missing. Clinton’s brief walkabout some 90 minutes later, after she’d rested in daughter Chelsea’s apartment, settles nothing. Nor does word late Sunday that she has pneumonia.

    We hadn’t made much of Clinton’s long coughing fit last week, but that now seems more disturbing, too. Maybe her repeated memory failures when the FBI interviewed her over her email abuses were actually real, rather than dodges of questions she didn’t dare answer truthfully. – NY Post

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Greenlight a Vet
    Folds of Honor
    Special Operations Warriors Foundation
    Garysinisefoundation.org
    Veterans Day – November 11, 2016

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