A Skeptical Look at Kneeling During the National Anthem

By now, unless you live under a rock, you’ve no doubt seen the backlash of these tweets from Donald Trump.

But how did we get here?

Most know it started with former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who decided during the 2016 NFL preseason to kneel for the following reasons, as cited here on the NFL website.

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Colin Kaepernick

If you are reasonably familiar with the situation, and on social media, you’ve no doubt noticed most people have an opinion on one side or the other, and it’s nearly as heated and divided as religion and politics infamously are.

Since most opinions I’ve read are pretty passionate instead of objective, I felt it was worth exploring the subject from a skeptic’s point of view. As an issue, between Trump’s position and Kaepernick’s, it’s pretty complicated with a lot of facets worth considering individually.

If we start from the beginning, Kaepernick opted to do this in the wake of a number of police involved shootings of young “black” men, some of which, were unarmed. It appeared to be excessive force by many, and potentially even manslaughter or murder. Yet no charges against said officers were filed in the immediate aftermath. (I’m not aware of whether charges were filed later.)

I’ve written several times about police behaving poorly, and that this issue needs to be addressed far better than it is currently. I’ve also stated in my post “Analysis of Race and Perspectives of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement” (post also explains why I use white and black with quotations), that we as a nation have a lot of room to educate ourselves, and revise our long-held beliefs on racism.

While I believe the deliberately hateful racists, whether they be white-on-black or vice versa, are an incredibly small minority; many more biases are simply ingrained, and a product of conditioning versus a deliberate intention to demean someone.

Respectful discussions between the two sides can help overcome both, if we’re willing to have them. So I encourage all people, no matter what their skin tone may be, to be open to such discussions. It’s surely the only way tensions will improve.

But moving on from whether Colin has a point or not, let’s discuss his tactics, since they’ve now overshadowed his initial concern he was trying to bring awareness to, which for him, is almost assuredly a tragedy.

Is Kneeling Effective Towards His Goal?
SANTA CLARA, CA – OCTOBER 02: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneels on the sideline during the anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Since this started over a year ago, can we honestly say that racism has gotten any better?

It should be noted that it’s virtually impossible to quantify racism, but it is possible to quantify how many police shootings of unarmed black men who weren’t directly witnessed to have committed a crime.

Nonetheless, those parameters aren’t part of any FBI data I’ve seen. So there’s little way to determine if he’s been effective in reducing them.

As such, no claims one way or the other, can be considered anything other than speculation until that data is available. But I will say that it does seem like there have been fewer of these in the news since these protests began.

I think it’s also safe to say that racism is part of many discussions in a meaningful way at a number that’s probably as high as it has been since the civil rights movement.

The media’s coverage of Colin’s actions and their coverage of the police shootings which instigated his actions are largely to blame for this. So it is fair to say that he’s at least helped start the discussions that needed to happen, and are hopefully helping to achieve his end goal.

Are His Actions Congruent With His Goal

On this issue, I have to say I feel Colin missed his mark.

The U.S. flag is generally something that’s attributed to represent our nation, and also the men and women who served our military to defend it. But Colin never insinuated he was mad at those people.

He directed his anger at what he felt were several corrupt law enforcement officers, and the system that seemed to defend that.

So yes, he created awareness, but the people he offended doing it, were largely not the people he was mad at in the first place.

Is Colin Kaepernick a Racist

I cringe when anyone tries to make claims about what’s in someone’s heart. You just can’t know that. So you often have to take people at their word or their actions.

Colin Kaepernick with adoptive parents Rick and Teresa Kaepernick

I don’t recall seeing one instance where Colin said anything negative about Caucasians. It’s also important to note that Colin has a biological mother who is “white,” presumably a “black” father, and adoptive “white” parents who took him in and raised him.

The idea that he’s racist, seems pretty far-fetched, and not supported by any evidence I saw. But feel free to comment below, citing sources, if you’ve seen any statements he uttered against Caucasians in general.

Could He Have Chosen a Better Tactic?

Because Colin is famous, I believe he’d have done far more to improve these relations between the police and young urban minorities by doing community outreach with police. Maybe trying to start  a ride-along program with NFL stars, for instance.

Urging NFL players, especially those who were once urban minorities themselves, to go out with officers and start dialogues with them based on mutual respect between the police and many of the NFL players who were former at-risk kids themselves, would certainly help achieve his goal.

If police hear these stories from some of the NFL’s best, maybe it would make the officers see the young men in their community as potential greatness instead of potential criminal young men.

Community Outreach: Dajuan Howze, 13, battles for the ball against Pittsburgh Police officer Gino Perry while Zone 5 police commander Jason Lando waches. The officers played a pick up basketball game with local youth during the Homewood Community Day celebration.

I also believe that if a cop car rolls up in a bad neighborhood with a superstar like Colin riding along with them, it might incite those kids to get to know their local police; building better relationships in the process.

If you’re one of those kids, you’d love to meet an NFL star. And if you meet one thanks to a police officer who brought him to you, all of a sudden that police officer is more likely to be seen as a friend instead of a foe.

Is Colin Trying To Create Unity

On the face of it, a peaceful protest is certainly what Martin Luther King is famous for. And his kneeling is not that different from Rosa Parks sitting on a front bus seat.

Yet once Colin knelt, many took offense, and sadly didn’t see it that way, if that’s how he meant it.

Colin KaepernickIf he intended to be unifying however, wearing socks depicting police as pigs, all but ruined his message.

Even if he justifies it by saying that it was only directed at bad cops, I’ve heard multiple racist “white” people justify hateful speech by saying, “There’s black people, and then there’s n*****s”?

They assume because I’m white, I want to hear that nonsense. I assure you, I really REALLY don’t appreciate it. And I usually tell them so if I’m not in a position where I think I’ll be physically attacked for doing it. And Colin’s excuse for wearing those socks is pretty similar, in my opinion.

If rational people like me were apt to side with his peaceful protests, assuming he had nothing but the best intentions in his heart for all parties involved, this went a long way to burn that.

But nonetheless, I try to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was just angry, and did something ill-advised in his enraged state. Haven’t we all, in a moment of anger, said or done things we regret later?


Now let’s discuss Donald Trump’s actions.

Donald Trump Official Portrait

Love him or hate him, I think it’s fair to admit that Trump is open and honest about his opinions. His Twitter feed is laden with unrehearsed, unpolished, and uncensored opinions that clearly seem to be what he actually feels.

So let’s take a skeptical look at those.

Were Trump’s Tweets Divisive When We All Tend To Agree Unity is Needed?

Yes Trump’s comments were divisive. I frankly wish he’d just stop. But so were the people opting to kneel.

You cannot fairly condemn Trump for being divisive, if you won’t equally condemn the players who know it’s upsetting a very large portion of the country, without being hypocritical.

Should Trump Have Said What He Said and Tweeted What He Tweeted?

Trump is effectively two people. He’s a president, and an American citizen.

As president, I want him to be involved in Colin’s (and the NFL’s) actions absolutely zero.

Instead, I’d want to see him order the FBI to investigate police shootings to make sure local police aren’t effectively protecting their own during the investigations of officer shootings. Clearly, letting the San Francisco PD investigate one of their own is as big of a conflict of interest as one could imagine.

I’d also want federal prosecutors to handle any disciplinary actions, up to and including criminal trials.

As for Trump tweeting an official position on the kneeling, he should simply say it’s a private matter for the free market to sort out.

If it kills NFL ratings, then they’ll react accordingly. This is not the business of a government who’s first amendment guarantees free speech.

As an American citizen, he has a right to an opinion on anything, including this. In my opinion, he should have two different Twitter accounts: one for “the president” and one for “the citizen,” which he does (@POTUS and @realDonaldTrump). Then, keep his official positions on one, and his personal opinions on the other.

On this issue, he largely did exactly that. His @POTUS account retweeted the personal account’s tweet below, and that’s all I’ve found. The rest were on his personal account.

In general, I don’t feel Donald Trump has done a remotely admiral job at unifying a divided nation—quite the contrary. His business acumen is about winning, which means he’s often competitive by nature. That aggressiveness comes out in his behavior often, and I suspect it’s not likely to change.

He’s arguably the most divisive president in history, but it’s not like we didn’t know this prior to the election, and yet he still won. So this isn’t exactly an overpromise/underdeliver situation; no bait-and-switch transpired here.

But as much as I disagree with him on significant policy issues, I at least prefer his unfiltered nature. I find it far better than people who are polished and rehearsed yet come off as obviously fake. I’d just prefer to know instead of wonder where you stand, and whether you’re a person I wouldn’t like in real life or not.

Should The NFL/Team Owners Fire Players?


Well, the players work for the teams (franchises), not the NFL. The only people firing them will be the team owners.

The NFL has code-of-conduct policies, which they seem to strictly enforce. For instance, the Cowboys wanted to have a simple sticker in support of a slain officer, and the NFL specifically forbade it.

One can certainly argue that this is somewhat hypocritical to forbid a helmet like this, while allowing some other form of protest on the field, like kneeling for the national anthem.

But nonetheless, the NFL is a private company, and they have every right to be hypocrites if they so desire, and the free market will sort it out accordingly.

As for the teams, if they want to fire the players for representing their brand in a way that’s inconsistent with their team owner’s values, then they have a right to do so. One caveat though: only if they drafted a code-of-conduct clause is in the contract they have with that player, which specifically forbids such actions.

 


Now that we’ve covered the two actors in this play, let’s discuss the issue in general. Because there’s a lot of hypocritical and/or illogical behavior from the professional media and the John Q Pissed-Offs on social media.

Is This a Free Speech Issue?

This one’s pretty easy:

  • Is government stifling the action? – Free Speech Issue
  • Is private enterprise (NFL or team owners) stifling the action? – Not a Free Speech Issue

Since no one is proposing a law to prevent this, or that government intervene to stifle free speech, it’s not a free speech issue. It’s that simple. When such a law or government action is proposed, only then will it become a free speech issue.

Is It About Disrespecting The Flag

Many argue that it’s just a flag, and we shouldn’t get so worked up about it. But here’s the rub with that argument. 

Colin and his fellow kneelers aren’t attacking the idea that there’s too many stars and stripes on it, nor are they complaining the colors clash. They’re mad at a country that seems to allow racism and permit cops to kill “black” kids without recourse. The flag is just a representative icon of the country this occurs in, from their perspective.

Coincidentally, the people who are mad at disrespecting the flag aren’t really passionate about “the flag” either.

They’re passionate about all that the flag represents to them.

  • A country founded on liberty
  • A soldier who fought and died to protect them
  • A country they fought for if they are a soldier
  • The freedom it represents that they don’t have in other countries

That list goes on and on.

No different from you not caring about a piece of celluloid until there’s a picture of someone you love on it, the flag, as a piece of fabric, was never what anyone really cared about.

So when you make an argument that it’s “just a flag” to defend such actions, know that this argument isn’t relevant to this issue, since it wasn’t “just a flag” to either party. All sides would do well to understand that.

As a libertarian, I’m also fervent on the idea that thought-policing has absolutely no place in a free country. If it did, let’s be honest, Colin would be in jail, or worse, murdered by the state. Just ask many Iraqis who lived under the Hussein regime, North Koreans under the Kim Jong regime, or other dictator-run nations, who lost loved ones due to a government that didn’t take kindly to a lack of respect from its citizenry.

So to me, Colin should love America for the freedom it gives him to do these protests, and instead, direct his ire at the individual officers that commit heinous acts, a legal system that doesn’t seem to effectively prosecute them, and the racists who think it’s OK for officers to avoid prosecution for manslaughter of an innocent young man. Not the flag, and all the things that the flag represents to most Americans.

The Peaceful Protest

One of the most shining examples of hypocrisy in this is the people who lashed out at all the rioters after some of these controversial shootings (rightly so), and called for people to peacefully protest, then got mad at Colin and his peers for peacefully protesting.

They did what you asked, and they did it in a forum where they’d get the most attention for doing it. If the NFL allows it, you don’t have to agree with it, but you should at least give them credit for being peaceful, even if you agree with me that it’s misguided and ill-advised.

Again, we have to stop with all the hypocrisy.

Summary

All parties in this have good intentions, even if their tactics are poor. Throughout all of it, most people are calling for unity and peace. So let’s do the things that have a proven record of achieving those goals.

I’m willing to have a respectful discussion, give benefit of the doubt to those with good intentions, even if they aren’t acting like it, and show respect to those I disagree with.

I’d also suggest instead of standing with Trump or Kaepernick, you form your own opinions, while being your own worst critic. Come to a conclusion that you think is fair to both sides, and be honest when it’s obvious you’re being hypocritical. You have no right to demand others be better if you refuse to be better yourself.

 

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A Straw Man and the Easily Offended: Occasionally, People Have Cause to Tell You How You Should Feel

 

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Chances are, if you’re on social media, you’ve no doubt encountered the easily-offended. You say something entirely innocuous in intent, and yet the listener assumes the worst possible scenario your statement could have meant, and then attack you via that assumption.

Recently, I had an actress friend from Twitter call online bullies out as “terrorists.”

Her tweet was clearly tongue-in-cheek; she knows the difference between a suicide bomber for instance, and an internet troll. Nonetheless, people took offense to her supposed equating of terrorists to online bullies, and she felt compelled to apologize.

I responded, “Nice of you to do. It’s irksome that people can be so easily offended, though. If you meant no offense, none should be taken.”

Internet Troll

Another of her followers inserted herself into the conversation with:

This is wrong. You don’t get to dictate how others feel. That’s like saying “she’s a slut” oh[sic] but don’t take offense because I didn’t mean it! Like[sic] hell no. If it can be offensive, you should be aware of that.

This sentiment of not being able to tell others how they should feel is echoed by many, and it seems fair on the face of it, but in my opinion, logic dictates quite the contrary in many situations.

My reasons for this boil down to arguably the most famous and common of logical fallacies—The Straw Man Argument.

It basically goes like this.

I say, “I’m a Cincinnati Bengals fan.”

A Browns fan hears this and attacks me, saying something like, “Don’t trust that guy, he hates the Cleveland Browns.”

While this might seem like a fair conclusion to make since they’re division rivals, one does not technically assume the other. The fact is, partly because I’m squarely between the two in Columbus Ohio, I’d say the Browns are my 3rd favorite team (behind whomever is playing the Pittsburgh Steelers). So an assumption was made based on what I said that is entirely false.

Thus, it’s a logical fallacy, because they’re attacking a “straw man” of what I actually said, and falsely assigning that “straw man” to me. In any sort of debate, straw man arguments are  frowned upon for their inherently fallacious nature.

Click Image for more info

But one doesn’t have to make a verbal argument to build a straw man. Simply taking offense at a statement where no disrespect was intended is fallacious for the same reason.

For instance, I once had an ex-girlfriend who was sadly suffering from bipolar disorder. One night, we were going out to dinner, and she opted for a little black dress that I thought looked great on her.

The conversation went like this:

Me: Honey, you look great in that dress.

Her: Oh, so I look like shit any other time?

(No, that’s not a joke. Bipolar disorder is a very serious mental illness that can often lead to over-reactions like that from the sufferer. Click the link to read more about this condition.)

Hopefully, this over the top example explains why in fact, it is sometimes quite right to correct how someone is feeling. She was mad at what she felt my statement meant, when what I actually said and meant had no commonality with how she inferred it.

Arguing that I don’t have a right to correct her emotional reaction is preposterous in my opinion, unless we disagree on the premise that a straw man argument is a logical fallacy.

However, this mindset isn’t a license to say everything that’s on your mind. You can’t be the Andrew Dice Clay of your office, saying things you know will offend someone, but because you think it’s funny, you assume this makes it OK. If you knew it would offend them and did it anyway, you meant to offend them. They have every right to be upset whether you think it’s just you being funny or not.

But what’s the difference?

People often say things like, “I’m not mean, I’m just being honest.”

So let me illustrate the difference. Imagine you got a haircut, and you ask you spouse what they think.

Honest: The stylist did a nice job, but honestly, I don’t like that style on you.

Mean: Whoa! Did you lose a bet? I’ve seen a baboon’s ass with better looking hair than that.

Sure both of those statements are essentially saying the same thing, but one is clearly just honest, and one is clearly mean-spirited while coming from an honest place. The reason the latter is wrong is that not only does it convey your honest thoughts (the part that’s valuable information the other person requested), but it also serves to demean the person it’s said to (the part that’s immoral). Any reasonable person should know the difference.

This easily-offended issue is a problem because it promotes dishonest conversation and sometimes outright lies.

Imagine for a second I had a new girlfriend who decided to surprise me by making me dinner. The choice she makes includes cooked broccoli, a vegetable when cooked, that I’d classify as a hate crime. It smells like feet, for Pete’s sake! Why would anyone want to eat that?

She may have cooked the broccoli as good as broccoli has ever been cooked, and I still won’t like it. So I have two options, I can tell her I really don’t like cooked broccoli at all and potentially offend her, or I can tell her it’s delicious and power through it like the nice guy I am.

If I choose the dishonest route so as not to offend her, she may go on cooking her world-famous broccoli the entire time we’re dating, and I end up buying a dog to sneak broccoli to under the table just to remedy the situation. Maybe she doesn’t even like cooking it, and is just doing it to make me happy. This means that we’re both unhappy for literally no good reason—clearly a potential lose-lose situation.

The reason the framers of the U.S. Constitution wrote the free speech clause of the 1st amendment was not to let people talk about the weather. It was to allow free discourse, including that which offends others, because there’s value in such discussions. And it was the first amendment, largely because they understood it was one of the most important.

People learn how the other person feels, people find out that they’re sometimes not alone in their perceived controversial thoughts, truth-to-power speech can turn into meaningful movements, and people don’t go on being forced to eat cooked broccoli.

So if this is the problem, what’s the remedy?

If someone says something that you find offensive, I highly suggest you stop for a second and really consider whether they meant any disrespect. If it seems fairly obvious they didn’t, for the love of all that is intellectually honest, stop lashing out in retaliation.

If you’re not sure whether they meant to insult you, instead of snapping back hatefully with the worst possible assumption in your heart, be open-minded that they might not have meant to be insulting, and simply ask them to elaborate, or ask specific questions about what their underlying intent was.

In the age of Twitter’s 140 character limit and the inability to see someone’s facial expressions, a lot of context gets lost on social media. They might have wanted to add such nuance, and simply didn’t have the space or the writing prowess to convey it.

If you often find yourself getting upset when others around you don’t seem to be so bothered, it should be a sign that you are potentially someone who could fairly described as easily offended.

If you really wish to gain control of your emotions, consider trying to practice what Biology and Philosophy Ph. D Massimo Pigliucci, host of the wonderful and thought-provoking Rationally Speaking podcast  promotes, the philosophy of stoicism. I promise you, this way of thinking will eventually lead to you feeling better about yourself, reduced overall stress, and more meaningful and positive interactions with others, whether it be on social media, or in person.

Open and honest respectful discourse is important to our social structure, and for advancing understanding in general. Those who seek to quash it because they can’t control their emotions should be encouraged to learn the art of respectfully agreeing to disagree.

Whether discussing things like racism, politics, religion, or other heated topics, we’re better off if we feel free to speak our minds, and then debate those thoughts with mutual respect, stoicism, and honest candor. Hate, insults, and other heated responses only serve to upset both parties, and rarely achieve the goal of bringing us to a place of better understanding.