The NFL has issued a statement saying it was wrong to censure players who protested police violence. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
Well, better late than never, I suppose. And I suppose the protests are having at least some small part of their desired effect if they are causing individuals and organizations to re-think their actions, their words, and their beliefs. It wasn’t a spontaneous awakening. The NFL’s statement came as a response to a video made by NFL players about racial inequity and asking the NFL to publicly make the statement that they were wrong, and that Black lives matter. But racial inequity is deeply ingrained in our national zeitgeist and it isn’t going to disappear overnight. So any steps in the direction of awareness and growth, even small ones, should be welcomed for what they are. For now, I’m going to set aside the sarcasm and the skepticism and just say: “Good on you, NFL.” For now.
Several years ago, when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at the start of NFL games, he did so in protest against the mass incarceration of and the police brutality against African-Americans. Some other (mostly, but not exclusively, African-American) players began to kneel too. And America lost its collective mind. They called these peaceful protests “treason” and said that they “disrespected our flag and our troops.” Colin Kaepernick’s football career was over. Donald Trump called for protesters to be fired (for exercising their First Amendment rights). Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game when players knelt. Conservatives called for a boycott of the games. And the NFL threatened to fine players who knelt and said that they could only do so in the locker rooms, but not on the field.
I don’t condone the violence or the rioting. It’s wrong and it’s terrible and it’s gut-wrenching to watch my country descend into chaos.
I simply made an ill-advised attempt to re-direct certain people’s attention away from the rioting and back to the source of the protests. (Don’t ask me why I did it. I’d made myself a promise only yesterday that I would NOT engage on this issue. Oh, who was I kidding, of course I’m going to engage.)
I tried to remind someone that there is undeniable, systemic racism in our country and that’s what we should be focused on. “Let’s not let ourselves get sidetracked here,” I said. “The continued, systematic denial of human rights is the real problem. Let’s direct our outrage there.”
Your concern is quite touching. Truly. Your words of concern for all those small business owners whose shops are being looted and businesses being burned to the ground in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities all across the US during the riots sparked by the killing of George Floyd touch my heart. These people are just trying to make a living. They haven’t done anything wrong. These thugs must be brought to justice!
I know you’re not a racist. I know, because you said so. And I know that you’re moved by the plight of the oppressed and by the tragedy of Floyd’s death, (although he might have — no, probably did — deserve the treatment at the hands of the police officer — it’s impossible to tell from the video footage what came before — and after all if he could say “I can’t breathe,” then obviously he could breathe), but when the looting starts . . . well then that’s surely when things have gone too far. That’s real evil.
On Sunday, Donald Trump said “our country has to go back to being our country again. . . We have to go back to work.”
He also said, “You have people who are not going to stand for this and I understand that very well.” By which he meant “If you kill someone who is trying to keep you from your job, preventing you from eating at Old Country Buffet, or forcing you to wear a face mask, I will call you a very fine person and may even pay your legal bills.”
This is my sixth week living in our new paradigm. For the most part I’m doing okay, but there are times I feel an overwhelming emotional exhaustion. It isn’t brought on by fear of contracting COVID -19 or anxiety for the future or even the demands of social distancing. It’s because I feel like we’re walking a long road while at the same time those who should be leading us forward have tied a rope around our waists and are pulling us backwards. It’s like swimming against the tide. An uphill climb. Or walking into a headwind. Pick your metaphor. But it’s wearing me out.
Once again, Trump has proven that he was absent from school when they learned that our Founding Fathers took steps to ensure that our country was not ruled by a monarch and that the powers of the President and the federal government aren’t unlimited. Some days it’s hard to decide whether he doesn’t know that he’s not actually King of America, or whether he just doesn’t care.
Chuck Todd wasn’t mincing words last week when he suggested that Donald Trump has blood on his hands. Lots of people are making the case that the responsibility for many of the American deaths from COVID-19 can be laid directly at the feet of Donald Trump. And not in an esoteric “the buck stops here” kind of way.
Of course, no one is blaming him for the virus, but Trump’s actions delayed and weakened our country’s response in the early days of the epidemic. His lies and incompetence caused many (including some state and local officials) to question and even flout the advice of the medical community. He has failed to competently use the power of the federal government in a coordinated and effective way, leaving states to fend for themselves; it certainly hasn’t helped that he’s made federal assistance to states contingent on governors kissing his butt. Trump’s early characterization of the virus as a hoax, his administration’s slow response to news of the growing threat, and his public downplaying of the severity of the situation, all coupled with his daily barrage of lies, exaggerations, and misinformation have made a deadly situation deadlier than it had to be.
Believing as I do that the words we use influence the way we experience the world, I have decided that rather than referring to this current situation as a “crisis” I will instead use the word “opportunity.”
I don’t mean to make light of what’s going on. My sunny outlook is entirely situational of course, and not in any way meant to downplay the very real and very serious impact of this pandemic: death, illness, sacrifice, extreme economic hardship, social isolation, anxiety, and more.
It’s just that for me and for many millions of others, doing our part to comply with stay-at-home orders means changing our expectations and our mindsets rather than enduring any actual hardship. Having to work from home, spend more time with my spouse and my cat, wear gloves and maintain social distancing, and watch a lot of Netflix isn’t exactly a crisis. It’s an opportunity.
There’s no question that we’re going to be changed by this COVID pandemic. You can’t go through something like this and not be altered in some way. Sadly, some of us will lose a friend or loved one to the virus. Some will have had a major life event (perhaps a wedding or graduation) cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Millions will lose their livelihoods. Savings will be eviscerated. We will all suffer hardship to a greater or lesser degree.
Some self-reflection may come out if it as well. Maybe we’ll discover a resilience in ourselves that we didn’t realize we had. Maybe we’ll find out that we actually enjoyed our solitude more than we would have thought. (Or maybe we’ll realize that we hated it more than we would have expected.)
To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them, and some bungle greatness when it’s handed to them on a silver platter.
There’s no question: this is a scary time. In a worst-case scenario, millions of people across the globe could die as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world’s economy may be crushed, plunging us all into a dire situation. These are truly frightening thoughts. But it also presents us with an opportunity to step up into the moment and be great. To take personal responsibility for our actions and to look out for one another. To come together as a community at the local, regional, and global level. To make sacrifices. To show leadership. And to potentially save millions of lives.