This week Ray Rodriguez, our sports editor, and I got into a discussion about the deep divide over whether National Football League players should be allowed to kneel in protest while the national anthem is being sung at games.
We debated the right of players to protest social and racial injustice and police brutality in this manner. I came at the issue from the perspective of a Marine mother whose son had gone into combat five times under the flag of the United States.
Ray, who is of Latin heritage, came at the issue from the viewpoint of a minority who has personally experienced the harm of racism and bigotry.
I was angry about NFL players not standing for the anthem because I felt their actions were disrespectful to the sacrifices made by our troops, past and present. I supported a boycott of games.
Ray felt that military families needed to realize that players were using the televised platform to get out a message about the need for societal changes and veterans should be more understanding.
Our conversation was taking place in living rooms across America and, like the rest of a deeply divided nation, Ray and I were both passionate and protective about our point of view.
I had joined military families across the nation in contacting sponsors of the NFL to let them know we would not be buying their products until the players stood when the flag was presented.
Ray shook his head at my actions, asking if military families had the ability to “see bigger issues.” He said players did not feel the flag and anthem represented equality for all.
I told him there was no bigger issue than respecting the flag that united us all as Americans.
When NFL viewership ratings began to plummet due to the boycott, Ray became despondent, feeling that the voices of players would never be heard.
I was adamant that players needed to find a way to get their message across that didn’t alienate millions if they wanted true change.
Somewhere in our conversation there emerged a list of possibilities.
Ray asked if veterans and their families would support players delivering a short message over the loudspeaker before or after the anthem. I agreed that could be a solution.
I told Ray that I had no issue with the players linking arms and standing together to make a point. They just had to be standing and not hiding in the locker rooms to avoid paying their respects.
We then came up with several other options: Let the players wear special cleats or armbands to reflect their protest, allow them to erect some type of memorial board on fields or flash their message across the scoreboard.
Then we learned that nearly 100 pastors and community leaders were planning a “Kneel-In” protest outside Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., before the Carolina Panthers-Philadelphia Eagles NFL football game that took place Thursday.
“Maybe this is the historic first step,” said Ray. “This seems to be a hot button issue, so maybe if we can find compromise, we can work on some of the other issues of the world.”
We were inspired by that possibility. If this country is not going to end up in a second civil war, then we need to let our humanity bridge the ideological divide in any way that we can.
There are some absolutes where middle ground is unlikely to be found, such as sanctity of life and constitutional rights, but there are plenty of fights going on right now that can be resolved with compromise.
Scrolling through my Facebook posts, I saw dozens of military families and political conservatives urging people to boycott the NFL forever because the players and owners were not patriotic. I don’t think that is the right thing to do.
Once you have made your point, and won a concession, you need to have the good grace to put the past behind you and move on. Football spending drives part of the U.S. economy and that needs to be taken into consideration if the NFL is making changes.
According to varied media reports, the NFL is a massive enterprise that is expected to bring in $14 billion this season in ticket sales, merchandising, sponsorships and TV rights deals.
Once an NFL fan purchases a ticket for $60 to $300 a game, there is an additional expenditure of $40 to $100 per person on concessions. Tailgating parties can be somewhat cheaper, costing hosts about $200 to put together.
Snack sales during the Super Bowl – the biggest NFL game of the year – are second only to Thanksgiving.
During the 22-week annual run of NFL games, the price of chicken wings and other popular game foods goes up due to demand.
Although we cannot control what happens outside our “puddle,” this community can find ways to make sure both sides of contentious issues are validated and represented.
One of the reasons that Mark Gibson, news editor, and I decided to revive the weekly Crosstalk column was to show people that there are valid arguments to be made on both sides. And that people who disagree strongly on ideologies can still work well together and even be friends.
The key is to value people enough to try. Argue strong, stand firm but be willing to compromise if the opportunity presents itself. And learn to agree to disagree and not take it personally if it doesn’t.
We all have to try, because the consequences of going down this road of heightened anger are going to be catastrophic.