Deafening Silence and the 'Conversation' Cliches of the National Anthem Protests

For the rest of our days, or at least for the rest of however long we still want to talk about him, Colin Kaepernick is going to inspire a lot of rage. Rage against him, rage against his stance, rage against his profession, rage against oppression, rage against rage. He went from being a wunderkind to the league’s highest-paid backup to America’s (insert something good or bad here) in quick order. And even if somehow he lines up under center for the San Francisco 49ers ever again, he’ll never just be a quarterback or, eventually, a former pro athlete.

But something else has happened in the near month since he became this flashpoint of a country getting caught in its feelings. Actually, it’s what usually happens whenever unthreatening individuals are shot by law enforcement these days. Media personalities will say that what he and a growing number of athletes pro and amateur have done is “spark conversations.” They have “started a dialogue.” By taking a knee or sitting during the "Star-Spangled Banner," these athletes have “opened up a discussion.”

And this is where your friendly neighborhood Scribe gets upset. It’s where blood boils, the jaw and fists clench, the eyebrows furrow, and words spittle unconsciously. If you’re a person of color or even an ally, you have heard those words uttered pretty often, but with little to no action behind them.

Every time I notice a well-meaning person — especially a white person in a prominent position in the limelight — use one of the discussion clichés, I want to ask her or him two questions:

  • Do you actually have these conversations with anyone?
  • If yes, do you have these conversations with your white relatives, friends and colleagues away from the cameras, away from social media and away from attentive critics?

There is something to be said about how this paradox of these apparent conversations was articulated not by broadcast or cable news, not by the most prominent news sources, and not by new generation outlets that rank high on comScore. It was best addressed on a fledgling new show co-hosted by the most infamous personality in sports media today.

Last week, the Skip Bayless-hosted "Undisputed" on Fox Sports 1 had another episode discussing the protests and the highly divisive “show of unity” by the Seattle Seahawks. While there have been a few viral clips from the nascent show, there was one that particularly stood out in addressing the conversation clichés. It was a lengthy exchange between co-host and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe and network analyst Joel Klatt. While the 14-minute segment is surprisingly worth your time, at the 8:42 mark, Sharpe challenged Klatt on the frequency, or rather infrequency, of these sudden “discussions”:

Now as more police shootings involving unarmed black men hit the news waves, the exasperated point to Kaepernick to remind his critics that his message could not be clearer. And in revealing that he has received death threats, the quarterback himself reminds those same detractors (some who are rather quiet) that any action against him proves the point. All of this should spark more dialogue, according to the newsmakers of the country.

Yet, Sharpe and others further away from the media glare have called out the paradox. Who are having these conversations? When and where are they taking place? What are they specifically talking about?

Most of all, what remains are some prevalent queries left unanswered, if even asked at all. Why are they having these so-called discussions now after decades of ignoring the pained cries of racial minorities? Is it that they finally had enough? Have the videos finally provided the visuals needed in order to give a damn? Have you seen enough pie charts with empirical evidence to finally say “well ****, maybe the blacks are on to something”?

But we can go beyond that as it relates to sports and activism in recent years. Why didn’t previous displays of protests “spark a dialogue”? Why didn’t the conversation clichés come out a couple of months earlier when the NBA’s most famous friends made the clarion call to their fellow pro athletes? Why didn’t we have that mythical “national conversation about race” when athletes from across the sports world said, “I can’t breathe”?

When we are finished typing on these keypads, done repurposing tweets and memes to fit “both sides,” lamenting how tired the aggrieved are, and bracing for the next victim, we are left with our collective silence. Not just the relative silence we see from privileged co-workers and classmates on social media. Not just the silence of loved ones whose bigoted viewpoints are being confronted with each released video. Not just the silence of those who criticized the most visible demonstrations from athletes in quite some time. We’re left Big Media’s new magic trick, a hollow and glitzy discourse about nonexistent discourse.

We at The Sports Fan Journal — an independent sports editorial of minority founders and a diversifying staff of voices from coast-to-coast — have discussed these matters privately and publicly over the last two years. While we may not capture the wide range of viewpoints about social matters that our readers share, we have expressed a basic anger, sadness and frustration about a country that is schizophrenic about its liberties and who should have them. (The answer is everyone that breathes.) We hope that in the reading time indicated on the upper right-hand corner of this page, we capture your attention enough to carry discussions forward not only in the comment section or on Facebook and Twitter, but offline to a real, in the flesh, actual human being.

If Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, the Seattle-based Garfield High School football team, Kelsey Bone and numerous others across the land are sparking discussions about the inequities in the United States, then we should all be talking right now. So why aren’t we?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *