Why I’m taking a knee today

MASH83

If you wanted to be somebody at my high school (which no longer exists, by the way) you had to be on the football team. There were other sports teams and activities, but the attention that was given to the football team made many of my classmates put in the time and effort that were needed to suit up and play a game on Friday nights in the fall.

American society has put football–and particularly the NFL–on an exceedingly high platform. The athletes who play the game at this level have made enormous sacrifices to be where they are, including the newly-understood risks to their mental health and well-being. The players live lives the rest of us can hardly imagine, and when their time on the field is over, many of them painfully wither away. All the fame and adulation given to them today won’t  restore what’s being lost underneath their helmets.

So if a player at that level of the game wants to use their notoriety to bring attention to causes or issues they believe in, who among us is qualified to say they can’t? The act of taking a knee during the National Anthem–which many players are poised to do–is only disrespect to those who want to see it as such.

When Donald Trump went to a rally in Alabama and called players taking a knee in this manner “disrespectful” and labelled them as “sons of bitches,” he scored some cheap, racially-motivated points. But he also set off a firestorm that America doesn’t need, especially not now. Houston needs rebuilding, the Florida Keys need rebuilding, and Puerto Rico needs basically everything: Power, water, you name it. But rather than address those issues, Trump decided to ride the racist wave one more time. It’s not surprising, and it’s not leadership, either.

Last night, I went out to dinner with my wife and youngest daughter to a Thai and Chinese restaurant in Chicago. At the end of the meal, there were three fortune cookies brought out, and the one I opened up read as follows: “People are waiting to take cues from you. Lead them well.” If only Donald Trump could have such wisdom and insight as my fortune cookie did last night.

Let’s do what we can to help Americans in need, and not let a dictator wannabe set the tone on what patriotism looks like.

In defiance of Donald Trump–who took multiple draft deferments to fight in Vietnam and has wrongly impugned the actions and character of his predecessor, Barack Obama– I’m reviving my blog today in order to take a knee. I love this country, and even though I was never a football player, I did play one onstage once. I was 15 at the time, and the man I am today is grateful that whatever physical concerns I may have, potentially having CTE is not among them.

Whatever is said or written about the actions of these players today will be a distraction from the profound needs of many Americans right now. Donald Trump can’t see that, but I’m hopeful that others will. Think of this blog post as my attempt to live up to what a fortune cookie told me to do last night.

 

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Freel fallen

ryan_freel_cubs_chicagoside

At this time last year, former big league ballplayer Ryan Freel was probably hanging on by a thread. He had played in the major leagues, but had been injured many times and suffered several concussions.

We’re only just beginning to learn of the dangers of head trauma, and its role in bringing about a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalophathy (CTE). Freel lived with it after he left the game, and didn’t get the help he needed in coping with it. Drinking didn’t help, either, but the damage had been done. Baseball had ground him up and spat him out. And if he had never played for the Cubs, I doubt I would have noticed it at all.

But he did play for the Cubs, briefly, and so I noticed after he took his own life last December 28. His family will be reliving it all over again, I’m sure, and they always will every time the holidays roll around.

I wrote two pieces about Freel for ChicagosideSports, one early in 2013, and the other just a few days ago, after his CTE diagnosis had been confirmed. The decision to ban collisions at home plate probably would not have helped Freel specifically, but it’s an acknowledgement that where contact can be avoided in baseball, it should be avoided. And that’s definitely a legacy worth celebrating.