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Op-ed

Commentary: Let's end the absurdity surrounding anthem kneeling

From both sides

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (1) is the lone player to stand and not wear a Black Lives Matter T-shirt before a game Friday against the Brooklyn Nets in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Charles King/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

You can kneel during the national anthem and still love America and support police officers. You can stand during the national anthem and still believe black lives matter and police brutality is wrong.

The primary narrative surrounding a peaceful protest should be the issue being protested, not an obsessive accounting of which individuals choose to participate and which ones don't.

Everyone who kneels during the national anthem is not saying the same thing. Some of them are publicly expressing their opposition to police brutality. Some of them are protesting racial injustice in broader terms. Some are supporting Black Lives Matter. Maybe some of them actually do hate America. I imagine many, if not most of them, don't really care and are just doing whatever it takes to not get criticized.

Everyone who stands during the national anthem isn't saying the same thing. Most people stand during the national anthem because it's just what you do during the national anthem. Some people are standing because they don't want to get lumped in with Black Lives Matter, the organization. Most people who stand are probably not making a statement of protest against black people; they are just doing a normal thing.

It doesn't take any particular courage to stand for the national anthem, or to kneel for the national anthem. There aren't any real consequences for either choice. Let's stop with the hero worship of people who make the choice we prefer.

It's ridiculous to approach a black American who chooses to stand for the national anthem and ask him whether he believes in black lives matter. It's actually a stupid question.

A movement seeking justice for black people is destined to fail when we start turning on each other. When a movement called "Black Lives Matter" begins attacking black people who don't act a certain way, it has lost its way. To say "black lives matter" is a lie if it excludes black people who express themselves differently than the mainstream.

Sometimes basketball players just want to be basketball players, and they should be allowed to do that. The issue of race in America is complicated, and many professional athletes simply aren't informed enough to have helpful thoughts on it. We should encourage them to learn, but not force them to be activists.

Sometimes basketball players want to be activists, and they should be allowed to do that. If they choose to take on that role, they should take care to be informed and wise in how they express themselves, because they will be held to account for their activism. It's fair game if that's a path they choose.

If you really like sports, but you can't stand to watch games because some people don't stand for the national anthem before the game starts, that's a bit silly, but it's your right to turn away. It's worth asking, though, whether you hold other organizations to that same standard for them to earn your business, and if not, why that might be.

Our society is really going insane. It's like we're incapable of reasonableness and moderation and compromise. Everything is a battleground.

We need to get rid of a lot of bad police officers. We need to create more accountability at a lot of police departments. We need to get some incompetent political leaders out of office in the process. We need to support the police officers who are willing to put their lives on the line for the members of their communities every day. None of that has to be a contradiction.

We need to fight racial injustice. We need to correct any system, big or small, that reinforces racial inequality. We need to be angry when a black person is unnecessarily and unjustly killed by police. We need to be angry when a person of any race is unnecessarily and unjustly killed by police. We shouldn't try to make every white person feel guilty for all the racism of history. None of that has to be a contradiction.

We have a pandemic that has killed more than 150,000 people in this country, and put tens of millions of others out of work. We have literal riots in the streets almost every night in some cities in this country. We're heading for an election where no matter who wins, the losing side is almost surely going to claim the results are fraudulent. Whether someone stands or kneels during the national anthem before a basketball game shouldn't be anywhere near the top of our list of concerns right now.

If our nation fails some day, historians may note that our demise was largely due to the fact that we spent so much of our time fighting about things that don't matter, while failing to address the things that do. This doesn't have to be our story, but we've got to find some common sense.

One last thing…
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