Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Off court: Serena, Colin and the right time

Because I am an editor by profession, my very first response to Serena Williams' note on Facebook regarding police violence was one of surprise that her grammar game was not as on point as her serve. But that was fleeting, especially when you consider that the lack of gloss on this statement reflects the emotion with which it was written.
Serena's concerns about her nephew and the police is coming from the mouth (phone) of a woman who has represented the United States five times at the Olympics and numerous Fed Cup ties. But she's an athlete and we like our athletes to keep their noses out of social commentary and into their profession. This is why people are losing their damn mind over Colin Kaepernick, and they will grumble about Serena as well, should she keep her promise: "I won't be silent."
Here's the thing about the Kaepernick situation that just gets under my skin (pun kind of intended). Kaepernick goes to a football game and kneels during the national anthem. Many people ask him why, and he tells them. And instead of talking about the thing that's bothering him, they talk about respecting the flag, and the anthem.
The flag is a symbol. It is multicolored fabric. It doesn't have feelings. When a quarterback doesn't salute the flag, the flag doesn't start crying. So let's not worry about the flag so much.
The national anthem is a beautiful song. A lot of people think it's too complicated and the range ridiculous, but I like it. I wish I could sing it better. The anthem is full of words that bring to mind vivid imagery of war and the reward for being the last one standing. The national anthem, which is called “The Star-Spangled Banner” and is derived from a poem written by Francis Scott Key, actually has four verses. Here is the third verse:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Not so pretty anymore. So I'm not really worried about the feelings of the national anthem, either.
A lot of people are saying, essentially, “OK, sure, I guess you have a point, but this is not the time or the place.” This is another way of saying, “Athlete, shut up.” Because if anyone really thinks that this country is going to set a time to talk about what's happening in this country, well, they'd be waiting a long time.
The fact is that athletes are held in high regard in this country, rightly or wrongly. We make exceptions for them all through their academic careers so they can keep their eyes on the (Heisman) prize. Last year, on a college campus, a student activist went on a hunger strike to protest perceived racism, and he barely registered on the life radar. The football team on that same campus told the administration they would not take the field until these concerns were addressed and heads rolled immediately. That's how important we make our athletes.

But when they have something to say, and they're aggressive about it, we've got big problems, don't we? All of a sudden Kaepernick is weak and ineffectual AND he's a jerk. He's saying the right thing at the wrong time. But there will never be a right time. I hate going to the dentist. But if I don't go, my teeth will rot right out of my mouth. For me, there is no right time to go to the dentist. There will never be a right time for the hard work our country has to do. But athletes, though? They roll out of bed at 5 a.m., and they probably hate every second of it. They work hard and often to be the best athletes they can be. Five o'clock in the morning is not the right time for them to get to work, I would imagine. But they do it.
In that way, the likes of Serena Williams and Colin Kaepernick are more prepared to start this conversation than we are.

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