Conversations by Candlelight: The Athletic Department on Sports Politics

By SAM MATHAI

Sports aren’t always sports. Sometimes, sports are also politics. No time has that been more relevant than now, as America’s famously polite and civil political parties argue over the issue of kneeling during the anthem.

Now, one side of this is almost too easy to pick apart. You could, if you were so inclined, point out that the players obviously are not protesting the national anthem. An equal comparison would be saying that Gandhi was protesting food, or that the Westboro Baptist Church was protesting rainbows. Of course, these ideas are already played out on Twitter and in conversations on campus.

Every week, senior Sam Mathai sits down with a new CC athlete, coach, or trainer and gets intimate about athletics.

But what do people think is ensconced in the comfortable liberal bubble that surrounds Colorado College? I took to the streets to have some conversations. By the streets, I mean the athletic department, of course.

I sat down with someone in the department I knew would have a different take on this whole thing. They weren’t entirely opposed to me referring to them by name here, but I worried that it might be professionally detrimental, so I will call them ‘Suzie’ for now.

Suzie grew up in a slightly different time than most of us. Suzie grew up without social media and without a cell phone. They grew up in a time when, if you wanted to shout your opinion at people, you really had to shout.     

This difference in upbringing, they posit, is one of the reasons why we have such a unique discord in our discourse. You can be as lewd and uncouth as you want to make your point today. Of course, there are advantages to this. With this sense of unfettered freedom of speech comes some truly intriguing dialogue. In the same minute, you can also be exposed to the great minds of our generation comparing the national anthem to “The Monster Mash.” In their defense, the national anthem is typically not a graveyard smash.

Suzie recalls their father, a veteran, who is “mad as hell” at all this. Suzie thinks that in recent years, as wars have become more distant and the Pledge of Allegiance has fallen out of favor, we have lost sight of the purpose of our flag. Certainly this holds a kernel of truth. The Information Age has induced a wider critical distance, allowing us to remove the uncomfortable portions of our national policy abroad. We don’t declare wars; we aren’t rationing our rubber; there is no draft. People die in a desert half a world away. This thread has been pulled into the hairball that is the debate over Kaepernick’s protest.

This narrative, that this protest is inherently disrespectful to those who have fought for the flag, is a popular one. It gets pushed often by people who think they can speak for every veteran. Suzie conceded that their case was only anecdotally true for their dad. They also mentioned that the right to carry out protests like this is exactly why many of our soldiers went to war. In fact, it was a veteran and former NFL player, Nate Boyer, who convinced Kaepernick to take a knee during the anthem instead of sit. It is also important to offer the information that, in interviews, Kaepernick has displayed respect for our servicemen and women.

I don’t think Kaepernick is being disrespectful to the United States or its flag. I think that he is being patriotic, in his own right, by wanting the country to change for the better. Indicting police officers who shoot unarmed people of color should not be this hard, and I think using a national stage to push such a radical agenda should not be so controversial. That, though, is a much wider debate, and I am just a sports columnist (loosely).

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