my intentional protests

On Friday, September 22, 2017, President Donald Trump spoke at a Huntsville, Alabama, campaign rally, ostensibly to support U.S. Senator-appointee pro tem Luther Strange, embroiled in a tight runoff election race to succeed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Trump, already America’s Tweeter-in-Chief, at all hours freely firing off 140-character (in my view, insubstantial, thus, misfired) commentaries on matters great and varied, has fast become our national and self-styled Riffer-in-Chief known for his impromptu reflections on current events. At that rally, Mr. Trump offered this unscripted appraisal: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL[1] owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired! He’s fired!’?”[2]

The reactions to the president’s comments have been swift and divergent. Senator Strange, surely speaking for many, said, “Our supporters are very deeply patriotic, they respect the values that the president represents and what he stood for at that rally…I think it was well received, I couldn’t agree with the president more.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and others rebuked the president’s remarks as “divisive” and reaffirmed the rights of players to exercise free speech. At a number of yesterday’s NFL games, during the playing of the national anthem, many players knelt or locked arms and, in one or two cases, remained in the locker rooms, taking the field later.

Unsurprisingly and, for me, sadly, given, I think, our now über-polarized and politicized social climate, the attending issues have been amassed and molded, that is, misshapen and shrunken to a contest between patriotism and protest. These and all matters are complex and, I believe, incapable of being confined to, verily, defined by an either-or calculus.

All this said, I offer a couple of left-field, that is, off-the-point-of-the-raging-debate observations…

Though I disagree with much of Mr. Trump’s allegations of “fake news” and though I recognize that every news account or narrative has an inherent social slant and political perspective, I protest inaccuracy in reporting. Yesterday morning, listening to NPR,[3] Weekend Edition Sunday host Lulu Garcia-Navarro, in conversation with reporter Mara Liasson, said, “Let’s talk about football…following up on (President Trump’s) remarks calling NFL athletes to be fired for protesting racism during the national anthem…”[4] No. Mr. Trump criticized the demonstrations by athletes as unpatriotic acts of disrespect for flag and country. Whether I agree or disagree with Mr. Trump (or anyone!), I desire, in this case, his point to be reported correctly.

During the Alabama rally speech, Mr. Trump also opined on the NFL’s declining popularity owing to changes in the rules to promote player safety, which lessen the physical contact desired by the players and the fans.[5] Perhaps for some, but, for me, no. My decreased attention to the NFL[6] has to do with my protest against what I believe to be the League’s less than consistent, verily, far short of just efforts to address, among a number of issues, (1) domestic violence allegations against (indeed, acts of) players and other violations of personal conduct policies, (2) player safety concerns, particularly related to longstanding and irreversible post-career physical and mental deterioration, and (3) racial inequities in team ownership and upper echelon management positions.

 

Footnotes:

[1] National Football League

[2] Last year, Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem, saying, in part: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick’s protest encouraged other athletes across the professional and amateur spectrums of sport to perform similar acts to illumine the disparity between our nation’s constitutional pledges of equality and characteriological practice of inequality. I wrote about Kaepernick’s protest in previous blog posts: September 3, 2016, The Star-Spangled battle? and September 30, 2016, where I stand on sitting & kneeling.

[3] National Public Radio

[4] My emphasis

[5] On this point, Mr. Trump said, in part: “…The NFL ratings are down massively…Because you know today if you hit too hard, fifteen yards (penalty)! Throw (the player) out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys (involved in) just (a) really beautiful tackle. Boom! Fifteen yards!…They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what (the players) want to do. They want to hit! It is hurting the game…”

[6] I have not watched an entire NFL game since early fall 2014, coinciding with the League’s mishandling of the domestic violence case against Ray Rice, a former Baltimore Ravens player. (See my previous blog posts: September 8, 2014, the (p)rice is wrong and September 10, 2014, relationships – reason & irrationality)

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relationships – reason & irrationality

In the immediate aftermath of the Ray Rice imbroglio, one of the predominant questions popping up on social media, in newspaper op-ed commentaries, in casual conversations among friends and co-workers, in the offices of mental health professionals, social workers, and other caregivers, stated in so many words and depending on the speaker, with tones (whether accented or muted) of incredulity, is this: How could Janay Rice (née Palmer) rise so swiftly to the defense of her abusive husband, even to the point of offering an apology for her part in their altercation in which she was knocked unconscious?

In August, the shooting and killing of Michael Brown sparked afresh public conflagrations about race. In that same month, the death of actor Robin Williams stirred anew communal conversations about mental illness. So, now, widespread renewed considerations about domestic violence. As with race and mental illness, domestic violence is a labyrinthine area of human existence, in its native complexity heedless of our desire, our need for facile answers or simple solutions.

That said, nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry, listening with care to the chapters and verses of the life stories of now countless folk, and over 20 years of personal labor with competent and compassionate therapists, I have discerned for myself a simply-stated answer to a simply-stated question (both confessedly laden with inherent complications beyond the telling and layered with density that makes no ready room for the elucidation of comprehension).

Question: Why do people remain together in relationship?

Answer: Their primary needs are being met.

Some of our human needs, our fundamental desires and drives, both healthy and life-giving and unhealthy and soul-stealing, are conscious. Most, I daresay, at least in my experience of and learning about myself, are unconscious. But whatever they are, I believe that we are beholden and bound to those who fulfill them, which, in the most general way, may begin to scratch the bare surface of explaining why Mrs. Rice can and will defend Mr. Rice to the nth degree.

the (p)rice is wrong

Today, TMZ released the video of Ray Rice’s attack on his then fiancé, now wife, Janay Palmer, rendering her unconscious. The reaction was swift – if, indeed, swift can be an appropriate term given the passage of months since the February altercation.

At the time of the incident, both Mr. Rice and Ms. Palmer were arrested and charged with simple assault. They were released and the charges against Ms. Palmer dropped. Subsequently, Mr. Rice was indicted on aggravated assault charges. Then, rejecting a plea deal, he applied for and was granted entry into an intervention program, thereby avoiding trial. Later, he, a star running back for the National Football League’s Baltimore Ravens, was suspended for the first two regular season games. A public outcry ensued, eventually leading to the NFL’s promulgation of a sterner domestic violence policy.

Then, the video. Within spare hours of its airing, the Ravens voided Mr. Rice’s contract and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.

I do not condemn Mr. Rice as a person, a fellow human being. I have not the power and authority or the honesty and humility to render fair judgment on the state of the health of his soul.

I do denounce his act of brutality and the contextual circumstances – a high-profile, mega-billion dollar professional sport predicated on the enactment for expressed purposes of entertainment of so-called controlled mayhem and our national, global obsession with money and celebrity that encourages the fabrication of indulgent rules and their unequal application depending on the magnitude of the stardom of the offender – that, in combination, for the greater part of a year, seemed to promote the condoning of the unconscionable.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, annually an estimated 1.3 million women, numbering 85% of all domestic violence victims, suffer physical assault by an intimate partner, historically women often are abused by those known to them, and a preponderance of domestic violence cases never are reported to legal authorities.

“If the Ray Rice case,” one news commentator energetically declared, “makes us all more mindful of the problem of domestic violence, then this will have served a purpose.” Though almost too predictably tepid a response, I agree.

Still, as the societal price of ignoring domestic violence is, has been, and remains a cost far too great to bear, I, one who is as influenced as Mr. Rice by our cultural trends toward excess and limited personal accountability, am given to examine my soul to search out, seeking to identify and quell, whatever propensities I have for any form of abusive behavior. If I henceforth daily follow through on my intention, then the Ray Rice case will have served a good and personal purpose.