It’s time to close the Great NFL Divide.
On Sunday I was in attendance when the Ravens took on the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. There was a buzz in the air – the excitement of taking in a game on foreign soil and meeting Europeans from all over the continent who had a rooting interest in the game.
It was different than any game I’ve ever experienced and as I stood for the playing of our national anthem, with my hat proudly fixed atop my heart, I hung on every syllable sung beautifully by Noah Stewart. My eyes glistened with tears of joy, the byproduct of pride for my country and the many blessings bestowed upon me by so many others who enabled this unforgettable moment.
I stared at the colors of our flag as it hung from the rafters of Wembley.
And I smiled.
But the smile didn’t last long.
Shortly after the playing of the UK’s national anthem, “God Save The Queen”, I started receiving text messages from friends back in the States who were outraged by several Ravens taking a knee during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, something I failed to notice from my seat.
The mood changed dramatically, and the Ravens did nothing on the field to reverse the rapidly sinking feeling. All that seemed so magical just moments before was gone with a communal bend of the knee.
The protests were heard loud and clear. The game suddenly seemed unimportant. The division of a nation took precedent.
We can rationally debate the merits of the protest, but we seemingly prefer to argue irrationally.
The purpose of any protest is to call attention to something that an individual or group takes exception to. To this extent, the protests across the NFL were successful. But once the attention is achieved and issue at hand is defined and brought to the forefront, the goal should be to resolve differences – to see something through the eyes of an adversary in order to realize an acceptable compromise that benefits all parties.
Unfortunately, at least for the moment, the protests have exacerbated the issues and the divisiveness is more pronounced. Both sides are throwing fuel on the fire, lost in the cause instead of defining solutions.
This is a time when leaders on both sides need to lead. They need to step up for the greater good and seek solutions, together. Stubbornness or escalation of commitment won’t get us there. Isn’t that already obvious?
Football is a game we all love. It’s a pastime – an opportunity to forget about the things that trouble us for 3 hours on a Sunday. It is an opportunity to come together as one for something that we, as a community, have in common.
I remember when the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV and the celebrations that followed in Baltimore. “Our” team won and we rejoiced like nobody’s business – TOGETHER! It was reported that during that celebratory night on January 28, 2001 that only one arrest was made in the city of Baltimore. ONE! A misdemeanor.
That’s what sports teams can do. They can galvanize a community. And those teams are enabled by the freedoms we enjoy as American citizens – freedoms symbolized by our flag.
We’ve overcome bigger issues in the past.
Let’s not let foolish pride stand in our way.
Together we can fix this.
We owe that to those who sacrificed so much for their country.