Sunday, September 16, 2018

Here We Go Again...

You can set your clock by it: the kids back in school, the days getting noticably shorter, and Aaron Rodgers having his way with the Chicago Bears' defense can only mean one thing. It's that time of year again when our president gets to fire up his base by knocking the National Football League.

It's been a particularly bad stretch for this presidency, and that's really saying something. In the past month, both the former attorney and now the former campaign manager of the current president plead guilty to crimes in exchange for cooperating with the special counsel to lessen their time in the pokey. It is widely believed that both have incriminating evidence against the president and the people around him. During that same period, this president's lack of fitness for his job has been brought to the public's attention by two major publications. And at this writing, as a major hurricane is bearing down upon the Carolinas, the president is being pilloried for claiming his response to two devastating hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico last year was an "unsung success", denying credible estimations of the death toll from the natural disasters by saying those people would have died anyway.

Given all that, Donald Trump right now must be thanking his lucky stars for the return of football, and especially that a handful of NFL players continue to kneel for the national anthem. And what must seem like manna from heaven to him, the athletic apparel company Nike, has chosen none other than Colin Kaepernick, the first NFL player to take a knee in protest over racial injustice in this country, as their spokesperson.

You didn't need to be clairvoyant last week to predict the reaction of some Americans after the first Nike/Kaepernick commercials were released. The skies were lit up all over this great nation of ours by bonfires fueled by Nike products, burned by consumers who were offended that a major company would dare to support a man who expressed an opinion they did not like.

Cries of "how could a company like that be so foolish" and "boycott Nike", could be heard all across the country from ultra-right-wing individuals to the president himself who believed that Nike was making a perilous gamble by taking sides against them.

Here's what the tweeter-in-chief had to say via his favorite medium of expression:
Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN (sic), Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way? As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!
In Donald Trump's world, his war against the NFL serves at least two purposes. First as I mentioned, it is a convenient distraction from his current problems. But perhaps the main purpose is a personal vendetta, as the president has had a long adversarial relationship with the league. In the eighties he desperately wanted to own an NFL team, but was thwarted every step of the way by team owners and then commissioner Pete Roselle. So he aligned himself with the fledgling United States Football League, by purchasing the USFL New Jersey Generals. After a year and over much trepedation from other team owners, Trump convinced the league to compete head-to-head with the premier football league by playing their games in the fall as the NFL did. Needless to say, that didn't work out too well for the up-and-coming league as they could not get a network contract to televise their games at the same time as NFL games. Never fear said Trump to the league, we will sue the NFL and the networks for violating federal anti-trust laws.

It turns out that the USFL had a very good case, so much so, they convinced a New York jury that the NFL was indeed a monopoly in violation of the law. But according to Jeff Pearlman, author of the book Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL, the plaintiff's main witness was Trump, whose atrocious behavior in the courtroom, from his pompous self-aggrandizing testimony to his bullying and intimidating the jury and other witnesses, didn't go over so well with the jury. In the end they ruled in favor of the USFL, but instead of the 1.7 billion dollars in damages the plaintiffs asked for, the jury awarded the USFL one dollar. As the verdict was read and the settlement announced, the owner of the NFL New York Giants pulled a dollar bill out of his wallet and handed it to a stunned Trump.

After the verdict was delivered, the USFL who depended upon the settlement money to stay afloat, would never play another game. Many placed the blame for the devastating results of the trial which led to the demise of the league, directly on the shoulders of one Donald J. Trump. 

Ah but that's all in the past, and I'm sure Trump has put it all behind him, (wink wink, nudge nudge). What's in the present is Trump's convenient manipulation of an obsessive concern of some, with a handful of athletes not standing for the national anthem. It's an issue at all because some people feel the act is disrespectful to our nation and the men and women who serve in the armed forces. It is a perfectly valid opinion I suppose, as no opinion can either be right or wrong. But it is a flawed opinion nonetheless, as the players themselves have emphatically denied that they have any intent of disrespecting the nation and those in its service. There is simply no good reason not to take their word for it. The players are backed up by a number of service men and women who believe that they risked their own lives in service to defend democracy and freedom, including freedom of expression, not the will of a some president to decide what is patriotic and what is not.

In case you're thinking I'm some no-good-pinko-libtard-snowflake who doesn't respect God, country and mom's apple pie because I don't have a problem with professional athletes making a political statement by not standing for the Star Spangled Banner, let me share something with you. My father was an immigrant who loved this country more than words could articulate. He was not a religious man, but he considered the solemnity of the national anthem of any country to be as sacred as anything could me. During the thousands of sporting events we shared together, back in the days before television sold the air time devoted to the anthem to advertisers, I distinctly remember him critiquing athletes' anthem demeanor.  He singled out every athlete who did not stand perfectly still with his eyes focused like a laser upon the flag during the anthem. If an athlete no matter the team, did so much as chew a piece of gum during the song, he was forever on my dad's shit list. He was just as critical of the fans in the stands if he felt they did not give the playing of the anthem the gravitas it deserved.

As I grew older, I became weary of my father's unrelenting devotion to this country. Despite our many intense argruments over this country not being perfect however, I never lost respect for the playing of the anthem(s) as it was ingrained in me from a very early age.

I'll never forget the last Chicago Blackhawks hockey game my father and I attended together. By that time in the early eighties, neither of us had been to a game for several years. Much to my chagrin, a handful of drunk, rowdy fans began cheering and yelling obscenities at the visiting team during the playing of the anthem. Finally my dad and I could find something to agree upon, those "hockey fans" were unequivocally guilty of disrespecting the game, the anthem and the flag.

Well it so happened that the vulgar chants of a handful of drunken louts during the anthem caught on with a critical mass and eventually the sound of every fan screaming his or her head off during the national anthem became a cherished tradition at Chicago Blackhawks home games. The team even promotes the response to the anthem in its ads as an essential part of the Blackhawk experience. Whatever you think of the fans' reaction to the anthem at the "Madhouse on Madison", clearly this tradition is all about rooting for a team and has nothing to do with what the presenting of the colors and the playing of the anthem is all about. Granted there are folks, generally fans of the visiting team, who object to this clear violation of anthem and flag etiquette, but those people are generally dismissed as fuddy-duddy stuffed-shirted St. Louis Blues fans with a serious case of sour grapes. 

But if the president were really concerned about people not giving the anthem the respect it deserves, he could make a serious case for directing his ire at Blackhawk fans and the team who supports and even encourages their behavior.

Instead he focuses on a handful of athletes who quietly and respectfully kneel instead of stand during the anthem in support of what they believe is a serious and worthwhile cause.

Why the disconnect?

Could it be that virtually every fan screaming his or her lungs out at Blackhawks games is white and virtually every athlete taking a knee at NFL games is black? You can believe anything you want but to me the answer is pretty clear.

What about the president's other assertion that "Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts"? Well it turns out that he's dead wrong on that. While Nike stock took a slight dip right after the announcement of their new spokesperson, sales of Nike products have gone through the roof since then. As for Nike stock today, well let me just say the title of this article from yesterday says it all:
Nike stock price reaches all-time high after Colin Kaepernick ad.
This should come as a surprise to no one, especially Donald Trump who won the presidency betting on this one simple assumption: "there is no such thing as bad publicity."

Nike did not become a fabulously successful corporation (far more lucrative than the NFL for example), by making unsound business decisions. They no doubt had their marketing research people work overtime on this one, weighing the pros and cons of taking such a stance. It may have been a gamble, but it turns out it was a safe one.

They produced an inspiring epic commercial (which you can see if you follow the link above) featuring Kaepernick's voice-over describing several against-the-odds real life success stories, concluding with the former football player uttering the line: "Believe in something, even if it means losing everything."

Critics on the right have mocked Kaepernick's "sacrifice", i.e.: his willingness to give up his football career by making a stand for a cause he believes in, saying that sacrifice pales in comparison to the sacrifice of our military personnel. Perhaps that's true but then again, ANY sacrifice pales in comparison to that one. My question in return is this, how many individuals would willingly give up something they hold dear, dreamed about since childhood, and worked hard their entire lives to achieve, in order to help benefit the lives of others?

Yes, Kaepernick did sacrifice a great deal, including donating millions of his own dollars to causes for social justice. I understand why folks might disagree with his methods, but for the life of me can't understand why anyone would question Colin Kaepernick's sincerity or his character.

That said, I'm not going to run out and buy Nike gear anytime soon. While I personally agree with the cause, I also believe that the bottom line for the company aligning themselves with Kaepernick is to sell shoes. Not that I have a problem with that, but Nike has its own issues with human rights in its use of sweatshops in third world countries that manufacture its products, but that's a complicated story for another day.

What I do find encouraging in Nike's choice of Kaepernick is that it is a positive bellwether for the future of this country. By choosing to support the cause of racial justice, Nike's highly paid market research team has determined that by supporting decency and tolerance, there is no credible future for hatred and racism in this country. After all, Nike's consumers are overwhelmingly young people, in other words, the future. Despite all the grumblings of Donald Trump and his base that Nike was making a huge mistake by alienating them, sales of shoes and record stock prices have proven otherwise.

Nike's thorough reasearch tells us that the future of America is diversity, not the Make America Great Again through white hegemony that Trump's base so longs for. 

As far as the future goes, Nike, putting their money where their mouth is, is telling us that Trump and his base are irrelevant.

So maybe it's possible that Donald Trump won't destroy this country after all, like he destroyed the USFL.

To that all I can say is Thank God.

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