What if Ryan Zimmerman took a knee during a national anthem? How would we react? How should we?
Baseball has been immune (to this point) from the national anthem protests that have reached the NBA and NFL. We all know Colin Kaepernick is unemployed because of role in leading these protests — protests against the multitude of unpunished killings of unarmed and/or innocent people of color at the hands of the police. The easy read on this situation is your garden variety “stick to sports” followed by “you’re disrespecting the military/country”, and so far white America has been all too comfortable parroting those lines in an effort to move past this issue. The Black Lives Matter movement has been demonized and put on the level of the KKK and other racists groups as the “other side”. This is bullshit. BLM represents what’s great about America while the racists are what has always been wrong about our great country. Nothing is more American than a simple act of civil disobedience to stand against injustice.
There have always been two sets of rules in America. One for white people and one for everyone else. Slavery begat Jim Crow laws that begat segregation that begat racial profiling. To say nothing of the ethnic cleansing of the native population or the current discrimination against Muslims and immigrants. Athletes that refuse to stand for our national anthem do so because to them, the flag and our country doesn’t stand for them. And they are not alone. Many people of color worry about their safety and the safety of their children in a way white people can’t understand. Because time and time again, black lives are taken without consequence by the very people sworn to protect them. These are the ugly truths many of us turn to sports to forget or to ignore. But Kaepernick has changed that. As more and more athletes kneel, sit, or hold up fists during the Star Spangled Banner, we are forced to deal with their message. Unfortunately, many of us who don’t understand what it’s like to be black in America would rather be offended than listen to and deal with points of view we don’t agree with and don’t want to hear.
But what if a prominent white player took a knee? What if they did during our national pastime? Would they be castigated the same way Kaepernick has been?
The events in Charlottesville and the subsequent response by our president prove that racial inequality is here and isn’t going anywhere — if that wasn’t already obvious. To be racist is to believe that you are superior to someone else because of your color or ethnicity. When a group of people is considered less, it doesn’t matter to some if they don’t get the same rights, the same opportunities, or are more likely to be shot by the cops. To support Black Lives Matter is not to be against the police. It’s about seeing that justice is done no matter who commits the crime. Being a police officer is a very noble and dangerous profession. But police officers are not above the law. If you kill a cop, odds are justice will be served. But if a cop kills you, odds are it won’t. The fact that a majority of America turns a blind eye to these many events is a symptom of a larger problem. Most would rather live in their cocoon than think about what others go through. This apathy is why nothing changes. And it’s why protests like Kaepernick’s are important. They force these issues into the mainstream.
Not standing for the anthem does not mean you’re against this country or its service men and women. It is a celebration of our rights as citizens to be heard. Using the anthem to make a non-verbal, non-violent statement has proven to be an effective way of starting a national conversation, even if some people don’t want to listen. Maybe more people would more open to the debate if the athletes participating were more diverse. Would Zimmerman or Max Scherzer be shunned if he took a knee? Or would it help people look at the issues at hand in a more productive way? Who knows. We may never know. Nothing productive will come as long as people call themselves patriots yet despise acts of patriotism like Kaepernick’s.
The great idea behind this country is to form a “more perfect union”, not that we’re already perfect. When people risk their personal livelihoods to stand for what they think is right, we should at least listen, even if we don’t agree. As long as only black people care about black lives, I’m afraid not much will change.
Baseball has played an outsized role in American culture from the start. If a white baseball player took a knee during the anthem, would it open new eyes? Maybe. Maybe not. If a National was the one to do it, would we turn on him, or would we celebrate his bravery and commitment to social justice?
There’s a lot wrong with America. But there’s a lot right too. Peaceful protests are one of our greatest traditions and embody our constitutional freedoms. Athletes are citizens too. They have the right to an opinion just like the rest of us. While their job is to entertain us, it’s not their only life purpose. My opinion of Kaepernick’s protests have evolved over time, which only makes me wonder what could happen if more than just black athletes stood up against minority oppression, prejudice, and discrimination.
What if Ryan Zimmerman took a knee? It used to be socially unacceptable to be racist, but that veil is falling. Police brutality should be unacceptable too. The only way to get there as a society is for all of us to decide as a country that we are against these sorts of things. We need to demand that all killings be fully investigated and that if a police killing is unjustified, there must be justice for the victim. Racism cannot be tolerated in the police force, the presidency, or anywhere else. But as long as most of don’t care, then it will be. Maybe if Zim took a knee that would change. Maybe not. But I’d sure as hell respect him for taking a stand.Tags: Nationals, Nats, Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals