I saw an article on the Bing homepage about a player on the Washington Capitals speaking out and calling President Trump a racist. It got me to thinking about the nature of protests by well-paid professional athletes, and what they put at risk in today’s culture by bravely standing up to protest issues on the field.
This sort of thing has been going on for years, of course. Particularly and lately in the NFL.
President Trump has made quite a lot of political hay on the issue. I think he tapped a populist vein prior to the election that helped him win, but I also think he has continued to flog the issue long past its usefulness. On the other hand, for various reasons – chief among them TV ratings and the money that comes with them – the issue refuses to go away.
The NFL recently implemented a rule requiring players on the field to stand for the national anthem. Any players who do not wish to stand for the anthem can stay in the locker room without penalty or risk.
The one thing I’m sure of is that the beginning of the football season will NOT go smoothly.
This morning on the way to work, I remembered a movie from the 80s that seems relevant to the macro issue of professional athletes and protest.
The movie was called Amazing Grace and Chuck, and it came out in 1987.
I fear I may give away a lot of the plot here, so be warned; conversely, the movie is over thirty years old, so the statute of limitations has clearly expired on spoilers, shut up.
The main character is a Little League pitcher from Montana named Chuck. In the first act he and his class tour a missile silo and learn that nuclear annihilation is just as far away as the press of a button. A couple bad dreams later and he decides he cannot abide the global peril in silence.
As a form of protest, Chuck walks off his Little League diamond. He vows not to play baseball again until there are no nukes left on Earth. This becomes a scandal of sorts and attracts the interest of the local TV news outlet. In the pre-internet era, Chuck’s story goes viral, and reaches a professional basketball player named “Amazing” Grace Smith.
Grace follows suit, walking away from his team in protest of nuclear proliferation. He moves from Boston to Montana to support Chuck. The news of a professional athlete at the top of his game leaving his team to protest sends shockwaves through the professional sports world. Several athletes from other sports follow Chuck and Grace’s example.
Grace buys a barn and the athletes start renovating it as residence.
Things don’t go so well for Chuck and his family at home. Many of their neighbors turn on them, and Chuck’s father blames him.
Grace, through his agent, gets the bulk of the media attention as the voice of the protest, but the story is really about a resolute little boy and his wish for a better world.
There are mustache-twirling villains, of course, secretive war profiteers who like things just the way they are. And as more athletes and more importantly, MORE CHILDREN begin to make visible sacrifices for this cause, these villains decide that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.
When that tragedy strikes, Chuck and the rest of America are devastated. Chuck decides it is time to go one step further, and by doing so he sends a shockwave across the civilized world and changes the stakes completely.
I’ll leave the resolution to you, the audience, to find for yourselves. Even I draw the line at spoiling the ending.
But the point I wish to make about this admittedly fantastical movie is important:
Look at what the athletes in this story were willing to give up for their cause.
They sacrificed their fame, their talent, and their LIVELIHOODS to speak their protest.
Colin Kaepernick appears to be suing the NFL for collusion to GET BACK ON THE FIELD, TO CONTINUE GETTING PAID.
Now, he may be doing so because he simply failed to predict the real consequences of what he chose to do. But he has said that he will continue to protest if he is signed by another team. This tactic seems calculated to advance the man and not the cause. It makes me want to question which is more important to him.
On the other hand, perhaps it is possible that in real life, unlike the movies, anyone really can be replaced.
And maybe today’s professional athletes aren’t emotionally prepared to accept that.