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Footballers shun ‘correctness’ and build ideas to fill the gap

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By John Bartlit

“Political correctness”(“P.C.”) is an infection that eats away the vitality of our democracy. The ills have spread far. Symptoms get worse while being ignored.

A debate today about the national harms of political correctness is a debate between two afflicted organs – P.C. in the camp of the left and P.C. in the camp of the right.

The habits of P.C. weaken discourse, which if left to fester, kills ideas. The two parties and their boosters talk less than before about policy work in Congress. Instead of crafting policy, more skills go into heckling the enemy party and its bad breed of supporters. Our times have lapsed into a rite of political correctness.

The top news fare pulls P.C. camps toward the far poles. But, look twice. See ideas find other ideas to fill the gap between the poles. Stay alert to signs of both.

Exhibit A: football players kneeling during the singing of the national anthem. There began a string of stories. In 2016, a mixed-race quarterback in the National Football League began kneeling during the national anthem to protest some facet(s) of race relations, as he saw it, in the U.S. The action drew some support and more players took similar steps.

Fans took sides for and against.

Interest jumped last fall when President Trump protested the protests for disrespecting the flag and the Republic for which it stands. Before you could say Jack Robinson, the issue became a contest pitting “left” vs. “right” on “correct” forms of civil protest, all of which are well protected by the Constitution.

Few guessed how fate would figure in. Of all sports, football calls for the closest teamwork among the largest numbers of specialists. To win, a football team needs a blend of skilled throwers, catchers, ball carriers, kickers, plus a team of experts at disrupting set plays, plus a line of experts at blocking would-be disrupters.

That is one huge balancing act at work.

Co-workers, such as footballers, always have more than one idea among them and a slew of opinions on how things should be done. Except that football players face the most demanding Catch-22: The quintessential lesson taught in their sport is teamwork.

Constraints tighten. Players’ teammates are black, white, Hispanic, Samoan, “other” and mixtures of these. Teammates are Democrats, Republicans and military veterans. Protests are about facets of racism, citizens’ rights and/or patriotism.

Considerations abound.

How can respect be shown for teammates, for teammates’ rights, for teammates’ opinions, for the flag and for the Republic for which it stands? Kneeling or not kneeling may make a point or two, but many more points are ignored in the process.

The means the footballers found to express an array of opinions on many issues is a testament to invention. Players took differing stances: kneeling, sitting, standing, raising arms with or without clenching a fist, linking arms, linking arms joined with police and other first responders, hands over hearts, heads high, heads bowed, standing shoulder to shoulder, hands on shoulders, standing up with a hand on a shoulder of the kneeling, staying in the locker room for the anthem, and standing tall and alone where the tunnel enters the field, with hand on heart. The latter player was Hispanic and a veteran of three tours of duty in Afghanistan.

These were their judgments, with many shades of meaning other than the left and right P.C. The options conceived were far broader than come about through party-based correctness.

As with all political discourse, not every fact involved can be told in the space of this reading. The truth that is profoundly clear is that a dozen new ideas easily fit between the “correct” choices to “kneel” (on the left) or “don’t kneel” (on the right).

Of most value, the teams’ visuals show the prize being risked: Our nation risks losing the sums of graduated ideas that are produced out of citizen involvement, wide-ranging views, team structure, and a broad exchange of input.
Parties shrink policy options to polar opposites. Party boosters learn the habit.

In contrast, the symbolic speeches began with kneeling and grew from there to create a broad spectrum of visual opinions. In the turmoil that grew, the strongest point is passed over.

Look again, friends. The kneeling started up a crowded train of increasingly complex thought about a mix of intertwined issues. Discourse began. Players worked out ideas. 

And that is a potent metaphor for the restoring virtue of democracy itself.