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The NFL and national anthem: Can racial justice go beyond 'us vs. them' mentality?

The NFL and national anthem: Can racial justice go beyond 'us vs. them' mentality?

The NFL kicked off this month in full force — without any fans in the stands. That isn’t the only difference in professional football in 2020, though. The protests against racial injustice and systemic racism have overlapped in the pre-game tradition of the playing of the national anthem.

Courtesy of SD Rock/Nathan Maselli

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick first knelt to demonstrate awareness and protest against police brutality against the Black community. Though he wasn’t fined or removed from the league despite rules against not standing during the national anthem before NFL games, there was a lot of pushback from many people, including those in the NFL, about whether or not it was right of Kaepernick to kneel during the song.

Now, four years later, in the wake of racial unrest in our country, NFL teams are taking various actions during the national anthem. According to one NBC article, some players are kneeling, some are standing, and some teams are even staying in the locker room during the two anthems. The NFL decided to also play what is traditionally known as the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before the “Star Spangled Banner.”

It’s interesting to see all the choices that can be made in regards to this scenario. To many who are kneeling, you’re against those who are standing, or you’re supposedly anti-American flag. If you’re staying in the locker room, you’re disrespectful to those who have fought for our freedoms. If you’re standing, you’re a racist. If you make one choice, you’re against the other side. It’s a perfect example of an “us vs. them” mentality.

Let me ask this: Who would win in a battle between a bear and an alligator? It depends. What matters is where the fight takes place. If it’s in the water, the alligator wins. If it’s on land, the bear wins. It’s an us vs. them battle. That’s what we see on television, in the news articles, in social media — I have to win, you have to lose. I have to be right, you have to be wrong.

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That’s why starting the conversation about racial injustice is imperative, and I think that’s what a lot of these NFL players are doing — creating dialogue. However, it needs to be a healthy dialogue. That’s why I wrote The Third Option, to create a space for all ethnicities to learn and grow and begin to hear each other’s struggles so we can move past surface indifferences to depth of understanding.

The goal of the content, whether going through it individually, in a Bible study, or with a business, is to help me love better. Not just my friends or the people I get along with, but even, and especially, the people who don’t agree with me. Part of loving people who don’t agree with me is bearing their burdens. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  If I don’t understand and believe that you have a burden, I think that you’re making it up. This is apparently what some White individuals think about racism in society today.

We have to come to a place where we are willing to not only talk about our opinions and what we think, but to actually listen to others. We need to hear what burdens they’re facing, and even help them bear those burdens, like the Bible says.

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During the summer, one of the NFL teams read The Third Option and did a book club to discuss the topics at the end of each chapter. This book is not only about the Church, but how the Church needs to lead and be a good example. The most segregated day of the week is Sunday. That needs to change. Like the bear, the Church needs to fight this battle where WE can win. Not simply to be “right” but to expand the kingdom of God.

If we want to see transformation in society, it starts in our own hearts. When we honor what we have in common, change can take place.

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Miles McPherson is the Senior Pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego. He is also a motivational speaker and author. McPherson's latest book “The Third Option” speaks out about the pervasive racial divisions in today’s culture and argues that we must learn to see people not by the color of their skin, but as God sees them—humans created in the image of God.

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