Here we are, two weeks into the football season, and already the divisive rhetoric has reached a fevered pitch, despite the fact that only a handful of players are still kneeling (only two on one team by one count). What makes this upsetting – the fact that the conversation isn’t about racial inequality, or even 1st Amendment rights – the discussion revolves around whether kneeling during the National Anthem is disrespectful, or if it disrespects veterans, or fallen service members, or if it is actually patriotic – and you know what? We are all missing the point! We have made a mistake, that I warn leaders about regularly. This mistake prevents us from finding meaningful and thoughtful solutions that make our organizations better, and instead has us focused on the pedantic minutia that binds us up and makes it an ad hominem issue that we can attribute to a particular person, or group of people and blame them. The mistake?
We make the interesting important.
While we are mired in debate about a purely symbolic gesture, we don’t begin to work toward solutions on what it symbolizes. More importantly, our preoccupation with the argument has us distracted from other issues that desperately need solutions. We are passionate about an emblematic issue and ignore real issues that affect our entire population – across every race, creed, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic position. For some perspective, here are just a few problems in this country that effect huge amounts of people:
Over 7,000 veterans will commit suicide this year alone
There will be over 10,000 victims of DUIs this year
1 in 3 girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18
1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18
14.5% of Americans live below the poverty line
Over 65,000 Americans will die of a drug overdose this year
There are just a few issues – some that affect more than others. Some that may be more important to us because it has touched our lives directly. However, notice that these statistics don’t say “1 in 3 ‘white’ girls” or “10,000 homosexual victims of DUI”. They are numbers of Americans. Americans that need help.
My point with all these random statistics- we have enough issues in this country to worry about and solve than what we get caught up with in our daily lives. Look at your social media feed and tell me what has dominated the last few days – is it any of the above. I doubt it because these issues aren’t as salacious as others – maybe they don’t sell news. Or maybe they just can’t be argued about, so we don’t talk about them. What we have done is make something that is interesting important – and it may be important- but should it dominate what we focus on with all these other issues?
I am not saying ignore human rights. In fact, I am strongly advocating for them. Instead of worrying about who kneels, let’s worry about how we bring empathy to our communities; instead of worrying about if a veteran feels disrespected, let’s worry about if he or she is thinking about suicide; instead of complaining about the actions of millionaires, let’s worry about how we get people out of poverty. In fact, let’s do more than just worry about it – let us focus on solutions and work toward them. Instead of being outraged by the actions of others, let us act in a good way for others.
So, how do we solve this “kneeling problem” in the NFL – who cares? I would much rather talk about how we solve what it represents – not that police are the problem, or that communities are the problem, but that there are issues on all sides and the sooner we realize empathy the sooner we begin to create communities where we work toward understanding and compromise; the sooner we begin to protect our children, regardless of their color, the sooner we begin to help those that need it.
As Americans, we need to prioritize what is important and stop making the interesting the important. We may need to put our own issues aside temporarily for the good of our Nation. It’s how we are supposed to behave. It’s not easy – it’s not supposed to be – that’s what has made our Nation great – the sacrifice of few for the good of the many. We can accomplish it all together – but separated we will accomplish nothing.
Finally, stop talking about the NFL beyond who wins and losses – let’s focus on football for what it is – a game.
Read this other piece by Army Ranger JC Glick, click here.