All rise, or not, for the United States of foot­ball

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

Once again, we've got a lot go­ing on in my home­town of

Cleve­land that's at­tract­ing na­tional at­ten­tion.

Even as I write on this Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, the back­ground noise of my tele­vi­sion is mak­ing me dare to be­lieve that our base­ball team is about to make Amer­i­can League his­tory by win­ning its 21st con­sec­u­tive vic­tory.

Shh. I just typed that in a whis­per. I've got no use for jinxes or other crazy su­per­sti­tions ex­cept when it comes to Cleve­land base­ball.

This col­umn isn't about base­ball. It's about Cleve­land Browns foot­ball play­ers, the na­tional an­them and a po­lice union pres­i­dent who has a habit of mak­ing us sound like a town of time trav­el­ers who just ar­rived with a thud from some­where in the 1950s.

First, some his­tory: Last year, now-for­mer San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick protested racial op­pres­sion and in­equal­ity in the United States by sit­ting down dur­ing the na­tional an­them be­fore a pre­sea­son game. In later games, he kneeled when the song was played.

Kaeper­nick re­mains a free agent this sea­son. Ap­par­ently, this is what hap­pens when a black ath­lete dares to ex­er­cise his First Amend­ment rights dur­ing a white guys party.

Un­til Kaeper­nick re­fused to stand for the na­tional an­them, I had no idea so many Amer­i­cans think there is a con­sti­tu­tional ex­emp­tion for black men who play foot­ball. This is es­pe­cially cu­ri­ous when the white Found­ing Fa­thers agreed to set the cen­sus value of a black slave as 60 per­cent of a free per­son. Aaaany­way.

Kaeper­nick is team­less, but his protest lives on. Through­out this pre­sea­son, a num­ber of teams' black play­ers sat or kneeled dur­ing the song. A week af­ter Browns coach Hue Jack­son said “ev­ery­body has a right” to protest but he hoped his team wouldn't do such a thing, about a dozen of his play­ers kneeled.

Most were black, but not all; Browns tight end Seth DeValve joined them.

That got at­ten­tion, in a “what's this white guy think he's do­ing?” kind of way. An in­evitable fas­ci­na­tion, I sup­pose, when so many white Amer­i­cans still want to be­lieve racial in­jus­tice is just black peo­ple's prob­lem.

DeValve said the U.S. is the “great­est coun­try in the world” but equal op­por­tu­nity for all re­mains elu­sive. “I wanted to sup­port my African-Amer­i­can team­mates to­day who wanted to take a knee,” he said. “I my­self will be rais­ing chil­dren that don't look like me, and I want to do my part, as well, to do ev­ery­thing I can to raise them in a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment than we have right now.”

His wife, Erica Har­ris DeValve, is black. In a blog post for The Root, she cau­tioned against mak­ing her hus­band the hero of this story. He's an ally, she in­sisted.

“To cen­ter the fo­cus of Mon­day's demon­stra­tion solely on Seth is to dis­tract from what our real fo­cus should be: lis­ten­ing to the ex­pe­ri­ences and the voices of the black peo­ple who are us­ing their plat­forms to con­tinue to bring the is­sue of racism in the U.S. to the fore­front.”

Our young peo­ple will save us from our­selves, I swear.

Steve Loomis, who is head of the Cleve­land Po­lice Pa­trol­men's As­so­ci­a­tion, was hav­ing none of this. His union mem­bers, he de­clared, would boy­cott the Browns' pregame flag cer­e­mony.

Loomis is white — but in that way that makes a lot of us white peo­ple wince.

Two years ago, Cleve­land was the fo­cus of crit­i­cal na­tional cov­er­age af­ter a white po­lice of­fi­cer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Loomis re­peat­edly de­fended the shoot­ing and char­ac­ter­ized Tamir in in­creas­ingly men­ac­ing terms. At one point, he texted a photo to me of a stu­dent draw­ing, hang­ing in a high­school hall­way, that de­picted a white po­lice of­fi­cer ha­rass­ing a black man sit­ting at a lunch counter. It was ti­tled “Civil Dis­obe­di­ence.”

“Con­nie, this is what we are up against,” Loomis wrote. “The kids should be taught to re­spect el­ders and au­thor­ity not defy it.”

This was dur­ing Black His­tory Month. I called the prin­ci­pal to con­firm the ob­vi­ous: The man in the draw­ing was Martin Luther King Jr.

Last Sun­day, dur­ing pregame cer­e­monies, the Cleve­land I love came through loud and clear. The Browns aired a one-minute video star­ring white and black play­ers and Coach Jack­son. They em­pha­sized their com­mit­ment to jus­tice and their sup­port for the prom­ise of Amer­ica.

Dur­ing the na­tional an­them, Browns play­ers locked arms with law en­force­ment agents and emer­gency work­ers and stood tall and strong.

And then they played foot­ball.

(P.S. The Cleve­land In­di­ans just won game 21. I'm whis­per­ing.)

Con­nie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning colum­nist and pro­fes­sional in res­i­dence at Kent State Univer­sity’s school of jour­nal­ism. She is the au­thor of two books, in­clud­ing “... and His Lovely Wife,” which chron­i­cled the suc­cess­ful race of her hus­band, Sher­rod Brown, for the U.S. Se­nate. To find out more about Con­nie Schultz (con.schultz@ya­hoo.com) and read her past col­umns, please visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate web­page at www.cre­ators.com.

CON­NIE SCHULTZ SYN­DI­CATED COLUM­NIST

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