With each week, we wonder what new crisis we will be facing in the days to come. The subtext is a persistent question: will we be okay as a nation? If we don’t destroy ourselves by division from within, will we face nuclear war with North Korea or will there be another unforeseen conundrum to confront us with real-world implications?
This week’s drama was introduced at a Trump campaign-style rally in Alabama on Friday night. The President’s vitriol was directed at yet another group within the fabric of our society: NFL and NBA players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest treatment of African Americans by police departments around the country. How ironic that these universally peaceful, often dignified protests drew such ire from the President while far more threatening and violent acts in recently in Charlottesville by those professing KKK, white supremacist and Nazi sympathies elicited such a tepid response. The President’s selective indignation is jaw-dropping. Compare his exorcism over the athletes with his silence on the TWO fires set at a mosque in Joplin, Missouri, one attack burning the mosque to the ground. A Quinnipiac poll released this week has more than 50% of Americans saying the President is unfit to serve. And so, I ask again, “will we be okay?”
Players in both the NFL and the NBA are more than 70% black. Whatever the President’s motivation, the optics alone are inflammatory and divisive. Still, he seems to manufacture conflict, insisting on throwing red meat to his base—framing the issue as one of patriotism while eclipsing both the right of free speech among the athletes and the original reason Colin Kaepernick took a knee last year: the seemingly systematic violence against African Americans perpetrated by law enforcement personnel, leading to many deaths, including several children. Will we be okay?
Though my skills have long since faded, in my younger days, I played Varsity sports in high school and Division I intercollegiate athletics. While I was often offended by the frequent anti-social behavior of my peers and the deification of athlete-stars by our country-at-large, I also railed against the premise that athletic prowess and thoughtful political commentary were mutually exclusive. This past weekend, professional athletes dramatically proved my point, taking the lead in prompting a vital national conversation (at considerable risk to their careers—Kaepernick was released by the San Francisco 49ers and has yet to be rehired by another NFL team): community/police relations and the safety of African American young men in our society.
With role models like Lebron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I applaud those who have publicly proclaimed their position. My hope is that the protests yield to dialogue and deeper understanding between law enforcement personnel and the communities they serve. And, it is the beginning of an affirmative answer to the question, “will we be okay?” Yes, I think we will.
A few days after the weekend’s controversy, I had the kick-off of a “book tour” for my recently published narrative, Beyond the Comma, at the Ralph J. Bunche Library in the US State Department. It was a great beginning—a robust and curious crowd, an engaging conversation, excellent logistics—and I was reminded again of the career professionals who labor at the foundation of our nation’s place in the world. Those who organized my event did so with extraordinary skill, sensitivity and care. I am grateful to them and I am deeply encouraged by the example they set.
And so, my answer at week’s end to the question of whether we will be okay is an enthusiastic YES as found in both our newly energized and assertive athletes and in the countless career professionals who toil day in and day out to run the ship of state. We are in good hands and the future is far more hopeful than some would have us believe.