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Take a Knee for Humanity

The Dallas Cowboys, "America's Team," led by owner Jerry Jones, far right, take a knee prior to the national anthem before their game against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday in Glendale, Ariz. (Matt York / AP)

Once upon a time, sports fans enjoyed sports for the sports. The games were entertainment, a diversion from the politics of the day. The tradition goes back to the Roman empire when the government pacified the Roman people with “bread and circuses,” free food and huge spectacles in the Colosseum such as gladiator fights.

Professional sports leagues like the NFL are the gladiator fights of our day. But good luck keeping politics out of sports anymore. Either by design or incompetence (perhaps both), Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, has brought sports into politics. During a speech in Alabama on Friday, he called for NFL players to be fired for peacefully protesting social injustice by not standing for the national anthem and referred to every NFL player-protester as a “son of a bitch.” Peaceful protest is an American right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Whether protest can be done in the workplace is up for debate, but Trump doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on his incendiary rhetoric all weekend.

Maybe Trump believes his “racialized venom” is all about honoring the flag. Maybe the advisers in his administration do, too. Or maybe all the divisive talk is just dog-whistle code for his civil rights-loving followers who pine for the good old days of the Confederacy, George Wallace’s governance and Robert E. Lee’s leadership. Whatever the rationalization, Trump has it all wrong, and his outburst has fired up the sports world in an unprecedented way.

On Sunday, Trump’s criticisms incited more protests from NFL players, past NFL players, non-NFL players, team owners, broadcasters and former Trump supporters (see: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former NFL coach turned ESPN analyst Rex Ryan). As ESPN NFL commentator Charles Woodson put it: “This is choose-your-side Sunday. It really is. And what side are you on?”

Are you for or against racism, social injustice, mass incarceration, police murder with impunity, militarism, unmanned drone killings of innocent women and children, nuclear war?

Do you want to be on the right side or wrong side of history?

Now is the time for athletes—and anyone in a position of power in sports—to push back against all the injustices in, of and by the United States. Sports cut across demographics. They bring people of all colors, creed, religions and political parties together. Sports are the greatest unifier in our country. The sports world showed its solidarity in pushing back against Trump.

Now, the sports world needs to continue its resistance. With “Take a Knee,” athletes can do more than just protest social injustice. They can create an anti-war movement. Professional athletes have the platform, money and power to take a stand against war and lead a true global peace movement for humanity. Professional athletes know how to band together to work toward a common goal. Ending the threat of nuclear annihilation should be the biggest cause of their lifetimes.

The English playwright Harold Pinter put this threat in perspective with a brilliant speech after winning the 2005 Nobel Prize in literature:

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as “full spectrum dominance.” That is not my term, it is theirs. “Full spectrum dominance” means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity—the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons—is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government’s actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force—yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

We now have the opportunity to be a coherent political force for peace. We cannot wait for any politicians to lead us to this promised land. It is up to the people, and no one can rally the people better than professional athletes.

The “Take a Knee” protest is not showing disrespect to America. It is taking a stand for what America should represent: equality, justice and peace for all. The “Take a Knee” protest should continue today, next Sunday, and every day, at every sporting event, until we have a world based on mutual respect, cooperation and peace. Taking a knee represents a clarion call for humanity. The action can lead to greater political actions: anti-war legislation, disarmament acts, peace treaties. Anyone can participate, and all are welcome to be a force for good for our planet.

You may want to keep politics out sports, but sports are political. “Just as there are politics of work, politics of education, politics of food, politics of geography and beyond, politics are entangled with sports at every level—who you play with, where you play, who you get to play for, if you get to play at all, and so on,” explains Jason Gay in The Wall Street Journal. “At the highest and even not-so-high levels, the overtly political mechanics of power and labor are fully present—not to mention vivid matters of race, gender and the occasional bursts of nationalism.”

Trump has awakened a sleeping giant and presented a great opportunity—not just for the sports world, but for the whole world. This moment is bigger than any game, any player or any team. This moment is bigger than any song, league or president. The fate of humanity is at stake.

Bernie Sanders, the most popular politician in America, said as much last week when he gave a speech at Westminster College that outlined his vision for a new progressive U.S. foreign policy:

In my view, the United States must seek partnerships not just between governments, but between peoples. A sensible and effective foreign policy recognizes that our safety and welfare is bound up with the safety and welfare of others around the world, with “all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands,” as [Winston] Churchill said … 70 years ago.

In my view, every person on this planet shares a common humanity. We all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink clean water and breathe clean air, and to live in peace. That’s what being human is about.

Our job is to build on that common humanity and do everything that we can to oppose all of the forces, whether unaccountable government power or unaccountable corporate power, who try to divide us up and set us against each other. As Eleanor Roosevelt reminded us, “The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.”

On Monday, according to Reuter’s Michelle Nichols, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, told reporters in New York that recent hostile tweets from Trump amounted to a declaration of war.

This is not a test. Our world is at Defcon 1 because of the United States.

The despotic forces that destroyed ancient Rome and other empires are destroying us. Removing Trump may not halt the disintegration, and some may say achieving world peace is a fairy tale of idealism. But what do we have to lose?

Do you want to live or die?

Pick a side.

Eric Ortiz
Managing Editor
Eric Ortiz is the managing editor of Truthdig. A journalist and innovator with two decades in digital media, Ortiz founded the mobile app startup Evrybit, a live storytelling and reporting tool, as a 2014 John…
Eric Ortiz

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