Anybody who was watching my Kansas City Chiefs beat the Houston Texans Sunday night (we’re 5-0!) may have noticed some players who were on one knee.
It wasn’t during the national anthem. It was during — barely — the game.
Five seconds in, after the opening kickoff, as the camera watched a pile of shoulder-padded humanity climb off the turf, it soon became clear that one of the players wasn’t moving. Several seconds went by, and he still wasn’t moving. The medics and trainers and coaches ran out to offer assistance, while other players were properly shooed away to make room for the helpers.
Helpless, and concerned for the welfare of Chiefs player Steven Terrell, some players were seen on one knee. Which is common for football players at all levels when it looks like one of their teammates — or even one of the opposing players whom they were apparently trying to maim only moments before — might be really, seriously hurt. Like carted-off-the-field-in-a-neck-brace hurt. Might-spend-the-rest-of-his-life-in-a-wheelchair hurt.
Everyone was relieved when Terrell got up and walked off the field a few minutes later. He was out of the game with a concussion, and all of the worry that that entails about the future of his brain and his life. But he walked off the field.
All those football players who have been kneeling before the games, during the national anthem, are doing the same thing that players do to express their concern for a fallen ally or opponent.
Kneeling is an act of reverence, submission, even prayer. Knights do it before their kings. Would-be husbands do it in front of their beloved. People do it in church all the time. And in none of those cases is anyone protesting, objecting or disrespecting anything.
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the trend of pro athletes kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games, and anyone who could read or hear knew that it was not intended to be an insult to the flag or the song or the nation or its armed forces.
Kaepernick’s idea was to express concern for a fallen teammate — or, perhaps, rival. Only it wasn’t a football player on his back. It is a nation at one another’s throats. He was specifically trying to draw attention to the number of black men who have been shot by police, often in circumstances where the official use of violence seemed way out of proportion to the need.
A man is down. Those who can do nothing else drop to one knee and hope for the best. These are some sometimes brutal athletes at their most humane.
A nation is divided. Those who can do nothing else drop to one knee — at the moment before the game when attentions are focused and people are supposed to be somewhat reverent — and hope for the best.
Of course, given our nation’s current leadership, the best is not what we are getting.
Our Dear Leader tweets out insulting and willfully ignorant (if he is smart enough to be willfully anything) comments about how those millionaires who think they are entitled and owe the larger society nothing (sound like someone we all know?) are doing something disrespectful.
Yesterday, at the Colts-49ers game in Indianapolis, former Indiana governor and now Vice President Mike Pence basically showed up long enough to stand at attention during the playing of the anthem, send a message about how he couldn’t stay if the players were going to be so ungrateful as to kneel, then take another very expensive flight on his government airplane.
So, apparently, Pence is allowed to use a National Football League game to make a political statement about how other people should not be using a National Football League game to make political statements.
Pence had to know that someone was going to take a knee during the anthem. His people had told the trailing press not to wander off because the veep was expected to stay only a brief time before returning to his 30,000-taxpayer-dollar-an-hour airplane for his flight to a political fundraiser in California.
It was a stunt, at least as much as any football player on a knee is a stunt. But it was cynical, divisive and expensive.
When I was a much younger man, I looked up to many elected officials and thought athletes were often thugs and cretins.
How times change.