“Can’t we all just get along?” Those six words were spoken by Los Angeles Police brutality victim Rodney King after the infamous L.A. riots of 1992. The beating King endured at the hands of the police was caught on video and caused outrage across the country. When the four policemen charged with the assault were acquitted, South Central L.A. went up in flames. Rioting broke out as chaos and violence reigned for almost a week.
Racial animus is nothing new in our Nation. Since the end of the Civil War when millions of African slaves were finally set free, black Americans have struggled against a system in which they were outnumbered, outgunned and were victims of hate, prejudice, and violence.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s which culminated in the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, did much to stem the violence. It seemed like blacks and whites would finally mend the fences and show each other the respect they deserved.
Fast forward to today. In spite of the progress made in the last century, it seems that racial tensions are as high as they have been since the 60’s. Violence has again broken out across the Nation. Several groups battled with each other recently in Charlottesville, VA. The resulting chaos ended in the death of one individual.
Several NFL players have decided to protest police brutality targeting minorities by sitting out the National Anthem. This group, which includes Raider’s running back Marshawn Lynch are using their celebrity status to further a cause that they ardently believe in. Theirs is a message to the world that hate still exists in America and that minorities are often targeted unfairly by the police. Even sportswriters are getting into the game; bringing the politics of today and especially race into the conversation. Moreover, now the sitting President has said the NFL protesters sitting out the National Anthem should be led off the field creating a firestorm of controversy pitting a sitting President against the NFL.
What’s lost in all of the drama is that free speech is not a slogan, but a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. The players have a right to protest. The President has a right to disagree. Also, everyone in between has a right to sound off in whatever manner they choose. However, wouldn’t it be nice if cooler heads could prevail? If peace and harmony could trump over disparity and hate?
Recently, two other football players took a slightly different stand. Before their preseason game against the LA Rams, Oakland Raider’s quarterback Derek Carr walked over to his teammate, Khalil Mack, as the anthem started and placed his hand on Mack’s shoulder. He left it there for the duration of the song. It should be said that Carr is white and Mack is black.
When asked about the gesture after the game, Carr said that the gesture was not spontaneous but rather something that he and Mack had discussed before the game. “What we wanted to do was show all the kids; white kids, black kids, brown kids, blue, green, doesn’t matter, can be loving to one another. And that’s what me and Khalil are; best friends and we love one another.” Mack had this to say; “Yea its kind of just showing a little unity. Using our platform to show you that different races can get along.”
One of the most enjoyable things about watching NFL is that we never see racial issues play out on the field. Players may express themselves in violent opposition to another player but never is it in regards to race. Those that would see us divided could learn a lot by watching an NFL football game. Players of all different races and nationalities show love for their teammates and respect for their opponents and this is something that is true in the world of sports.
The words and actions of Carr and Mack don’t surprise most. People who follow the league know that players in the NFL have no issues with players who come from a different race or nationality. As far as everyday reality is concerned, citizens are exactly the same. Carr and Mack were simply reminding us of something we already knew. Most Americans get along just fine.
Three men separated by 25 years but all echoing the same message; let love, not hate, rule the day. Some people are uncomfortable when an NFL player talks about “loving another” person. But perhaps in these turbulent, racially charged times we need MORE voices like those of Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and yes, Rodney King. Voices to remind us that the vast majority of people already “get along”. That no amount of reporting, posturing, or protesting can change that. The National Football League and the players that play there can be another reminder that times have changed. Indeed. They certainly have.