Turn Off the NFL

By Bear Gebhardt

When riding a tiger, one should have a plan for dismounting.”                                                                           – old Chinese proverb

Our minority president hopped aboard a tiger when he took on the NFL kneeling practice. I predict this just might be the issue that gets bigger and bigger until it pushes him out of the oval office. You heard it here first.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

How paradoxical for a man who completely flaunts the long-established protocol for the highest office in the land to demand from his fellow millionaires that they follow established protocol!

In common with millions of other American men and women, I love football. As a kid, we boys—and occasionally girls—spent hours and hours playing the game in both front and back yards, in the parks and—a small minority of the time—on the regulated football field. In high school, as most guys, I was not good enough to be the starting quarterback, or even third-string string quarterback, guard or wide receiver. Indeed, I didn’t make the team. (We had 750 students in my graduating class.)

Nevertheless, even though I, and most other guys, were not stars, or even on the team, we loved the game. And as old geezers, most of us still watch it and talk about it and carry on as if it mattered. That said . . .

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

With the NFL Commissioner’s latest letter saying all players should stand during the National Anthem, it’s time, at least for me, to turn off the NFL. (Though I suspect I’m going to peek.)

The commissioner has revealed he has no backbone. He caved in and gave his lunch money to the schoolyard bully and suggests we all do the same. He can do it, but I, and you can bet your jock strap a whole bunch of the NFL players and coaches, are going to say no.

Don’t forget to take the short poll at the end of this article.

That’s why I suspect this issue isn’t going to go away with the commissioner’s letter suggesting everyone give up their lunch money.

I admit, as an NFL veteran myself, I was conflicted to begin with on this take a knee deal. (I’m a veteran because I sold hot dogs at the Denver Broncos games throughout high school and first years of college.)

Even before the knee deal, however, I had growing reservations about spending my time watching the NFL. I have good friends who haven’t watched football in years—just out of principle—not willing to eat the bread or go to the circuses sponsored by the ruling classes. (Yes, indeed, I have commie buddies).

And then last year a good friend stopped watching the NFL games out of deference and respect to those players who have suffered long-term damage not only from the concussions (a new study revealed  96 percent of former NFL players show brain damage) but also leg and arm and back and butt injuries which often make their later years almost insufferable.

In years past, a different good buddy, watching the “injury time out” for a player on the opposing team, used to quip, “I hope he’s feeling better right after the game,” e.g., after our team wins!  A good way to think about it, we thought at the time.

Now, seeing an “injury time out,” if we’re honest, we have to admit that the injury just suffered, leaving this player on his back on the field, such that we had time enough to cut to a Budweiser commercial, might lead that player to fifty more years of pain and disability.

The guys on the field know the dangers of their work. But they have honed their skills to a degree unfathomable to we high school and college players they long ago left behind.  We ordinary blokes have the greatest respect for not only these players’ natural talents but for thousands and thousands of hours they logged in disciplined training, both on and off the field.

So when one, and then two, then dozens and dozens of these men take a knee to bring necessary attention to the pressing issues of police brutality and institutionalized racism, we have to accept, and respect they know what they are doing.

I am of course a patriot and proud and grateful to be a citizen of the good ol’ USA. One of the things I love most about the USA is our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience, our freedom from being forced to believe or act in certain ways. We have a history of this. Not always perfect, but nevertheless working in that direction. I’m proud to be an American.

But my basic allegiance, even before to the nation-state, is to humanity itself. Before I was an American, I was born a human being, born a citizen of the earth, with seven billion other citizens. All people, even before they are citizens of the state, come endowed with certain inherent rights.

Every human deserves respect, the right to say, in a non-violent way, what’s on his or her mind. The right to be treated fairly and openly under the law, regardless of skin color, religions conviction or athletic ability. These are not just American values. These are human values.

So when some NFL players make a brief, non-violent, creatively defiant gesture to bring attention to the fact that the nation is not living up to the ideals of justice and equality symbolized by the flag, I respect not only their Constitutional right to do that, but also their human right.

When the NFL commissioner took a knee and bowed to the school bully, handing him his lunch money, it made me sad. It also made me ready to finally give up football, at least until we get a new administration, in both the NFL and Washington.

I do think our Minority President waded into a swamp where the alligators outnumber the “protocol” guys. I suspect the Take a Knee biz will finally show him to be in a position way beyond his skills. He will not easily extricate himself from this—just watch—increasingly fiery issue.

Recent news on the kneeling issue:

Oct. 17, NFL.com: What you need to know from the Oct. 18 owners and players’ meeting.

Oct. 17, New York Times: Trump criticizes NFL for not penalizing anthem kneeing.

 

 

Why Al Franken’s “Giant of the Senate” Is a Must-Read for Resistors

By Bear Gebhardt

Muna Abdulah was born in Somalia but fled with her parents as refugees to a small town in Minnesota, where her father had been sponsored to work on a turkey farm.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Muna  excelled in the local public schools and her twin sister was voted homecoming queen. Applying to become a Senate Page, Muna  wrote a brilliant essay and then wowed the interviewers. She won the prize.  As a 17-year-old, she went to Washington, D.C., to work in the Senate.

“The day the new class of pages arrived in the senate,” Al Franken wrote, “I went down to the floor to meet her in person. Muna was easy to pick out of the group of twenty or so, being the only one wearing a hijab (headscarf) with her page uniform.  I went up to her and said, ‘you look like a Minnesotan’.”

I love Al Franken.  And after reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate (by Al Franken, of course) I not only love his wit, I am once again deeply moved by his integrity, his humility, his ability to bring hope and light where there was previously so much darkness and despair.

I confess, for many decades I have been so dismayed (disgusted) with the lack of courage, lack of wisdom, lack of love exhibited by most members of Congress that I had lost all hope that “anything good can come from Washington.”  Even Barak Obama, hope of our heart, as one of his first Presidential acts sent more troops to Afghanistan, directly contrary to his campaign promises.  What?

I threw up my hands, again. I’m not touching this stew pot of politics.  Nothing good ever comes of it.

And then along comes Al Franken. We knew him, first and foremost, of course, from Saturday Night Live—a brilliant and brave satirist, entertainer and all-around funny good guy. And then, thank God, he wrote that brilliant and brave book, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, and other observations,” saying exactly what all (or many) of us were thinking, knowing. But here was Franken saying it openly, clearly, without apology, and with great wit, intellectual vigor and historical perspective.

And then, a few years later, “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A fair and balanced look at the right.” Again, a wise guy, a gadfly, truth to power, in clear, all-American prose, without flinching. We need a hundred more such brave, witty, and wide-thinking commentators.

Please take a few seconds and answer the poll at the end of this article.

When Franken ran for the Senate, we all thought it was a joke. But come to find out, he was serious. Eleven days before the 2002 U.S. Senate election, Franken’s good friend, Senator Paul Wellstone, died in a plane crash in Eveleth, Minnesota. His wife, Sheila, and daughter, Marcia, also died onboard.

Wellstone’s opponent, Norm Coleman, now a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, narrowly won the election over Walter Mondale. Shortly after taking office, Coleman said, “I am a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone.”

Franken was infuriated. “You don’t say that about anyone who has died in the last six months,” Franken wrote. “And my God, you don’t say that about some guy who everyone agreed was a compassionate, tireless champion of the little guy, a loving husband and father, and a colleague whom every senator recognized for his passion and decency. Until that exact moment I had never thought about running for public office. But when I read that quote…my immediate thought was this: Somebody’s got to beat this guy.… At the time, I didn’t think that the ‘somebody” who was going to beat this guy would end up being me.”

After taking much heat for his comment, Coleman later apologized and explained, “I just meant I was a 99 percent improvement when it came to supporting George W. Bush.”  Enough said.

In running against Coleman, Franken had to learn NOT to be funny. Otherwise, people wouldn’t take him seriously. And he also had to deal with what he called (and trademarked) the “DeHumorizer.”  Coleman’s team combed Franken’s 30 years of comedy writings, satire and skits, including writings for Playboy, and presented them as if they were his personal political convictions.

In addition to these unique challenges, even though Franken had won the Senatorial Democratic nomination, the Democrats in Washington didn’t support him. They didn’t think he had a chance to beat an incumbent. So Franken was on his own.

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I won’t share any more of the details. Franken does it much better, quicker, wittier than I. Obviously, he did win—by one the narrowest margins of any race in Senate history. (He won his second race, four years later, hands down.)

What surprised me most about reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, was that it gave me hope again about our political process. Again, that’s something I haven’t had in decades (with the exception of my fleeting hope for the populist Bernie Sanders—a hope which Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hilary Clinton quickly squashed with dirty tricks behind closed doors.)

Again, it was so strange and unexpected that I have to repeat: reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate gave me hope again about our political process. Made me think I might even start attending—or at least paying attention to—our local city council meetings.

That’s how powerful this book is. That’s how powerful this man is. He’s the real McCoy. Let’s work to get more like him in office, from the lowest to the highest offices of the land.