Column: It’s time for Americans to approach NFL protests with understanding of opposition’s point of view

Hyperbolic rhetoric and a lack of nuance have divided Americans on the NFL protests.

Jon Niemuth is a freshman economics major at MU. He is an opinions columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

For the past year and a half, the National Football League — and by extension, America — has been plagued by perhaps the greatest political intrusion into sports in a generation.

As readers probably already know, it began when then-San Francisco 49ers star Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem to protest perceived racial injustice throughout the United States, causing a frenzy of backlash involving accusations of anti-Americanism and disrespect toward our country’s Armed Forces.

The move may very well have cost Kaepernick his NFL career, as he remained unsigned through the 2017 season despite multiple high-profile cases of teams losing their starting quarterbacks. A majority of Americans surveyed in a Yahoo poll do not support his actions; still, he has managed to earn sympathy from mainstream news outlets.

How much weight do such poll numbers truly hold, though? Because in this case, like so many others, neither side is exactly thinking things through — or making the slightest attempt to understand the opposing viewpoint.

Framing the #TakeaKnee phenomenon as a battle between stubborn racists and brave progressives or patriots and America-haters ignores whatever decent arguments the other group may have. Of course, Kaepernick and his allies aren’t kneeling to insult veterans; they’re protesting bigotry. And those who implore others to stand, usually conservatives, aren’t simply indifferent to racial issues; many just happen to revere the flag and other symbols of America in a manner foreign to most liberals.

Nonetheless, by now, the situation has become so polarizing and gotten so out of hand that any effort to be civil seems to have gone out the window. Trump supporters and members of the Black Lives Matter movement have dug their heels in to the extent that no one is willing to acknowledge even the more ridiculous aspects of their respective camps.

For example, Kaepernick has hardly been a calm and likable martyr since his public focus abruptly shifted from football to activism. His positive comments about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro certainly didn’t endear him to moderates, and his dawning of socks portraying American police as literal pigs was poor publicity to say the least.

Similarly, President Trump’s over-the-top demonization of players who kneel — referring to them as a “son of a bitch” at a rally — and his frequent Twitter tantrums aimed at athletes who criticize him are childish, not to mention another example of behavior his predecessors absolutely would not get away with.

And yet, neither faction will yield and admit that any of this is bad. Instead, both continue to present themselves as flawless heroes fighting the good fight.

In many ways, the other side is depicted as the embodiment of everything wrong with America — when each, from its own angle, is clearly well intentioned. We can always hope that maturity will win out in all of this, but given that the NFL recently refused to broadcast a pro-National Anthem ad during the Super Bowl, it’s doubtful tensions will die down anytime soon.

Which is a real shame, because after months of the same divisive headlines, it’s safe to assume most of us are just ready for this situation to end. Handled better, maybe it could have opened eyes to alternative perspectives, but alas, toxic partisanship reared its ugly head. Again.

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