The Notion of the American Dream
By: L.J Luthringer
I miss the old relationship the NFL had with the Star Spangled Banner. I remember when it was only positive moments and when the worst thing to happen was something mildly funny. Knowshon Moreno blessed me with my favorite anthem controversy. The Denver Bronco running back bowed his head before a game in December of 2013. When the song ended and he looked up, his eyes produced at least a shot glass worth of water in an instant, and a moment later, another stream poured down. Seriously, look at this!
And it was kind of a big deal. I remember thinking he is faster, stronger, better looking, and wealthier than I will ever be, and if I need to cry about it... he's got me beat there too! It was hilarious. I remember watching the video over and over in the living room of my college apartment, showing it to anyone who walked by and reading articles trying to dissect why and how that happened. The consensus landed on him being so passionate, so proud that he gets to do this for a living, so in love with his nation, that he cried a few minutes of tears into his somehow watertight eyelids, creating the broken kitchen sink effect I remember so well.
Isn't that refreshing? A man was so moved by the nation and world he lived in that his reaction created some earnest, touching comedy. I want to go back to that time very badly. I long for it the same way I pull the blanket over my head some mornings to try to step back into the dream that I abandoned so carelessly for the sound of alarms and trash trucks that blitzed my mind with today's anxieties. But, sadly only for me, I am now awake and the illusion is shattered.
December 2013 was before Michael Brown was shot while unarmed in Missouri. It was before Eric Garner said "I can't breath" eleven times, what would prove to be the final words he would ever utter. I don't know if you remember that summer the same way I do, but I recall being in a bar watching video on the news of yet another (by this time, likely the seventh or eighth story I learned of in those three months) black man with no weapon being killed by a police officer. In that summer, I learned that Trayvon Martin was not just a difficult, confusing, and upsetting story, but a symptom of an epidemic.
Around this time is when the fictional character Will MacAvoy told me and the rest of Newsroom's disappointingly small audience that the USA isn't the greatest nation in the world. Not anymore. Not by any statistical metric. But it can be.
The onset of the 2014 autumn didn't end that summer, as it usually does. Sure, the leaves fell, the moon cycled and recycled, and the snow eventually came. For me, however, we are in the fifth year of that awful summer's defining characteristic. So when I saw a millionaire risk his standing with the billionaires by making a peaceful statement, risking that status, causing no physical pain to anybody, impeding nobody's ability to provide themselves or their families the pursuit to the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, I felt I was seeing a man who was awake; Colin Kaepernick is a man that knows that America isn't number 1, but it can be. It would be nice to cross back into dreamland right about now, but that place was never real.
Another shattering illusion can be best exemplified by my favorite Monday night event of all time. Monday Night Countdown's segment, “Jacked Up”. Every week, at around 5 PM, viewers were presented with the wildest, fastest, most brutal collisions the previous day's games had to offer. They were amazing. My adrenaline piqued just watching this beautiful, crazy, human-on-human destruction.
I feel that we, as a football-loving nation are waking up to the damage that glorifying this angle of the sport has created. Seriously, test this. Read any news article that comes up when you search CTE. Then hop on youtube to search for some "hardest hits NFL 2000s" compilation. If you're like me, you're more likely to feel sick watching one player become a ragdoll, even though that same hit would pull you out of your chair 15 years ago.
Sometimes I wish I could pull the sheet back over my head, enjoy the NFL I grew up with. But since we can't, and since we won't, the waking nightmare that a former NFL athlete is often going through will soon give way to a morning. We don't know what that morning has in store for us. Maybe we are watching the end of the NFL. Maybe the rules change and it turns into a speed game over a power game. Maybe technology gives us new protections from the blunt head trauma. But one way or another, that nightmare is ending, the memory-loss, the depression, the struggle to find a will to live; that may all become a thing of the past, but only because we can't get back that dream.
To the veterans that feel disrespected by this protest, I'm sorry. You have my empathy. You are most likely a great man or woman and are most certainly braver and stronger person than I may ever be. I'm sorry that a symbol you risked everything for is at the middle of all of this. You are not a device to be used by any party, for or against these players' cause, and your pain through this difficult time in our nation's history doesn't go unnoticed.
But when I see people who fight against this stand, or lack thereof, under the guise of someone else's pain, I am taken to my own desire to hit snooze for as long as possible, my desire to push back the loud, chaotic real world for the dream world where systematic racism is easy to spot and overcome, a world where patriotism equals tear-inducing pride.
The Star Spangled Banner is a song that is 90 percent the description of the beauty of one particular morning and two lines reflecting the people and nation Francis Scott Key was waking up to. If a brave American can't kneel whenever he pleases, then the only self-reflective lines, "for the land of the free and the home of the brave," become nullified.
So I ask that you join me in waking up to this cold, cruel world. This protest will end when the waking nightmare ends for a minority of our citizens. This protest will naturally die when we reform our nation into a symbol all of us want to stand for. Listen. Think. It will take all of us to solve this problem.