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Trump 1, black footballers 10

By Peter West - posted Friday, 29 September 2017


An argument between the US President and a few football players has bounced around the world. Americans might be interested to know how the story is being seen across the Pacific.

The players - who are mostly black - are being asked why they are not standing to attention for the national anthem. Instead they kneel. Some of their comrades link arms with them. Or the whole team stays in the locker room while the anthem plays. Team spirit is strong, and the players stand by each other. Here's a player for the Dolphins called Michael Thomas, who has protested. And caught by a TV reporter after the game, he talks about his daughter and how he wants her to look up to him:

"I've got a daughter, and she's going to have to live in this world, you know what I'm saying?" he said as he started to choke up. "And I gotta do whatever I got to do to make sure she can look at her dad and be like 'Hey, you did something to try and make a change.'"

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I can only find praise for a guy who wants to be a decent dad and somebody his daughter can look up to. Dads have to look into those eyes, be they brown or blue, in faces light or dark-skinned. They look up to us with trust and confidence that we will do the best we can. And we have to try to be the best dad we can be. This guy, at least, is trying.

What do these guys talk about in the locker room? Not just crude talk about how they grab women. As Trump once suggested in defence of his own crude speech caught on tape. These guys are talking about what life is like for a black person in the USA. Here in Australia we're well aware of the troubles black people have gone through, and still go through. In Australia, in Brazil, in the UK. We've watched Moonlight, the movie about the struggle a shy male of colour has when he's growing up. We've watched in disbelief when a US cop says "we only kill black people".

That was in Georgia; it could have been in many other places in the US. And not just in the South, either.

So to sum up so far: clearly Americans feel the need to respect their flag and their country. These footballers are saying they want their country to be a place for everyone to be proud of. Their method is crude, but they are men of action and very few words. And their actions are eloquent.

Now to Trump. I think many Australians might agree with most of what I am about to say. First, they are puzzled that someone can become US President when his main claims to fame are as a businessman and reality show personality. Second, they are bewildered that the US President can be bothered with whatever behaviour footballers are up to. Third, where North Korea fires off missiles, Trump fires off tweets. How is this statesmanlike? Thoughtful? Reflective? It looks hasty and careless to this observer. And finally, they feel that there are many other issues that he might be spending his time on. Making the USA a fairer and more just society for all its citizens. Doing something to lessen the damage done by recent hurricanes in a dozen countries. Providing proper health care that keeps average Americans out of hospital and free from bankruptcy. Acting in a dignified manner as befits the country which wants to be the leader of the free world. Trying to solve the injustices done to the Rohingyas in Myanmar or the people of West Papua.

Meanwhile other leaders act in a quieter and more statesmanlike manner. This includes Germany's leader, Angela Merkel. Or France's Emmanuel Macron. Heaven help us if the world looks to China, in which human rights as we know them barely exist.

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I am far from admiring footballers. They do what they do. They are real-life peacetime warriors and they suffer for it in injuries and sometimes, an early death. There are lists of US footballers who died on the field. But I think that in the main, they do get some respect from kids around the world. "I Wanna Be Like Mike"- a Gatorade commercial - resonates almost everywhere. The big names in American football and basketball are legends in their own lifetime. In almost any country you could name. Any politician is very rash taking them on, on an issue they are passionately committed to. Trump should sit down and talk to them, if-if- he is capable of having a real discussion among equals. Failing that- he should stay out of it, and get back to running the country. There are certainly dozens of issues more deserving of his attention.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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