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Michael Ryan: After shameful boos during Kansas City Chiefs opener, we all should do some soul searching
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COMMENTARY

Michael Ryan: After shameful boos during Kansas City Chiefs opener, we all should do some soul searching

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On separate occasions in the past year, my wife gifted me an American flag and a bust of George Washington. She clearly gets my abiding love for this country, even if her wonderful presents come nowhere near describing it.

So, it’s no surprise, then, that this right-of-center writer once proudly carried the banner in opposition to national anthem protests. I oppose police brutality and racism with everything in me. But I’ve always considered America to be family, and I felt the protests, especially on such a stage and at such a patriotic moment, were an indiscriminate insult to a vast majority of Americans of good heart who actually support the protesters’ aims.

Now, not so much.

It still hurts me to see the protests. I think it’s counterproductive to flip off the nation you should want on your side. But really, the NFL didn’t ask fans to buy into the Black Lives Matter organization Thursday night when the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Houston Texans in the season opener. And the two teams’ moment of silence for equality was hardly a middle finger. How could you boo such a thing, as so many fans did?

The bizarre booing shamed Kansas City, and was the talk of the sporting world from coast to coast. What in the world were the boo-birds thinking — “Shut up and play ball”? As if the life-and-death matter of racial inequality and generational disadvantage and neglect can’t be allowed to get in the way of our entertainment?

Or were those fans who booed simply tired of the message, feeling it’s overkill? If so, I have to ask: Really? When we see fellow Americans being brutalized and even killed — often needlessly — and others too often denied justice by a system that has failed them? Is the message to just get over it?

This embarrassment tells me my country, and my city, still has some soul searching to do.

I recommend it highly. This anti-anthem-protest writer has done it. After this year’s stunning sequence of combustible killings of Black Americans by law enforcement officers — the beginning of which is marked in the collective mind by George Floyd’s headstone — how could I not soften my opposition to the protests?

The fact is, even while watching the pregame proceedings with trepidation before the Kansas City Chiefs’ nationally televised game Thursday night, I not only was ready to not be offended by a protest, I took a knee in my own heart.

It is not anti-police to decry the death toll or to pine for solutions and, yes, to seek reforms in policing. My support for law enforcement now is more qualified than before, to be sure, but no less passionate. I don’t believe Black Americans should be profiled as a group, and neither should cops.

Yet surely even my friends in the law enforcement community would agree that things have to change — on all sides. To borrow the NFL’s current phraseology, “It takes all of us.” It takes law enforcement worthy of respect. It takes a citizenry willing to give it. And most importantly it takes a comprehensive, concerted effort to eliminate the vestiges of social injustice bequeathed to us by an inglorious past.

As a devotee of legendary Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, I’m a big proponent of personal responsibility — and that has to include doing the right thing, no matter one’s circumstances. So yes, obey lawful police commands. I absolutely get that. It shouldn’t be glossed over. At some point, personal responsibility needs to take the stage as well.

But that social media meme that says you’ve got nothing to worry about from police if you don’t break the law? Conversations with Black friends, and my own eyes and ears, have convinced me that’s not always the case for the minority community.

In addition, although we’ve made gigantic strides in recent decades, I suspect many of us who are white truly didn’t know how maddeningly intractable our historic injustices still are. This, despite the fact that Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. were seeking redress of racial grievances in the Oval Office a full 100 years apart.

That kind of lumbering progress in equality, so glowingly promised by our Founders and our Constitution, never was acceptable, and certainly isn’t today. Yet some Chiefs fans can’t “suffer” through a moment of silence to stand, or kneel God forbid, against inequality?

I, for one, can — though I know I am not alone: A Washington Post poll shows 56% of Americans are OK with the anthem protests for racial equality. That’s almost the exact opposite of a poll from two years ago.

The choice is ours. The year 2020 can be remembered as the year of COVID-19 and racial division. Or this poor beleaguered year, so pilloried in deprecating memes on social media, might yet be redeemed — if we can just see our way clear to finally making good on our nation’s promise and on the era of inclusion.

This year has changed everything. How could it not change us?

Michael Ryan is an editorial writer and columnist for The Kansas City Star.

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