This is going to be political. This is going to be long. This is going to be about football.
To start us off, let’s define the term Moral Absolutism. It is the belief that certain actions, regardless of context, are intrinsically ethical or not; murder will always be unforgivable, even if you are killing for the sake of saving other lives, same with stealing bread, even if its to feed your family. Frequently this is extrapolated onto people, both contemporary and historical, to define them as a hero or a villain. To look at two examples in the lens of U.S. history; George Washington is someone whom we have applied this principle to in order to make him into a flawless national icon even though he was a noted slave owner, while Hitler has had the inverse, and(rightfully) made into one of the globe’s all-time biggest assholes.
This works on figures from out past. We can see, in a more complete sense, who they were, and what the repercussions of their actions were. It becomes obvious to us what their legacy is; we can decide that even if he may have done some good during his time as president, that Andrew Jackson’s atrocities committed against the Native American population marks him as a blemish on our collective historical record.
Wheels start to fall of the wagon however, when we apply this principle to people still acting and operating in the present day. Its not because there aren’t objectively good and bad people making an impact on our world, I think it’s obvious there are. It’s that these people are associated with movements that we either support or fight against, currently. It is easy to know that Hitler was evil because there isn’t a sect of people still rallying behind his cause, trying to poke holes in counter-arguments(at least in a serious political arena, we hope). When we start throwing these absolutist labels onto our contemporary leaders and celebrities, there is the challenge of handling the arguments for and against them.
Frequently we see this happening in U.S. politics. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, I think that it is hard to see Donald Trump as anything but an overindulged bigot and a failure on the part of our electoral system, but, there are an equal number of people who thought equally negative things about President Obama, someone I believe did our country quite a bit of good. It is easy to form opinions on people, especially those that we see and experience in more than the pages of history books.
One of the things you hear from almost any coach in almost any sport is: “play the ball, not the man”. It’s something we as a populace(at least in the U.S.), have not been doing. We’re going after personalities instead of ideology. There are a myriad of reasons for this; more and more people are becoming the movements they represent, we’re the most outspoken we’ve ever been, and we have amounts of information on people and ideals available to us, that we never have before(a fair bit of it biased and bouncing around in our personal echo chambers). It is dangerous to attack the messenger, however vile they may be, as it lets the message go free.
We’ve heard it across the spectrum; Bernie Sanders is a crazy socialist, Donald Trump is a liar and a bigot. But when we aim our shots at these individuals, things become personal. The man you support is under fire, you want to defend him, and those that disagree with you are now your enemy. It breeds animosity. So I think yes, lets rail against the fascism and bigotry of Trump, let’s punch Richard Spencer’s Nazi face, but, let’s so much more so be fighting their agenda. Trying to kill the idea, not the mouth that speaks it.
Its not a simple thing, I know that, and in saying it I’d be lying if I didn’t also say I wasn’t a bit of a hypocrite. I write things that try to invalidate Trump whenever I can. This leads to situations that are sticky to say the least. To finally bring in football, Tom Brady is a prime example.
If I’m being upfront, I am a Patriots fan. As someone from Boston, it was ingrained in me from a young age. Despite them being a team I fervently support, Tom Brady is the very image of white privilege. Saying things like;
“What’s going on in the world? I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person.” -Tom Brady
exhibits just how little he has to care or worry about in the world, how much he has never felt endangered, especially when juxtaposed against the bravery of Kaepernick’s kneeling. Sprinkle in his shy supporting of Trump, and it becomes obvious there red in his ledger. Robert Kraft, the Patriot’s owner, is an outspoken supporter of the new American president, so is Bill Belichick. As a few other articles have said online, The Patriots Have a Trump Problem, this is undeniable.
To try and defend my team; the whole NFL has a Trump problem. Most team owner’s, an oodle of coaches, and plenty of players all support the batwing-covered-in-cheeto dust that is currently leading our country( I know, ball, player, but I reeeeally hate him). The owner of the New York Jets, Woody Johnson, is his newly appointed ambassador to the UK. Point is the whole NFL is as deeply tied to Trump as you would expect a couple hundred millionaires to be.
The thing with this is though, it has been thrown around that the Patriots are vile and worthy of being hated, because they support the extremist currently in office. I have seen countless articles stating and restating how the whole organization, and mostly Tom Brady are to be hated and deplored. That may be true, but then so should every other supporter in the league right? The dominant argument here is that Brady has so much sway that he normalized the definitively abnormal behavior of the 45th president, something I agree on.
Yes, he is one of the bigger name players in the NFL, but I would also argue that other star players are close to being as recognized in the areas the represent(clearly part of me wants to defend and indefensible man). I have not heard the same hate being thrown at the Jets, or any other team, or players for that matter. I’m not saying I think we shouldn’t be mad at Tom, or hold him to a standard, nor am I trying to accuse anyone of being a hypocrite if they hate on Tom and not other members of the organization he’s a part of. I’m just building to a point here, trust me.
What I’m trying to get at, is that we have adopted a new and dangerous form of Selective Moral Absolutism; we’re comfortable deciding that because we dislike something, it is wrong, its evil, its just plain bad. Both sides of the isle do this, be they politicians, or simply folks at home; the right is a bunch of red-neck-no-nothing-fanatic-hillbillies, the left overly-emotional-tree-hugging-values-hating-snowflakes.It is satisfying in a real, tangible way to reduce your opposition to an easily disregarded stereotype. The patriots are an easy team to despise; they’re named after nationalism, something that’s become a scary and dangerous thing in America right now, Belichick is a grumpy evil-emperor-type figure, and they win. When you win against insane odds(or the opposite), and do it despite what the majority of the country wants, its going to incur allot of people’s wrath, especially after looking at how our last election went down.
The uneven hate being sent towards the patriots though is indicative of a larger problem. No matter how deserved the rage being tossed at them is(and it is), it is playing the man, when at we should, at the very least, be trying to take them and the ball down. It’s happening across the country, and I’ll admit I could be more informed than I am on our current events. There are absolutely rock-solid reasons for rebelling against Milo Yiannopoulos(someone I loathe more than I can express) in the ways people have. I believe that hitting Richard Spencer was a good thing to do. Fighting against what we disagree with is what makes our convictions more than passing fancies.
I do think we need awareness that this breeds hate from the other side of things. I don’t want to tell anyone how to go about doing anything, I don’t want to police how the oppressed go about becoming free, and if that’s how I’ve been sounding that’s not my intention. I agree that the people whom I’ve mentioned need to be challenged, need to be fought. I also think we need to know that nobody thinks their the bad guy. As much as he’s doing shitty things, and encouraging hate, I don’t think Milo Yiannapoulos is sitting at home maniacally rubbing his hands, and brainstorming ways to fuck people over for the sake of fucking people over(okay, I think that a little). I would hope that he thinks he’s doing the same thing those who protest him are; fighting for a cause they know to be just.
These people are just that, people, and likely have reasons for their actions, even if we know them to be wrong. I’m not saying this should let them off the hook. I’m not saying that it should effect the way we protest or disagree with them. I’m not even saying I, or anyone, should sympathize with them. What I’m trying to get at it, is that lately in the news I have been seeing(again, echo chambers), it seems that both sides have been going after individuals, instead of ideas, and that is ultimately going to become a game of whack-a-mole. You have the mallet, so destroy the box, not just what’s s popping up.
Now I have no doubt there are nuances I’m missing. I don’t have all the information, I barely know what I do, and I mostly only have opinions. I also don’t want to place the burden of my own political and social education on anyone but myself, BUT, if you see things here you disagree with, that strike you as wrong, privileged, disrespectful, ANYTHING, please leave a comment. Let me know.
I always want to be better than I am.