Art Rooney II, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, released a statement on Sept. 24 in wake of President Trump’s controversial comments over the widespread national anthem protests in the NFL.
Posted on the official team Twitter account, Rooney praised the unity among players, but added his “…hope[s] that eventually we will come together as a nation to respect the diverse opinions that exist and work together to make our communities better for all our citizens.”
The NFL and the country have been struggling to find ways to translate words like Rooney’s into actions since 2015, when then 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the anthem protests.
All could look to Seattle’s own Seahawks as the greatest example the NFL, and perhaps even politicians, offers in terms of striving towards reconciliation.
During week three of the NFL season, the Seahawks became one of 13 NFL teams that demonstrated unified player and staff protest during the national anthem by choosing to take a knee as a team.
This, however, is not to say that the team has unified opinions on the situation.
Lineman Matt Tobin spoke with the Seattle Times after the game, revealing his discomfort with the demonstration.
Tobin spoke openly about confronting coach Carroll regarding his feelings, but also about his decision to put those concerns behind his desire to show support for his teammates.
Some might argue that Tobin backed down from his convictions. However, that would be an oversimplification. Rather, he decided to listen to another point of view and meet those on the other side part way.
This story was compounded by an incident that occurred the following Tuesday.
A group of Vietnam veterans gathered with an American flag outside the Seahawks’ training facility in Renton with their backs facing the complex, protesting the team’s actions.
What made the incident extraordinary was the moment a black Rolls Royce slowed to a stop in front of the group and defensive end Michael Bennett stepped out to talk with the vets.
Bennett later said in a press conference that he could have “easily just drive[n] past and be like, ‘My opinion is right,’ but for me to be a great leader, you have to be able to listen to the other people. You have to go out and talk to them.”
Bennett explained to the veterans (and they acknowledged to King 5 News) that they didn’t know what it was like to grow up as a black man in America.
The vets conversely shared with Bennett their emotions attached to the flag, including their beliefs in the flag “…represent[ing] all races, all religions, everybody that we all fought and some of our very close friends died for”.In both Tobin’s and Bennett’s cases, neither player gave up on their convictions.
Nothing was ultimately resolved in each incident, but that isn’t the point.
Both Seahawks stopped, put their own opinions and egos aside, and genuinely considered another’s point of view. They decided not to worry about proving their point, but instead worried about how the other side felt.
Unity is a term that gets thrown out in many contexts during political controversy. Too often it can mean uniting one side against the other.
No one has reached a consensus about how to fairly represent these protests, but maybe that’s not the most important thing.
Maybe it’s more important that we relearn how to create dialogue, how to listen for the sake of understanding.
Not everyone has to have congruent opinions, in fact what makes our democracy beautiful is our ability to disagree.
It seems we’ve lost our ability to be comfortable discussing our differences, but I think we can all agree upon wanting to working together in unity to find a solution.
Defined as “the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.” reconciliation is an important aspect of what we stand for at SPU, in regards to social justice.
Before hearing about these two Seahawks incidents, I interpreted that to mean forcing two sides to become the same.
Since then, I’ve come to understand it as the effort to find common ground; it isn’t about forcing someone to conform to a different view, but to understand their experience.
A resolution for the NFL controversy is yet to come, but perhaps each side sitting down to listen to one another is a valuable start.