Football, cheap grace and the banality of evil

I am deeply offended that Kid Rock wears the American flag as a cheap, in-your-face costume. I am not offended that American football players ‘take the knee’ to protest what they perceive as injustice.


I’ve never been interested in football. My head is full of every kind of trivia except sports trivia. Until this last weekend I was only vaguely aware of a guy named Colin Kaepernick and his kneeling protest, and my impression was that perhaps he was somewhat melodramatic and self-promotional.

Then Donald Trump brought himself down to the state where I live, Alabama. In a rambling speech, the President of the United States mused, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when someone disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired.”

I was shocked, and ashamed. On Sunday, other football players followed Kaepernick’s example. Some of them explained why, in eloquent terms. Their actions ignited a firestorm of controversy, including on my Facebook page. One casual friend sanctimoniously posted, “Memo to the millionaires of the NFL from Americans who understand the price of freedom: Fallen Vet Lives Matter. That’s what the flag represents to all who have been handed one after it was draped over the remains of their loved one.”

For the life of me, I couldn’t see what the protest had to do with “fallen vets,” and I’m willing to bet she’s never known a single one herself. To me, football players kneeling quietly didn’t seem disrespectful, but I get it. I understand that for some, the protests were inappropriate. Still, “fallen vets”?

Being the mouthy troublemaker that I am, I posted a picture of an unkempt, stringy-haired Kid Rock dressed in—you guessed it—an American flag. “Tell that to Kid Rock,” I said, noting that he had been invited to the White House.

“I don’t know a thing about Kid Rock, but if I see someone clothed in a flag or having a flag draped over their dead body residing in a coffin, I think ’That person is passionate about the survival of this nation and what our founders stood for,’” she responded.

Come again?

I was dumbfounded. Foul-mouthed Kid Rock, who used the “f” word in announcing his interest in running for the U.S. Senate, who starred in a 1999 sex tape, who has used the Confederate flag as an on-stage prop, was “passionate about the survival of this nation and what our founders stood for.”


I know my acquaintance isn’t evil, but her willingness to pretend Kid Rock was somehow admirable while excoriating a bunch of kneeling, mostly black football players was deeply disconcerting.


I am deeply offended that Kid Rock wears the American flag as a cheap, in-your-face costume. I am not offended that American football players “take the knee” to protest what they perceive as injustice.

So who is the patriot? I’ll put my credentials up against hers any day of the week. My ancestors fought in nearly every war in this country’s history, including the American Revolution. In fact, some of them brought their anti-English sentiments and penchant for independence with them when they were transported as Scottish prisoners of war.

Some claim that one of my forebears, an Overmountain Man by the name of Samuel Shannon, fired the shot that killed Major Patrick Ferguson at the pivotal Battle of King’s Mountain in the American Revolution. Another ancestor worked as a surveyor with George Washington, then joined the young general at his request when the spirit of rebellion spread. My family were the rough frontiersmen who pushed west so my friend’s family could immigrate many years later and live in comfort. They fought on both sides in the uncivil Civil War, and in almost every war since.

And who respects veterans more? My grandfathers were veterans, and my father. So are both of my brothers, my sister-in-law, my nephew and my son. I deeply resent the suggestion that I am somehow less patriotic because I don’t agree with people who are promoting what I believe to be a false narrative, who have cynically co-opted the flag and fallen heroes as their own symbols and told me I don’t belong in their club.

These super-patriots, without exception, identify themselves as “conservative,” and spit out “liberal” as if it were a dirty word. They’ve also frequently donned the cloak of religion, and that brings me to the idea of cheap grace, grace without paying a price.

The grace of some of these “football patriots” is cheap and easy; they may be Christians who have been forgiven, but they are not Christians compelled to examine their own lives or follow the narrow path of loving one another, even when it is difficult.

They’re comfortable, wrapped in their flags. And that brings me to Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil. In writing about Adolf Eichmann, Arendt described his absolute and thoughtless symbiosis with Nazi norms, which allowed him to commit unspeakable evil as the man who managed the logistics of transporting Jews and others to their deaths. Within those warped norms, Eichmann was deserving of respect and approval.

I know my acquaintance isn’t evil, but her willingness to pretend Kid Rock was somehow admirable while excoriating a bunch of kneeling, mostly black football players was deeply disconcerting. To protect her worldview, she was able to distort reality, moving pieces around until they fit in a way she wanted them to fit. She needed to pretend that somehow the President was justified in his statement—no matter how offensive—and therefore the football players had to be bad.

What could be worse than disrespecting fallen veterans? Never mind that not one of the protesters ever suggested such a motive, and some are veterans themselves.

For that brief Facebook moment, I believe my acquaintance abandoned the critical thought and questioning mind that are fundamental to authentic morality. And for that brief moment, I understood that unquestioning allegiance and a sense of righteous zeal can be an ugly combination. I glimpsed a place I’m afraid to go and a person I’m afraid to know.

Editor’s note: So yeah, I overthink things. My acquaintance is, in fact, a good and caring person whose unthinking comment sent me to a bad place. Most of the conservative Christians I know are kind, sincere people, and so are most of the liberal Christians of my acquaintance, as well as the non-Christians. I had a bad day.

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