One of the great appeals of sports is resolution. Spend a little time (maybe a little money) on an event, and an outcome is provided. It may be disappointing, disagreeable or debatable, but it has a beginning, middle and end, usually in less than four hours — unless it’s playoff baseball.
Not so with social/political matters. They do go on — for years, decades, even centuries.
That’s part of some fans’ annoyance with the the intrusion of real life into sports. Not only does it make us uncomfortable, it is very unlikely to end decisively. We’re willing to yammer with each other for hours on what constitutes a catch, but are unwilling to spend two minutes on what constitutes bigotry.
But if it’s possible to accept that inevitability, Tuesday was a marker for incremental progress.
The NFL’s owners and players met for four hours in New York and did not injure or insult one another.
“It’s a huge step on a multitude of fronts,” Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said Tuesday before practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “First of all, bring the players together for a collective effort. Also, it unifies the NFL community.
“Obviously, this has been a divisive topic by nature. You have a lot of divisive rhetoric coming from different angles.”
Including from the White House, which ratcheted up the tension exponentially. President Trump’s identification of protesting players as “sons of (expletive deleted)” who should be fired foolishly inflamed the conflict and made the reaction about him, overshadowing the issue of social injustice.
Neither a black president nor a white president are going to solve anything. The only shot for understanding is among people willing to set aside fear.
The New York meeting produced no change in the NFL’s manual that says players “should” stand for the national anthem. Nor was it expected.
“We did not ask for it,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We spent today talking about the issues players are trying to bring attention to. Issues in our communities, to make our communities better.”
Players came away pleased that they were heard, and not dismissed nor stereotyped. Back in Renton, Sherman illuminated the aggravation felt by players from critics of the protestors.
“A lot of people have used the phrase ‘privileged athletes — you guys are rich millionaires,’ ” he said Tuesday. “Well, seven years ago, I had negative $45 in my account. What was I then? I was still a black guy, I was still a kid from the ’hood, and we will never forget those moments. What privilege did we have?
“The ‘privilege’ (was) to be blessed that our hard work and dedication paid off, and that we were able to change our families’ lives and to live better. That doesn’t change our memories or what we remember happening in our childhoods.”
Nor are players about creating a look-at-me spectacle. They seek documentable action.
Baldwin and Goodell on Tuesday released a letter signed by both and sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017, a bill introduced with bipartisan support Oct. 4 to reduce sentences for non-violent drug offenses.
The letter said in part:
The Sentencing and Reform Corrections Act would address many of the issues on which our players have worked to raise awareness of over the last two seasons. This bill seeks to improve public safety, increase rehabilitation, and strengthen families. If enacted, it would be a positive next step in our collective efforts to move our nation forward.
Sherman explained the bill’s purpose in plain terms.
“I think that it’s going to go a long way to keep more black men out of jails, and that will help more black fathers be in the home,” he said. “That makes a big difference in kids’ lives. I think that (fatherless homes are) a huge problem in America.
“It’s (often) circumstantial: This guy makes a mistake in a suburban neighborhood, it’s a couple of months, a couple weeks, or just a slap on the wrist. A guy makes the same mistake in an inner city, and you’re in jail for two, three years just because of your circumstance. I think that’s what they’re working to change.”
Baldwin, like Sherman a Stanford grad — Baldwin’s father was a police officer for 35 years in Pensacola, Fla. — has become a respected, leading voice in attempt by NFL players to transform anger into positive action. A part of his success has been a concerted effort to develop empathy for those who disagree — a virtue that did not come readily to him.
“The biggest change for me was that I listened, but it wasn’t intentional,” he said. “I listened for the sake of waiting until I could say something else. Like the majority of humans.
“I’ve been really intentional with my process of learning and listening. I’m trying to absorb and analyze what people are saying, and how they’re saying it — the emotions behind it, so I can be empathetic.”
Learning how to listen, learning how to act in a positive way, are skills still being mastered by Seahawks players. Progress is slow and the problems they seek to resolve are seemingly limitless. But the effort is what they can do upon the platforms while they have them.
They have the attention of NFL owners and most of the sports nation. Which was the entire point of the protest.
Imagine what might happen if others joined them with the guts to listen and act.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.