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Professional Football, Hyper-Masculinity, and Nationalism

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I have been thinking about the controversy swirling around the National Football League as a growing number of players are “taking a knee” to highlight the deplorable treatment of people of color in our nation, and in particular, the deadly police actions taken against unarmed black and brown men.

Team owners and most NFL fans expect professional football players to personify at least two inextricably-linked qualities: demonstrated hyper-masculinity and chauvinistic nationalism.

As football players, for them to raise to the ranks of professional-grade, they must exhibit enormous strength, agility, and unquestioned discipline in following orders and operating as a well-functioning unit. Though this holds for most team sports, the obligation of hyper-masculinity is particularly heightened for the gladiators of the football coliseums of today, as it is for the nation’s military service members of all genders.

Thus, this likening of professional football athletes with military personnel, plus the fact that U.S.-style football, while having its roots in British rugby-football and other forms, has diverged significantly to become a new “American” invention. The clearly hyper-masculine and nationalist imperatives have, until the unbridled patriotic actions of Colin Kaepernick, stood as unquestioned and unwritten commandments.

Kaepernick, by detaching the formerly inextricably-linked connections between hyper-masculinity and chauvinistic nationalism, has challenged not only the definition of nationalist pride and love of country, but also undermined and exposed the social construction and ultimately unattainable notion of hyper-masculinity.

Fundamentally, Colin Kaepernick has literally and figuratively demonstrated the difference between the concept of “nationalism” and “patriotism.”

The 50 stars and 13 strips on our flag of red, white, and blue represent a collective image of the United States of America. In this regard, Merriam Webster defines “patriotism” as: “a love for or devotion to one’s country,” and “nationalism” as: “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups. ”

While the United States is a beautiful nation founded on a noble concept, a vibrant idea, and a vital and enduring vision, as a country, it remains still a work in process progressing toward but not yet attaining and not yet reaching that concept, that idea, and that vision.

Possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist is that the patriot understands and witnesses the divide and the gap between the reality and the promise of their country and its people. The nationalist, though, is often not aware that a gap even exists between the potential and the reality.

A true patriot is a person who, indeed, loves their country (though not necessarily viewing it as “exceptional”), but also one who sees the way things are, and one who attempts to make change for the better. A patriot also views other countries with respect and admiration, as valued members of an interconnected and interdependent world community.

By refusing to stand, place one’s hand over one’s heart, remove hats and other apparel from the head (an inherently Christian tradition going against the covering of the head in many other religious communities), and sing proudly the words and tune of this Star-Spangled Banner, Colin Kaepernick and the movement he has spawned have raised important questions concerning what it means to be patriotic and an active participant in our democratic process. In addition, they also raise key questions about the proper place for the playing of our national anthem.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 21st, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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