Almost two years ago to the day, my first opinion column was published by the University Daily Kansan. The column ran with this headline: “NFL athletes' protests are patriotic, not a symbol of disrespect.”
I was proud of that column and I stood by every word I wrote. Today, however, I am ashamed.
In my 2018 column about kneeling NFL stars I wrote about a number of things: the first amendment, the flag, my perception of patriotism and what the military means to me and my family.
What I failed to discuss, however, were the issues of police brutality or the relationship between police and racial minorities in the United States. I packed the entire issue, an issue which has electrified the nation in less than a week’s time after Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, into one tiny sentence.
“The rift between athletes and administration began a few years ago, when Colin Kaepernick did not stand during the national anthem at the end of a summer filled with high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men,” I wrote.
I did not elaborate.
I made the column about myself. I fed into the disingenuous arguments that kneeling somehow had more to do with loving the country or military than it did police brutality. I thought those subjects deserved more musings than did an entire, pained community.
Maybe I felt uncomfortable writing about racial discrimination. Maybe I was worried about what people would think of my first column and decided I should stick to what I know. Whatever the reason, I shied away from the issue then. I will not today.
My 2018 column featured images of then-Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins holding up a sign at his locker that read, “You aren’t listening.” I wasn’t. I was hearing what I wanted to hear.
I am a first amendment purist who got caught up in a foolish debate about protest methods and patriotism contests.
Those debates are eerily similar to today’s conversations about destruction, rioting and looting. Much in the same way the 2018 conversation was redirected away from police brutality to respecting the flag, today’s distractions are concerns about radical, violent protesters and vandalism.
In order to better listen now, I will not let myself lose sight of the issue at hand. My allegiance lies with the most vulnerable among us and their plight for prosperity. That begins with paying attention, hearing the voices of hurting communities, and identifying and removing my own distortive lenses.
Someday, I would love to again have a conversation about first amendment rights. There will also be a time and place to discuss destruction and vandalism. These are, however, issues that should remain on the back burner until excessive force is curbed and all people are treated equally by police officers regardless of their racial identities.
Elijah Southwick is a senior from Overland Park studying English and journalism.