The recent hubbub over Black National Football League (NFL) players kneeling during the playing of the national anthem has ignited a heated debate over the place of protests in sports. On the one hand those who simply just want to "see a game" are angry and egged on by a U.S. Administration that has inserted itself into the issue taking a decidedly tough line against these majority Black and Brown players exercising their constitutional right to peaceful protest.
So when Vice President Mike Pence spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to fly from Las Vegas to a NFL game in Indiana, it was one more political insertion by the White House and its hardline stance that seem to excite the president's voting and support base. Pence came to show his "displeasure" at Black players protesting police brutality and social injustice in America. His presence cemented the Administration's bias and skillful coopting of a legitimate protest, using it as a dog whistle for the president's largely white, southern base. Pence's presence and abrupt departure sent the unmistakable message that he disapproved of these "uppity Blacks."
After staying at the football game for several minutes, Pence left in dramatic fashion then Tweeting:
I left today's Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.
President Donald Trump was very pleased with Pence's performance because that's what it was -- a performance for the base. The president seconded Pence's publicity stunt with a tweet of his own:
I asked VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and SecondLadyKaren.
But excuse me for being a Slow Joe. Pence waxed eloquently about being upset about the "disrespect" towards America's soldiers, yet he serves under a man who called Arizona Sen. John McCain -- who was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for five and a half years, subjected to torture and solitary confinement -- a coward and a loser. His feigned moral outrage is selective at best. He expressed no such outrage or anger when then candidate Donald Trump insulted Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed while serving with the US Army in Iraq.
And it is still more puzzling to me that the Vice President directs terms like "dignify" and "disrespect" toward Black athletes who were silently expressing their opinions and their constitutional rights. Yet, he does not have such harsh words for white supremacists that marched in Charlottesville and where a rabid racist drove his car through a peaceful demonstration killing one person. Funny, I did not hear a word of condolence to the family of the victim from Mr. Pence or his boss.
To any normal observer it appears that for Pence and President Trump, Black athletes who protest discrimination and racism are more worrisome and dangerous than white supremacists who make terrorist threats and stage violent rallies where unarmed counter-protesters are injured or killed. That's very perplexing to me.
I can't shake the feeling that all of this is part of a bigger game plan to win re-election. I get the distinct impression that all of this is to inflame the Administration's largely white supporters by jacking up racial tensions and animus towards "disloyal" and "unpatriotic" Black and Brown Americans. The logic is simple: Since before the founding of America and through to the present, white rage against nonwhites is always great political fuel that politicians have ignited and used to win elections and maintain power.
Dissecting Mike Pence's statement we can get an insight into the game plan. Using covert racist dog whistles the vice president claimed that Black athletes were disrespecting "our soldiers," "our Flag" and "our National Anthem." So one has to ask the question: just who is the "our?" The first thing is that this language is designed to further drive a wedge between "us" and "them." Exploit the racial divide. What was left unsaid but is implicit is that this kind of political tribalism creates a false narrative and drills down on the fact that to many white voters to be a patriotic American you must first be white.
It's the kind of 1950s mentality that says that Blacks need to "find and stay in their place" and "uppity Blacks" -- no matter how rich and famous -- will not get away with what many Black athletes before them have done -- use their fame to call attention to racial and social injustice in America.