Colin Kaepernick’s rejection of the flag in 2016 was like the first stage of a hydrogen bomb; explosive elements of race, politics, and patriotism were packed into place and about to make a raging fireball. But why is the fallout still so dense and acrimonious?
Miles of opinion columns covered the surprising divisiveness over an athlete’s body position during the national anthem. Is it a noble gesture over race inequality, a flat rejection of America, or a symbol of our fractious political mood? Most likely, Kaepernick and his mates are just prima donnas with giant shoulder pads. Regardless of their motives, the reaction of the country is showing us a few things about ourselves.
Most of us feel dissing dead soldiers is at least peevish and ungrateful. But for those who live for football, this was another 9/11, an assault on things they hold virtuous and dear. And why so great a WTH? Because football has bumped church and synagogue off the calendar for many a man, and in almost every way. Adulation of football in America (and football/soccer in Europe) easily qualifies as a form of worship, at least in its outward form.
Let us count the ways. The “Star Spangled Banner” is the processional – sometimes even with organ. Masses unite against good (their team) and rage against evil (the other). There is no sermon, yet a constant conversation flows from moderator-philosophers, and sports writers deeply ponder the actions of athletes for months after. Offerings of gratitude flow not only from expensive tickets, but are subsidized by cities and states. They build grand cathedrals (stadiums) for thousands of the faithful.
Artists picked up on this a long time back, and several have produced some striking images and thoughtful commentary. British illustrator David Flanagan is famed for his portraits of football (as soccer) players in Britain. One series, “Football religion by David Flanagan,” is rendered as stained-glass art, with religious symbols and all. Here, Yaya Touré sprouts wings and a trio of stars, in a campy spiritual tone. Flanagan says he gets “a buzz from getting the likeness of the player” in very simple form.
More than a decade ago, the German advertising group TBWA came up with an exquisite take-off, something between Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” and “The Apotheosis of Washington” in the dome of the U.S. Capitol building. The players are quite ethereal and appear to float airily above onlookers, as if looking through a glass playing field. Even the sponsor, Adidas, is tastefully worked into such elegant drapery that would be acceptable in an old Venetian master’s studio.
Omnipresent and (sorta) anonymous British street artist Bansky jabs at sports as a religion as well. While some of his pieces seem to offensively depict Christ, others feel he is mocking the substitution of football for faith. However, Banksy never depicts Mohammed on cross wearing a football jersey.
Siberian artist Vasily Slonov became an overnight sensation during the Russian 2014 Olympics when he produced a series of hilarious posters gently mocking politics surrounding the event. A series of fly swatters bore the likenesses of everyone from Putin to Obama, for which he demanded a “medal” from the Russian government. Slonov claims no fear of the authorities, because he is already in Siberia.
Although sanctions have slowed him down, the artist has been invited to stage a show on “Football as a religion” and claims there is a great interest for it in England. The Siberian Times quoted Slonov in an interview: “They said, listen, man, do the same with football that you did to Sochi … football is a world religion. Football is as with Islam, only the fans are even more desperate. I just need to do it elegantly.”
Although football can be an ersatz religion, the sport is ironically hated because some (mostly academics) identify it with patriarchy, masculinity, violence, patriotism, imperialism – and strangely, Christianity. Sports fans may have a tendency to be patriotic or religious, but half of Hollywood is cheering them on too. Yet, enough fans must be wearing a crucifix to contaminate football for liberals, who never catch on to things like the difference between a correlation and a cause.
Writing for Time magazine, Mark Edmundson projected Bible literacy as the big draw for football, and the reason Americans are so emotionally invested in it. He backs this up by noting people prayed before and after games (at least they were allowed to so in 2014). Edmundson also imputes the effects of Old Testament violence on the enduring attraction of football (killing off the Amalekites and so forth). He theorizes that contradiction and tension between Yahweh and Jesus is played out on the football field. Although Edmundson was a football player at one time, there is no indication he deeply understands Christian theology.
Read about the odious history and current aggression of gay militants, as well as how to defend yourself from them, in Marisa Martin’s eBook, “Bitter Rainbows: Pederasts, Politics, and Hate Speech” on Amazon. Print version coming soon.
Religiously-tinged football mania is global, especially in Europe and Latin American. Although it’s facetious, a “church” has risen in honor of retired Argentine footballer Diego Maradona. The “Iglesia Maradoniana” has a rather hilarious version of the Ten Commandments. Their Lord’s Prayer (“Our Diego”) ends with “Don’t let yourself get caught offside and free us from Havelange and Pelé.”
Recently a headline proclaimed, “Football patriotism has saved modern Germany from its worries about national identity.” This time they were serious. People without a savoir or national identity need something – maybe football. Kaepernick fits right into this. He wants the money, the fame and the attention – but he doesn’t want to pledge himself to the nation handing it to him.
I understand Kaepernick was once a serious believer, and as recently as 2013 he said as much. Now, he has a Muslim girlfriend and publicly defends her faith and her god. I suspect this has everything to do with why Kaepernick is suddenly offended by our flag. What made his teammates reject what they hold dear and collapse so easily to peer pressure, I can’t imagine. Maybe football really is a religion.