The Mike Evans Stand Down Proves the Power of Deflection

(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

With the news coming out that Tampa Bay Bucs star WR Mike Evans will stand down from his previous pledge of kneeling during the anthem during the entire Trump administration, we are seeing the true power of deflection. First off let’s make a few things clear here. It became abundantly obvious that the Evans protest was not as well thought out as the Colin Kaepernick protest. Kaepernick was already silently protesting before any media member noticed and was very articulate and not afraid to answer any question. Whether you agreed with Kaepernick or not you can’t say that he lacks conviction and doesn’t have a logical point.

With Evans however, what hurt his position was that it was a reactionary move. I understand his objective, but his strategy didn’t quite work out so well, and he didn’t seem prepared to deal with the back lash. Kaepernick was not only ready for the back lash, but it emboldened him. Perhaps in hindsight if Evans wanted to make a point, he would have been better off getting out ahead of the story and release a statement about how he plans to protest. In that case he would have had time to respond to the criticism. He didn’t do that, so clearly the team’s top brass sat him down and gave Evans the perspective.

This brings me to my main point. One of the narratives that has been prevalent throughout these protests is that they are disrespectful to the military and veterans. This is a definition of deflection and its actually part of a major problem with our discourse these days. The amount of vitriol that Kaepernick faced when the media finally caught on to what he was doing is very telling about people’s conceptual understanding of what freedom actually is. People often say “This is not the arena for politics” or “Shut up and just play!” Let me address the first quote “This is not the arena for politics” Actually sports has always been an arena for politics. The fact the national anthem is sung is political. Every single fly over stadiums is political. The constant display of military symbols in sports is of course political. When people say “this isn’t the arena for politics”, what they really mean is that this isn’t the arena for political positions I don’t agree with. And hence have a narrow view of freedom themselves.

Let’s move on to the second quote “Shut and and just play” You hear this constantly from detractors of athletes who have the gaul to voice a different opinion. It’s funny because when an athlete takes a political stance that they agree with, such as refusing to meet President Obama, these same people are applauding. So what they really are saying is shut up, only if I disagree with your political position and play. So there is only the space for athletes to be complicit in whatever is perceived to be a mainstream view. There is no room for any counter position. Those who violate this unspoken code ought to be lambasted and in many cases banished. There is clearly no space for the athlete to have any sense of critical thought and there is no space to have an actual political discourse. Let’s not forget, these are people too, tax payers, who have the same right to speak out as everyone else does. And by castigated or trying to silence any voice of dissent means once again you lack a sophisticated understanding of actual freedom.

This brings me to the disrespect of the military, which is directly associated with the concept of freedom. Often times, from the same detractors of athletes that speak out, or launch a protest, you hear that they are “Disrespecting the military and veterans” This is meant to really distract and deflect from the issues being protested and it couldn’t be further from the truth.  It’s funny because sometimes in the same breath they will say “The military is out there dying for our freedom and you are disrespecting them by protesting” If you can’t see the irony in that statement, I’m sorry but that’s the definition of cognitive dissonance. If the military is fighting for our freedoms, that means the freedom of speech and that also means the right to protest.

In the cases of Kaepernick and Evans, neither of their protests had anything to do with the military. Kaepernick is protesting police brutality, the prison industrial complex and racial injustice. Evans was protesting the election of Donal Trump. They used their platforms to raise awareness of discontent. This has absolutely nothing to do with the troops. And the fact that people use the troops to deflect what their actual protest is, is a telling sign once again of a problem with our discourse. Now you can agree or disagree with their position, and even their tactics, but when you inject the troops into the argument, clearly you are not even interested in having political discourse.

I mention all of this without even bringing up the elephant in the room. The Pentagon has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting the military across the country at various sporting events. The NFL of course being it’s biggest target since it has the biggest audience. It wasn’t until 2009 that the players came out during the national anthem, which was part of a promotional campaign paid for by the Pentagon. So the political narrative was already bought and sold and people just fall in line with it. Which is there right, but also doesn’t bode well for their position.

When it came to Evans, his timing was rough because it was during Veterans Day weekend, which is big promotional tool for the NFL. Of course the deflection of disrespecting the military comes into play and will be in full force. He was roasted all over social media and in the press about his position. In fact you can tell by his reaction and backtracking that he wasn’t prepared for the criticism. This here lies the rub. We completely lost Evans’ message, which was his discontent that Trump won. To him he sees the president elect as a threat to his existence and he’s worried about that. Whether this position is right or wrong is irrelevant, it’s what he feels.

There was no doubt the rhetoric in this presidential election was brutal. And to ignore the racial undertones of the Trump candidacy is being irresponsible at best.  Let’s not forget that the majority of players in the NFL are people are color. They know all too well code language and racial undertones. Since elected Trump has hired Steve Bannon who has served as a mouth piece for the alt right as well as the emerging and empowered white nationalist movement. Maybe we ought to listen to the discontent, because what is becoming normalized right now is very scary. We add this to the blind support of militarism and the silencing of critics and we start moving into the direction of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. This isn’t hyperbole either, because this is exactly how these things happen. We have history as our guide already.

Understood that this is a sports sight dedicated to football in the great state of Florida. And I understand that my position is going to hit a lot of people really hard and make a few people angry. All I am saying is that before we start deflecting arguments from athletes, we ought to listen to what their position is first. I understand Mike Evans probably doesn’t understand the full scope of things, but he knows enough to feel like the direction of the country after the Trump is tumultuous at best. That we have seen an increase in racial bullying and vandalism and intimidation. We have also seen some riots from the protestors of Trump too, which is all wrong.

Politics has to be injected into the sports equations, because Mike Evans became a big story over the past 48 hours. This is not the time to bury these discussions under the rug. It’s time to bring them out in the open. I hope Mike Evans continues to speak up and I truly hope that those that may disagree with him, actually spend a few minutes listening before automatically deflecting.  If we want this country to heal, this is the only direction we can go in.

So instead of “Shut up and Play” I’m telling everyone to “Shut up and listen” maybe you will learn something and maybe just maybe we can stop talking past one another.

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