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September 26, 2017 / lizatwood

Twitter flames fire of NFL protest

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My teenage son recently tried to make a bonfire in our backyard fire pit. After picking up some damp logs and cutting a few twigs from a pine tree, he placed them in the pit, poured on some gasoline and lit it. He rejoiced when the flames shot up, but he quickly became disappointed when they soon vanished and he was left staring dejectedly at a smoldering, smelly pile of wood.

This weekend’s furor over NFL players and coaches refusing to stand for the national anthem reminds me of what happened to my son and shows the problem of relying on social media to make real and meaningful change.

When Donald Trump said in a campaign speech in Alabama that NFL owners should fire players who don’t stand for the national anthem, he poured gasoline on a smoldering controversy and his weekend tweets lit the match.

Today the news media are consumed with the story, giving accounts from players, coaches and fans. We see pictures of players locking arms in solidarity and disgusted fans burning football jerseys.

Sports and protest are not new, of course. Muhammad Ali was forced to give up his boxing title and go to prison for his refusal to serve in Vietnam. Olympic runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos were excoriated in the media for raising their fists in a black-power salute in 1968. While both instances are testimony to personal conviction and even bravery, their real impact was limited.

Ali didn’t stop the Vietnam War. Smith and Carolos did not remedy racial injustice. And the NFL players will not solve the complicated problems of unfairness in our criminal justice system.

These protests draw well-deserved attention to issues that need to be addressed, but solving the problems takes more than knee — or a tweet.

America seems to be a country suffering from ADD. We flit from crisis to crisis. While we were fixated on whether or not the NFL players should stand for the national anthem, tensions were escalating with North Korea and yet another effort to fix our failing health-care system was collapsing.

Some journalists are doing good work. They are writing pieces that explain complicated issues, but unfortunately we are not paying attention.

I am not naïve. I don’t think most Americans have ever cared to debate hard policies questions. But the problem now is our political leaders don’t seem to be interested in focusing on policy, either.

Just like my son who didn’t want to take time gather dry twigs to kindle his fire, Trump, some members of Congress and too many journalists prefer to pour on the gasoline and watch the explosion.

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