This post will upset you. It’ll get your hackles up. You might want to punch your computer screen or unfollow me on your bullhorn social media outlet of choice.
Because I’m going to talk about pro sports.
And raising a family.
And maybe climate change, but probably not because I find it boring and leave that to experts. I have an English degree, for God’s sake. I know my limitations.
But also, I’m not really going to talk about any of this. I’m going to talk about talking about it.
Because right now, America has a serious dialogue problem. More precisely, Americans, basically every single one of us, have a dialogue problem.
Let’s back up, though.
I watched nearly 15 hours of football on Sunday and Monday, even though some folks out there suggest I boycott the NFL. Here’s where things get weird. It was mostly conservatives that were calling for that. What? Conservatives don’t want me to watch professional football? The political affiliation most commonly associated with Friday night lights and telling their sons to walk off concussions and assuming any boy who doesn’t want to play football is probably “a little bit queer”–those people want me to stop watching professional football?
This is also confusing since not too long ago, liberals were calling for boycotts of the NFL because no one was taking Kaepernick, and the claim was that it was due to his kneeling for the National Anthem.
Kaepernick still doesn’t have a team. Players are still kneeling for the National Anthem, so this leaves us at an interesting place when the bases of the two major political groups tell you to boycott the same thing. Usually, when both sides agree, the thing you’re supposed to boycott involves Nazis because we decided pretty decisively back in the ’40s that every self-loving American hates Nazis. “We may not agree on much, but we’ll always have Nazis.”
Back to this weird football kerfuffle. This is the message being passed along from the president, not verbatim, but damn close:
Boycott the NFL, or you’re not a patriot and disrespect our military.
Pause. Take a step back. Pretend you haven’t been keeping up with the sundry narrative skidmarks that have led us here.
If you watch pro football, you hate the military and America.
There is no sound logic in that. We’ve arrived at it through a series of unfortunate logical fallacies.
But the one that’s been nagging at me, thanks to a recent talk by sociologist Brené Brown, is the false dichotomy.
I love America and I want to make it better. I also support our troops, even if I don’t agree with every order said troops are given by higher-ups. Because I love America and want to make it better, I consider myself patriotic in a time when saying so risks being labeled with a lot of other garbage like “nationalist,” “white supremacist,” “idiot,” etc.
And I love watching pro football. I have a Dallas Cowboys shirt on right now. I wore my Witten jersey on Monday. I enjoy me a little skull crushing, even if I see plenty of room for improvement in the league policies.
The president either does not believe people like me exist or does not want people like me to exist, people who can be X and Y and not X or Y. This isn’t something I’m making up. This is the only way to interpret his statements. He may disguise it under “stand up for what’s right” rhetoric, but don’t be fooled. If everyone were to stand up for what’s right, be unyielding in our expectations of those possessing broad power in this country, hold people accountable for their actions and words, Donald Trump would not be president. I get it, Trump voters. You made concessions. You felt you had to. We’re a country that’s gotten used to a “hold your nose and vote” mentality. We all make concessions. No candidate is perfect. But now our president is trying to change the rules to: “No more exemptions … except for me.” Has that ever worked for a society, allowing for no moral exemptions except for those applied to the one or few in charge? Duh. No.
The point is, you don’t have to dig too far into this particular NFL-related false dichotomy, or “either/or,” before it falls apart.
The problem is that once you start noticing these rhetorical devices, you can’t stop noticing them. Seriously. Here are some more that you’ve probably had used against you, some you’ve probably used against others (we all do it in times of stress if we’re not conscientious about it), and reading this list is likely going to piss you off and get your hackles up. But do it anyway. As Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says, you have to make yourself uncomfortable. That’s the only way things get better. (And we want things to get better, right?)
Some of these have been explicitly stated, but others are heavily implied in our national discourse, and if you’ve been subjected to them, you’ll recognize them right away, even if you didn’t realize that was what you were experiencing.
Prevalent false dichotomies:
- If you stand for the National Anthem, you condone police brutality
- If you kneel for the National Anthem, you are a son of a bitch who isn’t welcome in this country
- If you don’t support the Affordable Care Act in its current incarnation, you don’t care about poor Americans
- If you support the Affordable Care Act, you’re a mooch that just wants the government to pay for everything
- If you support Black Lives Matters, you hate cops
- If you support law enforcement, you don’t care about black lives
- If you support immigration enforcement and reform, you’re a heartless nationalist
- If you oppose the travel ban, you support terrorism
- If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you’re a bad example for your children
- If you’re a working mom, you’re neglecting your children
- If you condone abortion, you’re a baby murderer
- If you oppose legal abortion, you hate women
- If you don’t support Antifa, you’re a fascist
- If you don’t support our presence in the Middle East, you don’t support our troops
- If you vaccinate your children, you don’t care about your children’s health
- If you don’t vaccinate your children, you don’t care about your children’s health
Okay, you get the point. Whoever you are, you probably fall under at least a few “if” statements. Most everyone does. You might also buy into some of the false dichotomies as being true. “Clearly limiting a woman’s access to abortion means you don’t care about women.” No. Stop. You don’t get to have just the ones that benefit you be true. That’s not how logic works, and we’re not here to talk about your feelings.
What if we experiment with none of them being true? What if we believe that people are more complex than that?
Plus, if the “then” portions are true, doesn’t that mean we’re all terrible people since we all fit into one or more of the “ifs”? Terrorists, fascists, baby murderers, racists–pick your poison.
Or could it be that these simplified if/then statements are a steaming heap of bullshit?
The if/then statements above can easily be worked into “us vs. them” statements, as such:
- (us) You either stand for the National Anthem or (them) you’re one of those sons of bitches
- (us) You either support Black Lives Matter or (them) you’re a racist
- (us) You’re either pro-life or (them) you’re not a real Christian
- (us) You either vaccinate your children or (them) you’re one of those anti-science idiots
Pick a side, everyone! And if you’re a pro-choice Christian or a cop who supports BLM, good luck! You’re on your own, asshole!
Except, we all fall in the cracks of some false dichotomy, but we’re asked to pick a side anyway. And it’s a hell of a lot easier in the short-term to pick a side than to stand in the dark, lonely chasm between.
In Brené Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness, she talks more about this and the sociology behind this us vs. them thinking. (If you stop reading this post and start reading her book right now, I won’t even be offended. Click here to pull it up on Amazon in a separate tab.) But ultimately, the people who win when this becomes the norm, the only people who win, are the ones in power. This is a control tactic that we’re all exceptionally susceptible to because of nature, evolution, etc.
But it’s a bunch of bullshit. And we’re happier in the long-term if we reject it and reject the people in power who try to impose it on us.
The Dallas Cowboys had the benefit of a Monday night game this week, and because of that, they had an extra day to consider how they would approach the National Anthem controversy (FFS … I still can’t believe this is a thing). Ultimately, they decided upon this approach:
Lock arms on the field before the Anthem. EVERYONE. Owner and likely Antichrist Jerry Jones was even out there with them. Everyone on the team, from coaches to starting players to backups, stood arm in arm. Then all at once, they took a knee. Together.
(Maybe Jerry Jones isn’t so bad after all?)
Let me be clear: THIS WAS NOT DURING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM.
And boy howdy, were they booed! And girl howdy, was I confused!
“What are they even booing? The Anthem isn’t playing. They’re just taking a knee together.”
The Cowboys were reframing the argument, rejecting the false dichotomy and choosing a third option: unity. So why the hell were people booing a show of unity?
Then it hit me.
People were booing because it was a show of unity.
There is a portion of the American population that sees a show of unity across races, creeds, religions, and cultures as a threat to their way of life.
If you search yourself honestly and find that unity of the human spirit feels like a threat to you, now’s the time to start questioning every decision you’ve ever made in life and every belief you currently hold. This is your wake-up call. I may write humor, but I’m not joking. I can’t think of a time I’ve been more serious about anything.
Seeing unity boo-ed left me with a sense of existential dread that was only moderately quelled by the Cowboys defeating the Cardinals (us vs. them is fine in the appropriate context of sports competition, right?).
Then the goddamned philosophical cavalry arrived. And they were athletes, coaches, and sports commentators. Not exactly the people I expected to be the champions of political common sense, but maybe I should’ve. Because this is 2017; all bets can fuck right off.
The following are clips from these unlikely voices of reason:
First, what Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said after the game when asked about the display, plus SportsCenter host Scott Van Pelt’s tragically desperate and “am I taking crazy pills?” final attempt to point out the illogic of the booing:
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) September 26, 2017
Before anyone tries to make an argument that Jason Garrett didn’t feel strongly either way on this issue, here’s what he said about the National Anthem a month ago:
To recap: Jason Garrett has strong opinions. Some of his players also have strong opinions that are different from his. Through honest discussion, they realized they had a commonality: they all believed in unity and equality. As does the vast majority of the American population.
They ditched the us vs. them, the if… then…, the either/or. They wanted a solution, they wanted unity, and they created that shit out of thin air with their words!
I don’t know to what extent Garrett changed his mind over the course of the discussions. That’s the risk you run when listening to others. You might end up changing your mind, and then you have to eat crow.
(As someone who’s done that a few times, I can tell you this: crow doesn’t taste terrible. It’s no lobster, sure, but it’s edible. And the company at any crow buffet is fantastic. They’re all good listeners.)
Jason Garrett may not have changed his mind at all, but he changed his opinion of what his beliefs had to look like in practice. So did others.
Was this a Happily Ever After for the Dallas Cowboys organization? Nah. Not in the traditional sense. You’re not usually booed by a stadium full of people in the traditional HEA. Oh, and you don’t usually have POTUS trying to Twitter shame you to 39.4M people internationally:
The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
Ouch. I’ll be honest. Reading that makes me mad. Not just as a Cowboys fan, but as a human. When I ask myself why I’m mad, it’s because that comment is just so mean. Its purpose is to shame and to stoke anger toward well-meaning individuals who came together to represent unity and equality the best way they knew how.
This is what happens when the power that wants to divide people is met with a show of unity. Said power doesn’t like it. Said power strikes back, tries to stoke the division, encourage people not to join into the unity but to oppose it. Anger. Great anger. Yay anger.
But anyone who has banded together with others from different backgrounds, creeds, religions, races for the sake of a uniting principle, anyone who has rejected attempts to be divided and been punished for it knows one thing:
It’s worth it.
It can feel like shit in the moment.
But it’s worth it.
Your soul knows it, even as your animal instincts shout at you, “Why are you putting yourself in harm’s way?! Seriously what the shit is wrong with you?!”
This isn’t a blog post about pro sports. Pro sports has just been the stage upon which we’re currently watching the thousand-time Tony Award-winning play Same Old Shit performed. And it’s a wildly inappropriate stage for it.
This political rhetoric of false dichotomies has become grossly disrespectful of boundaries. It’s like that long-time friend you have who’s clearly an alcoholic, so you keep her separated from your work friends, but she thinks it would be “so nuts, right?” to drop into one of your company meetings. No, alcoholic friend! You don’t belong here, and frankly, you’ve become a toxic element wherever you go, but at least in bars you’re properly contained!
Anyway. Here’s my challenge to anyone who’s stuck with me:
Stop using us vs. them language to shame and thereby control the actions of others. Stop it. You know about it now, so stop it.
To liberals: Your shaming of anyone who voted for Trump leaves no room for people to change their mind. People don’t have to be either liberal or a Trump supporter. They can be conservatives who don’t support Trump, and you need to be okay with that and not shame it, or else it becomes easier for people to double down on supporting a president who you think is batshit crazy than for them to have a change of heart. And you want a change of heart, right? Be prepared to accept it even if it means others’ hearts don’t exactly resemble yours. And don’t force-feed people crow. Let them eat it on their own time, and once they do, don’t interrupt them to point out the feather bits lodged between their teeth.
Conservatives: The either/or thinking perpetuated by those running your politics and news are pinning you into an uncomfortable corner where you may find yourself arguing for things that seem … just a little iffy. If you find yourself having to align with neo-Nazis or white supremacists (or any immoral, shitty people) in any way to remain part of the “us” and not the “them,” you have every right to say, “Hold up, what is this tomfuckery?” You know that isn’t how it should be. You feel that. I know you do. I used to align myself conservative, and it was that feeling of “wait, who is in the ‘us’ and who is in the ‘them’?” that made me realize I did not, in fact, align myself with all of the “us” and I loved some of the “them.” That moment can break the spell if you let it. You don’t have to forfeit your conservative values to reject the rhetoric. In fact, rejecting the hate and division will likely allow you to embrace your conservative values more fully.
To everyone: I told you this post was going to piss you off. I wish it didn’t. Unlike some people, I don’t consider seething anger to be “great.” But if you made it to this point, I’ve planted a seed (Ha! Tricked you!). And I think that’s what we need to be doing. Planting seeds of unity, not seeds of division.
Be good, listen to others, laugh at yourself.
Here are a few other videos from this week that I think are incredible:
Nick Wright pulling back the curtains of bullshit on this whole situation:
The protests have been hijacked by folks with an agenda. I tried to set the record straight this morning. I think this is worth your time. pic.twitter.com/p5xmmjeeYY
— nick wright (@getnickwright) September 25, 2017
Pop dropping a truth bomb: “There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change.”
Gregg Popovich: ‘We still have no clue of what being born white means.’ pic.twitter.com/whTL7y4ktu
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 25, 2017