Dear NFL: Forced Patriotism Is Just Fascism

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Dear NFL: Forced Patriotism Is Just Fascism

Before that whole World War II thing, Adolf Hitler admired the United States. It’s an uncomfortable truth that has largely been hidden from history by the American education system, but it’s true. Per Hitler in Mein Kampf:

“There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but [the US], in which an effort is made to consult reason at least partially. By refusing immigrants on principle to elements in poor health, by simply excluding certain races from naturalisation, it professes in slow beginnings a view that is peculiar to the People’s State.”

Hitler connected this American “success” story to his ultimate goal, as he told a fellow Nazi:

“Now that we know the laws of heredity, it is possible to a large extent to prevent unhealthy and severely handicapped beings from coming into the world. I have studied with interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.”

So if you want to know why NFL players feel the need to follow Colin Kaepernick’s lead, and protest during the national anthem, the fact that Hitler took inspiration from popular American policies like the Jim Crow South or the Immigration Act of 1924 should be instructive. Racially tinged fascism is as American as apple pie, and it’s on the rise yet again. And before we can understand the NFL protests, and the abysmal reaction from Roger Gooddell and the owners, we have to understand a little bit of American fascist history.

Trump is far from the first demagogue to successfully court this thick slice of Americans who identify more with the heritage-based vision of Nazi Germany than the idea-centric aim of our constitution. According to Gallup, Richard Nixon received 32% of votes from nonwhite Americans in his failed 1960 presidential bid. When he won in 1968, he only got 12% of the votes from this group. What happened in between was basically the Big Bang for the modern GOP.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater ran on a race-baiting and “populist” message to dethrone powerful and “moderate” Republican forces like Nelson Rockefeller, and despite a bitter and hostile fight with plenty of moderates putting up a fight, Goldwater won with a plurality of the vote, and in a landslide of delegates at the convention. Sound familiar?

The difference is that Goldwater got blasted into orbit by Lyndon Johnson in the general election, only winning South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and his home state of Arizona. In 1968, Nixon won easily over a Democratic Party in disarray in the wake of Johnson’s retirement from politics, but Nixon still lost those states (minus South Carolina and Arizona, but plus Arkansas and one electoral vote in North Carolina) to George Wallace who ran on an explicitly segregationist campaign.

Another uncomfortable fact that has been obscured over the years is that the man who made American fascism the center of his presidential platform is the most successful third party candidate in history. Leading up to the 1972 election, Richard Nixon embraced Wallace’s platform under the guise of his “law & order” initiative (sound familiar again?), and he won almost every electoral vote there was to win. The story of American racism is not limited to either party, nor any one ideology or region, as the Northern Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 embodied. New York City has the most segregated schools in America right now. Anyone who dismisses the South as the only racists in America is basically telling everyone that they have no knowledge of history or current events.

Racism (read: fascism) is pervasive throughout this entire country, but the story of American racism in the late 20th century is very much a story of the Republican Party, with Bill Clinton and the Democrats joining at the tail end to try to roll back years of progress with the largest prison expansion in this nation’s history via the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The result of fifty-plus years of Republican dogma, and “centrist” Democrats (who a new study reveals to have more fascist tendencies than either those on the right or left) dogpiling on explicitly racist policies like the War on Drugs has all combined to produce our present malaise. That’s what Kaepernick and his cohorts are protesting.

In a moment of poetic justice, just as the NFL’s decision to force players to stand for the anthem or stay in the locker room reached its crescendo, the Milwaukee Police Department released disturbing video of officers assaulting a black man in a parking lot. The video is uncomfortable to watch, but we (white folks) must endure the momentary pain to even begin to understand the true anguish caused by these events. This is America.

After Sterling Brown of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks was forced to the ground while he was doing nothing threatening, you can hear the cop yelling “taser! Taser! Taser!” then a pop, and a painful groan from Brown. We want to believe that every person with a badge and a gun honors that responsibility, but the fact of the matter is that any position which affords that kind of power will always attract sociopaths whose central aim is to abuse that power. Forces like the NFL want to pretend that none of this exists, and that “protesting the anthem” is the real issue here.

The NFL’s Only Brand Is Hypocrisy

If the NFL wanted to clear this up and actually contribute positively to this conversation, they would clarify how Colin Kaepernick’s protest came about, instead of clearly blackballing him out of the NFL despite half the league’s desperate need for adequate quarterback play.

The reason Colin Kaepernick kneels is because a former Green Beret told him to. Kaepernick began his protest by sitting on the bench, and it angered Nate Boyer to the point where he wrote an open letter to Kaepernick in the ArmyTimes, telling him how offended he was by his protest. What happened next is a PR flack’s dream, which makes the NFL’s silence on this all the more damning. Watch this video.

A former Green Beret/NFL long snapper said “I respect those men and women in uniform, but the one’s that aren’t doing it the right way, we need to correct it. We need to fix it. [Kaepernick]’s right about that.”

If the NFL truly wanted “to put a Band-Aid on what’s going on in the country” like Bills owner Terry Pegula said in leaked audio of the league’s meeting with players over these protests, they would make Nate Boyer the de facto spokesman of this cause. For all those who are offended by Kaepernick’s protest, they have an ally in Boyer, as he was too. But after Kaepernick reached out to him once he levied his criticism, Boyer opened a dialogue with Kaep and understood where he was coming from. It should be a model for how to resolve this issue, instead, the NFL chooses to inflame it with their silence, and inflame it further with this new policy that places a hyper-focus on the anthem—the exact opposite of what owners stated they wanted out of this mess.

The NFL doesn’t want to be a positive force for good in this country, they just want to make as much money as possible off of us. The reason why they’re so terrified of these protests affecting their bottom line (despite the fact that revenues and sponsorship revenue rose the last two years) is because the NFL fused their business plan with our nationalism. In 2009, they set the table for this problem by sending teams out for the anthem (they had stayed in the locker room before), and as Spencer Hall wrote at SB Nation yesterday, the central motivation behind the rise of the national anthem throughout all of professional sports is the reduced cost that came with improvements in technology:

There’s irony here, because the thing that enabled this cheap kind of patriotism — the kind where just standing for the anthem matters more than actually exercising your rights as an American — was the anthem itself becoming cheaper. Around the end of World War II stadiums got huge P.A. systems, and the anthem became a consistent, uniformly embraced pregame ritual. Before the P.A. system, teams had to hire a band, and thus playing the anthem was expensive. In other words, enforced, ritualistic sports patriotism wasn’t cool until it was cost effective.

Nationalism is inherently fascistic, as you must believe that other people are inferior to you simply because they were born somewhere else. The NFL hooked their money printing machine up to our nationalism, and now that American fascism is on the rise again, they’re more fearful of Trump’s acolytes than a Green Beret. This is pathetic. Not all NFL owners are cowards, as New York Jets CEO Christopher Johnson pledged to pay all player fines that arose from protests and San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York was the only one to not vote in favor of the new policy—but on the whole, it’s clear that a controlling majority of NFL owners would rather make money from fascism than help police it.

Shouldn’t we fight for a world where folks like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid (also likely being blackballed by the NFL over his protest) want to stand for the anthem? Can you even call it patriotism when you’re forcing someone to express it against their will? This drama over protests during the national anthem is emblematic of our larger struggle with our American identity. We want to force black men and women to stand for an anthem that contains this verse (that we later omitted from the version we sing):

No refugee could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Slavery is fascism. Jim Crow is fascism. Forced displays of patriotism are a kind of fascism. This isn’t hard. It’s not that the NFL doesn’t understand this, they do. America is very much a playground for fascists—just ask Hitler—or consult the NFL’s business plan. Both will provide different forms of undeniable proof.

Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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