Metaphors are seeds for a hopeful blossoming of greater truth. Otherwise, true stories would be nothing but encyclopedic recitation. Is the Bible undone because we know the world was not made in six days?

Both sides of our arrayed partisan battle lines have the seeds they choose to see flower in this Colin Kaepernick-Nike kneeling affair. Both sides are somewhat right, but mostly wrong. Both sides misunderstand the other, and one wonders how intentionally. The normal bias/faith assumptions apply: the left believes the right to be evil, the right believes the left hopelessly naive, if not stupid. Chalk this up as another failure of our dysfunctional partisan landscape, as the first point being made here.

How narrowly does fact need to be parsed before it ceases to be metaphorical truth of any value? Apparently, only so narrowly as to place it into the confirmation-bias cubbyholes the partisan players want all stories to fit in.

Nike is accused of virtue signaling. But the concept of virtue signal intimates that there is no greater truth to be had in the ‘kneeling controversy,” that there is no principle that Nike is willing to take a stand behind and take their lumps for in the marketplace. I believe that, because Nike is willing to pay consequences, this is the pursuit of virtue, not the usual leftist do-nothing virtue-signal. This piece will argue that Nike and Colin Kaepernick have a point, if we are willing to parse hard enough to find it.

Firstly, and obviously, this is not a First Amendment issue. It simply isn’t.The First Amendment applies to the government, and the government only. Private companies can enjoin their employees to say and do all sorts of things that would not be required in private life (“our vegetable peeler is the best on the market”).

On the other hand (so begins the other hand “hand jiving”): the NFL is not truly a private company. They are now a quasi-government entity. The best word for describing this relationship is “crapitalism” (crony-capitalism). The NFL quaffs deeply from the public teat, taking tax revenue from the body politic and transferring monies to the wealthy/politically connected. People such as these complaining of their image is hilariously rich, and more of an indicator of public ignorance of their fleecing than anything the NFL has done to earn their approval through upstanding conduct. To my eye, if the public knew the truth of the NFL and its works, there would be no public goodwill to uphold. Here is a story of ambulance shortages in Detroit. Here is how much of the public trough the owners drank of, to build stadiums. Stoke your outrage over this point by imagining someone in respiratory failure being rushed by desperate family to the ER (“just, “GASP”,tell me that more luxury boxes will live on! “GURGLE”) Taking money from emergency service budgets and pocketing it is not any kind of patriotism I learned about in my career-FBI father’s house.

It should be an obvious principal of public ethnics that if the public pays, the public says. The NFL thinks it profits their image by linking their product to American militarism, with incessant jet flyovers and displays of patriotic fervor. They opened this door, and they shouldn’t complain now that other opinions have forced their way through. Sport is part of the culture. Ethics is part of sport and part of culture. We libertarians say the spaces should be separate, but this is mostly yelling into a hurricane. Nobody argues (and this is key; nobody argues anymore) that the Mexico City gold medal athletes were wrong in their protest. The nation that hopes to gain prestige by glomming onto the success of their athletes opens the bad things of the culture up to examination too. Adolf Hitler learned the risks of trying to prove a political point using sport.

The NFL is more guilty of cheap virtue signaling than Nike and Colin Kaepernick, because the NFL does not want to accept the consequences of disagreement to a point they brought up. Both sides are in the argument, ultimately, to sell an image, to sell a product, so that is a wash of virtue for both sides, and there is nothing wrong with that. But many Americans are not willing to agree our nation is just, and they are standing up and saying so. Whether Colin Kaepernick bore consequences is debatable, that he risked consequences is not. Therefore, his action is not a cheap virtue-signal, but a virtue stand, right or wrong.

Here is where Colin K (Nike) get the issue very wrong: they never repudiated the Black Lives Matter movement, which has specifically called for violence against the police. And they failed to account for the timing of the protests, which closely correlated with a horrific attack on police in Dallas by a black militant. In this day of requiring serial denouncements of the slightest display of interpreted racism, with attendant public groveling apologies, it is not a lot to require the BLM movement to unequivocally renounce outright calls to violence. Dr. Martin Luther King actually trained his activists on how to accept violence, to not fight back, because he knew his detractors waited to trumpet to fame the slightest mote of wrongness in the actions of his movement (then becoming the metaphorical truth in his opponents’ narrative of “out-of-control-blacks”). Also, even an athlete should be able to think deeply enough to know that a removal of police in black areas will hurt only blacks. In my entire career of treating the victims of violence, I’ve never seen an episode of white-on-black violence. And I’ve never seen a case of police-on-black violence. I’m not arguing that it doesn’t happen, just that it’s an outlier to well-known vectors of violence in the black community.

Let’s see how much parsing greater truth takes:

Blacks are not killed disproportionately by white police. They are killed disproportionately by police departments. This should make the issue transcend a racial narrative, to become a narrative of race and institutions.

On the other hand: Nike and Kaepernick have a point in bringing attention to the fact that is quite rare for a policeman to be criminally prosecuted for criminal conduct when on duty. It should be quite clear that what we are getting now is a window into police misconduct, due to the ubiquity of cameras in the public. The black community has been complaining about this for years, and we (white-dominated institutions) have not listened. Improvements in methods for disciplining the police should be imperative.

On the other hand: is it reasonable to send a policeman to jail for a shooting that’s in poor judgement? We don’t send clinicians to jail, even for very poor medicine, even when someone dies. Police officers do not wake up with the intention of getting into a shooting, we send them there. Intent is important. By my lights, a big part of the reason why it’s so hard to discipline the police is that there is a pattern, especially in NYC of over-charging a policeman involved in a shooting that creates public outrage. The jury, rightly, won’t have it, knowing as they do, that an accidental shooting in a dangerous situation is not murder. Few police shootings involve actual criminal intent. I’ve been in urban shootings, with the sound of gunshots ringing off buildings, and can attest to its terrifying, near-complete confusion. It seems like the remedy is to make it easier to discharge police who demonstrate poor judgement, before they are involved in a dicey incident. Sending them to jail should be hard.

On the other hand: civil service law and unions make discipline very distorted. Police, or their union, are never personably liable for what they do on the job, they have lavish protection, and no “skin in the game.” Shouldn’t lavish protection demand lavish standards? Clinicians who make decisions of similar stakes (albeit with personal danger a rarity), enjoy no such blanket, privileged protection. When police do act outrageously, the tax payers pay, not the police.

On the other hand: our expectations of police are greatly distorted, expecting them to be not only police, but social-workers and drug counsellors as well. We want them to replace the role of discipline in broken families. But especially, we require that they navigate through the most Byzantine laws on earth, and function largely as barriers against more litigation than the rest of the world combined.

On the other hand: evidence abounds that police use arrest quotas as performance benchmarks. Cities use fines as a source of revenue. Fines that both political parties have asked the police to go out and collect. This is not a very pomace-loving thing to do. This creates disproportionate impact on the community of color, beaten down as they are by poverty and family disintegration already, and more jail will not improve anything for them. The black community should be furious about it, and I wonder why it’s taken this long for them to make their displeasure known. We whites wouldn’t stand for it if it were happening to us.

More police encounters with blacks to fine-tax them means more chances for misunderstanding, and escalation, which means more police killing blacks. Blacks suffer disproportionately more under “quality of life” misdemeanor-fine-tax collecting type crime because they are constantly in contact with the police. They are constantly in contact with the police because they live in high crime areas.

The only remedy would be for community-centered policing, in line with the community values, using the Peel ethical model, focusing on real crime, and not police playing Sheriff of Nottingham. The current approach brings about the irony of a feedback loop of taking monies from the taxpayer, transferring them to the needy, who then have it taken back by the police for the city, to use to support the police.

Colin Kaepernick and Nike are right to point this out, however wrong-headedly.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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