OTA for the Washington Commanders

Jack Del Rio situation reconfirms how divided we are as a people

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Following the mass murder in Uvalde, Texas, the people of this country largely came together to demand change—even if a minority of politicians beholden to certain special interests refuse to implement it.

Following the recent events culminating in a $100,000 fine imposed by the Washington Commanders on defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio (and the non-stop stream of pointed and hostile emails I’ve received), it’s more clear than ever that the nation is sharply divided. To the point at which it is two different countries residing within the same common borders.

This isn’t about trying to change that depressing reality, or hoping to persuade one or more members of USA Red to defect to USA Blue. (My preferred goal is to carve out a plot of land in USA Purple. That’s where most Americans actually would like to reside but can’t, thanks to a two-party system that requires a blood oath to all planks of the platform.) This is about our shared reality of political discourse that has melted into insults, profanity, and hatred.

There can be no debate. No middle ground. It’s all black and white. It’s all absolute. And no one will ever take a step back and ask whether their position makes sense or requires refinement. Instead, all energy is devoted to circling the wagons while crafting the talking points aimed at supporting the position we endorse and attacking the one we oppose.

For NFL purposes, the divide is best demonstrated by the reaction to the finishing of Jack Del Rio and the shunning of Colin Kaepernick. The free-speech crowd that so fervently supported Kaepernick is now arguing that Del Rio’s fine for speaking his mind was justified, if not insufficient. And the Blue Lives Matter crew that chastised Kaepernick for disrespecting the nation by kneeling during the anthem is now siding with Del Rio’s effort to minimize an attack that put plenty of blue lives in peril.

Regardless of perspective, we’re so caught up in defending our own views and fighting back against the opinions of others that we no longer even try to engage in a reasoned debate. It’s dueling banjos, but the banjos are playing two sharply different tunes at the same damn time. We shout our own views so loudly that we never hear any others. We’re at the point where we don’t want to.

Meanwhile, much of the truth remains, as it always does, somewhere in the middle. Even though much of the middle has become a barren, dry bed — a broad, empty parting of the Red-and-Blue Sea.

I don’t know what to do about any of it. The things that seem obviously right to me and those who think like me seem obviously wrong to others. And it’s getting worse, instead of better.

One side thinks the other side is under a spell. Maybe both sides are under a spell. Whether it’s coming from forces foreign or domestic or both, we’re being driven to spend so much time fighting about the things that make us different that we’re ignoring the things we have in common.

Surely, at our cores, we’re more alike than different. We’re fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. Cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts. co-workers. Friends. Neighbors. People who ultimately want to live our finite and fleeting years left in peace, harmony, and happiness.

What we do here is intended to be a diversion from the things that divide us, unless and until those things inevitably overlap with football. You know by now that I think Kaepernick was treated unfairly. But I think Del Rio was, too. It was enough for him to be publicly chastised by those who disagree with his belief that the events of January 6 were a “dustup at the Capitol.” The fine imposed by the team (and placed in the name of Ron Rivera because he’s the only one in the building with the credentials and moral authority to pull it off) was a business decision, no different than the business decision made by the league when it shunned Kaepernick.

The Commanders fear that Del Rio’s words, if unpunished, will keep them from getting free money for a new stadium. The NFL and its teams feared that employing Kaepernick would result in a certain segment of the fan base devoting less time, money, and attention to the sport. Both outcomes were wrong. Kaepernick was within his rights to kneel during the anthem, Del Rio was within his rights to speak his mind about January 6, and those who disagreed with either man were within their rights to voice their disagreement.

I choose to be hopeful that there’s middle ground to be had on the many of the issues that are driving us farther and farther apart. I choose to be hopeful that it will happen without a world war, or a war of the worlds. If we all spend less time focusing on how to spin the latest set of facts through our own prism of political views and more time searching for the common thread that holds people of fair minds and open hearts together, maybe we can eventually end this cold civil war that has us more divided than we’ve been since the hot one.

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