I’ve always been one of those social justice warrior liberal types who made fun of football as a tribalistic form of “panem et circenses” (bread and circuses), a Roman term that describes distractions promoted to the masses to make them forget, or not realize, that politicians are screwing them.

Then Colin Kaepernick came along, and suddenly football became politicized. It’s not as if athletes have ignored politics in the past — Muhammed Ali in the 60s protesting the Vietnam War comes to mind. But there really haven’t been that many high-profile athletes making political statements. Then Kaepernick started taking the knee instead of standing for the national anthem at NFL games to protest innocent black people being shot by police.

Sadly, in this country where we’re supposed to revere and worship the Constitution with its free speech rights enshrined within, Kaepernick got about the same reception as Ali did back in his day. The racist right wing media and the GOP, which always wrap themselves in the flag and the furls of the Constitution to appeal to their base but fail to uphold what they stand for, vilified him for it. Called him unAmerican. Even labeled it “treasonous” to not stand for the flag. As much as Fox News and the Republican Party like to pretend that they’re all about constitutional rights, whenever it’s a black person supporting the rights of people of color, the First Amendment tends to take a back seat.

Our President, who took an OATH to protect the Constitution, weighed in on Twitter and called NFL players who followed Kaepernick’s lead “sons of bitches.” For a while, he would not stop tweeting about it. Never mind that there were bigger problems facing this country — for example, Puerto Ricans suffering with no water or electricity for months on end — oh no, he had to spend untold hours on his phone complaining about athletes taking the knee.

2 of Trumps many, many, many tweets about NFL players taking the knee.

That’s when I suddenly became very interested in Colin Kaepernick and football, in general. Because I loathe Trump and his fascist policies. I took the time to find out more about Kaepernick. He had trouble finding a gig in the NFL, allegedly because of his politics. I also learned that he’s donated millions of dollars to charity and has done way more to help people in just a few years than Trump has done in over 70. Last year, he won the Sports Illustrated “Muhammed Ali Legacy Award”, which yearly honors an athlete who “embodies the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy and has used sports as a platform for changing the world.”

None of his money went towards a painting of himself... hmm! (Sport Illustrated)

And now MY city’s team has won the Super Bowl. For the first time ever, Philadelphia — the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution resides — has won this major world championship of football. I really didn’t care about the Eagles going to the Super Bowl until I read in our local Philly Magazine about the players. Our team has some stand-up guys.

Chris Long donated his entire 2017 salary to charity and has become the most visible white supporter of NFL athletes taking the knee. Most of the money went to support public education programs.

His teammates Malcolm Jenkins and Steven Means accompanied an ACLU activist to Graterford Prison to meet with inmates, to get a first-hand look at the damage done in the for-profit prison system. Back when he played for the Saints, he started the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation to help at-risk youth.

Malcolm Jenkins and kids being helped by his Foundation’s programs. The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation)

YouTube/The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“While Jenkins drew flak from some for raising his fist during the anthem, he was also forging close ties with the Philadelphia Police Department, not just meeting with top brass but riding around with rank-and-file officers to learn how cops and the communities they serve can develop better trust — a real-world strategy for reducing shootings by police. While some angry fans, with Donald Trump’s hateful “son of a bitch” rant burning in their ears, chortled that protesting black athletes didn’t even know what they were protesting for, Jenkins made a mockery of that ignorant claim. He was busy writing a searing series on criminal justice in the Philadelphia Citizen, traveling to Harrisburg to lobby lawmakers on “Clean Slate” legislation to wipe clean the records of low-level nonviolent offenders, urging sweeping reform of the broken bail system, and calling on Pennsylvania to release inmates given life-without-parole sentences as juveniles. One such ex-offender who did win his freedom recently, Kempis Songster, will be in the stands at the Super Bowl — because Jenkins paid his way to get there.”

I may not yet be a football fan, but I’m definitely an Eagles fan.

As soon as the Eagles won last Sunday night, Philadelphia erupted in jubilation. Thousands of people headed to Broad Street, our main drag. Eagles fans have an admittedly deserved bad rap — I mean, one did punch a police horse recently. However, I wouldn’t say the problems Philly fans caused even compare to the destruction some sports fans have wrought in other cities. I lived in Los Angeles in 2000 when the Lakers won the NBA Championship, and fans there were WAY more destructive, even setting police cars on fire.

Still, in the aftermath, Philadelphia has since gotten a lot of shit in the mainstream media and on social media rom both the right and the left. Given that Philadelphia is a very liberal sanctuary city with a large nonwhite population compared to other cities ( we are 44% black, if you include Hispanic blacks), and we don’t have an owner who supports Trump, like the Patriots do, I knew it would only be a matter of time before the right wing blew Sunday night way out of proportion and started using dog whistle terms like “animals” to describe Eagles fans’ behavior. The reaction of the Fox News crowd is usually pretty predictable.

What I did NOT expect, however, was for the left to use our riots as yet another example of white entitlement. I didn’t expect this, because the crowd on Sunday night was pretty representative of our city — nearly half were black. This wasn’t your stereotypical college town, white bro sports riot (ironically, Patriots fans who were mostly white, caused a lot more trouble at the University of Massachusetts Amherst). I also didn’t expect it because I made the false assumption that more people understood what a liberal city Philadelphia is.

I’ve been to nearly every protest in Philly since Trump got elected (including one predominantly Black Lives Matter gathering), and the police have been nothing but respectful. In fact, when the LGBTQ community counter-protested the Westboro Church at the Mazzoni Center, the cops partied with us, and formed a blockade so the 3 pathetic Westboro protesters couldn’t get anywhere near the thousands who showed up to counter them. I always make it a point to thank the police for their service, taking an attitude that they are there to protect the protesters as much as the peace.

Not to mention, it’s not as if the police were totally hands off on Sunday — people were arrested for the mayhem they caused. Displaying the wide-ranging lack of knowledge on the left about our city and what actually happened Sunday, one of my friends posted, “Where were the SWAT teams?” I corrected him and pointed out that yes, Philly police DID call in SWAT, at around 1am when they needed to clear the streets, and people complied.

Reports of just a few of the arrests that were made Sunday night.

I still agree that overall, there’s a double standard . Our society takes a much more tolerant view of sports riots than protest riots, and we should still call attention to this. But I think we should give more credit to the Philadelphia police for what they do right in both sports and protest gatherings. I think this article in Slate got it right, holding up our police as a model for how to handle crowd control in general.

The day after the Super Bowl, several Eagles players spoke out and said they will not make the traditional White House visit, as a protest against Trump and his policies as well as his stance on players taking the knee. I could not be more proud of my city.

Setting a good example for his kid, in many ways

So, despite my dislike of football, with my social justice warrior mantle on it makes perfect sense to celebrate the Eagles and my city. Of course, there’s still a big part of me that wishes we could get as many people who flooded Broad Street Sunday night to attend the Womens’ Marches and Trump impeachment protests. Hopefully, our team‘s activism will inspire more people to join us.🔷

“No matter what I have to sacrifice...
if you see wrong in the world, you must say that it is wrong.”

— Colin Kaepernick

Embed from Getty Images

(This piece was first published on The Blog!.)

(Cover: Flickr/Lorie Shaull - An Eagles fan celebrates as confetti falls on the field at Super Bowl LII, Minneapolis, MN, USA - 5 February 2018.)