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  • Reverend James Squire

Stander or Sitter and the Benefactor

Whoever thought that two college basketball teams could provide a model of how business should be conducted in Washington? The lead story in the Inquirer on November 23, 2021 was “Anthem Protest Sparks Reaction.” The story was a reflection of want occurs across our nation before various athletic competitions. What made this story different? James Maquire, a veteran, who graduated from St. Joseph’s University, has given significant amounts of money to various educational institutions as well as Project Home. He bought the EA Merion Campus which greatly expanded St. Joe’s footprint and he has given much to Penn as well. His son is a Penn grad. Maquire sent a letter to Penn and copied it to St. Joe’s. He has refused to give any more financial aid to Penn because of athletes sitting during the playing of the national anthem.

The article also included comments from Jay Wright of Villanova. Both schools had their athletes describe in team meetings why they believed in what they did. Each group of people who stood for the anthem and those that sat for the anthem discussed why they held their set of beliefs. In essence what has made sitting during the anthem a problem for many is that it is seen as disrespectful of our military and country. Those standing say that sitting is disrespectful. Those sitting have indicated that it is about the need for justice particularly for African Americans. These were respectful conversations among teammates. As I understand it, they shared their points of view while respecting the right of their fellow teammates to express their perspectives. Villanova and Penn will meet on December 8. I am sure that some of the athletes will stand and some will sit.

Penn, in my opinion, has made a misstep. All Penn players stood before a game on November 14 as the school where they were competing was honoring local veterans and first responders as part of Veteran’s Day. If sitting is not disrespectful, why did they stand on this occasion and not for the rest of the games. People watch what you do as well as listen to what you say. Why was November 14th an exception to the rule for those sitting? It confused the issue. As the philosopher/ethicist, Emmanuel Kant, said, “What you decide in one situation should be universal and good for all decisions of the same nature.”

James Maquire brings a certain perspective to the conversation that was based on his experience in the military where he saluted the flag with “all of its shortcomings.” What was different in this conversation more so than others across the land? Penn and Villanova are local institutions so the conflicting perspectives received much more attention than others. The conversations among teammates on either side of the issue have been private. If this is an issue that is as important as sitters and standers are saying it is, the back story of conversations in private among team meetings should be made public seeking a higher purpose. People could be empowered by knowing what the coaches and students believe and why. Sports teams are by nature diverse micro communities.

Recall the words of someone who is internationally recognized across the world as someone who fought for justice and paid a long prison term price for his views, Nelson Mandela, who said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.

The words of sports teams could be a vehicle for change. Coaches have a valuable teaching role. I speak from the experience of being a chaplain of a school for 38 years. I could have the most famous politician that you could name speak in Chapel, and the students would listen intently. If I brought in a famous coach or player, the students greeted them with the same attention to their every word, but the people in the world of sports seem to make a greater impact. They get young people’s attention, male or female.

In a recently released movie that I watched, The Heart of Champions, we may have a hint at what Mandala was getting at. It is a movie about college rowing. The new coach begins by asking the rowers why they are there at the boathouse. They produce the usual cliches about beating Harvard, the feel of moving through the water, competition, to practice their rowing and other examples. In essence the new coach says, “That is not it.” They are there to learn the importance of team work and what constitutes leadership. The crew boat was a vehicle to be more than a sport but also a place to learn the important lessons of life. Can we have crew boats in Washington of a mix of Republicans and Democrats? I want to see Mitch McConnell rowing in a seat that is next to Nancy Pelosi. Picture that!

Right now, whether you stand or sit, you are learning about a very important set of values that seem diametrically opposed but don’t have to be, love of country and justice. Sitters and standers have important things to say about different ways to love our country.

Maguire puts it out there when he asks, “Can’t we find a different way to disagree, respecting the people that put it all on the line for our country?” Those people are the armed services but, according to Critical Race Theory, they are also on the backs of black people who put everything on the line as well as reflected in institutional racism. I think that there needs to be a different way to take those private conversations among teammates and make them public. I get it that the athletes’ attention needs to be on the game before them. But let’s have student comments on why the athletes take the positions that they do be made public. Have those conversations appear as comments did on the recent front page of the Inquirer that states the problem with no solution. But this time provide a solution by the statements made by the athletes and coaches based in respect.

In Washington there is such a partisan divide because they are clear what some don’t want but not clear on what they do want. Certainly, clearing up what Critical Race Theory is really about would be a start. It’s more than what individuals do or say but also includes the structures that continue to keep African Americans off the grid of success and hope.

James Maguire, the sitters, and the standers have their hearts in the right place, but if they want to have hearts of champions, they need to be reminded of why we play sports in the first place such as to learn to work and lead together. We shake hands before and after games to thank our opponent for the OPPORTUNITY to compete. Think Nelson Mandala. Think a nation of OPPORTUNITY for all. Time to get Mr. Both/And into the room and escort Mr. Either/Or out! That is a solution worthy of the commitment of sitters, standers, and James Maquire. This is an OPPORTUNITY not to be missed.

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