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Column: Nothing will change until everyone starts to listen, including pro athletes

Austin Hemmingson

ESCANABA — Does there ever come a time in your life when you want to stay silent, but you just can’t anymore? You want to bite your tongue, but you just reach a point where you have to say something?

That’s the point I’m at right now.

For the first time in my experience writing columns, I didn’t want to write this column. I don’t want to “stir the pot.” That’s not my intention, but I already know some will disagree with me. And at this point I have decided that’s perfectly okay, because what I’m about to say needs to be said.

What we’re witnessing in this country is heartbreaking. The video I watched on Memorial Day of the Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes was evil at its core.

What has followed since then is just as evil. I’m not talking about the peaceful protests nationwide, which are a big step in the right direction for what this country needs. I’m talking about the riots, the looting, and all the innocent people who have died since then.

Two wrongs do not make a right, and two things can be wrong at the same time. This is a perfect example of that.

Naturally, with everything going on, many celebrities and professional athletes have taken their opinions to social media to make their voices heard. Tuesday was a social media blackout day, in which everyone who joined simply posted a black square on their Instagram account to support the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Between this and the peaceful protests, we see free speech, a group of people organizing events to create change, and something I talk about all the time — unity. These are good things.

But here’s where the hypocrisy comes in.

On Wednesday, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees came under massive heat for saying that he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America” during an interview with Yahoo Finance.

Like many other athletes such as LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Malcolm Jenkins and Michael Thomas, Brees simply used his platform to give his opinion.

But the reaction was quite different.

It didn’t even take 20 minutes for LeBron to chime in, for his own teammates to crush him, and for nearly all of mainstream and social media to slam Brees as if he was the world’s worst person. Brees’ comments drew so much backlash that he didn’t issue just one apology the very next day, he issued two.

Suddenly, freedom of speech was gone. A famous, prominent athlete, who helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and recently donated over $5 million to help Louisiana during the coronavirus pandemic, was shamed for his beliefs of standing for the flag.

Does this sound familiar? It should, because Colin Kaepernick mainly lost his job in the NFL for starting the protests of kneeling during the anthem four years ago.

Here, we have two examples of guys with different viewpoints both being shamed for speaking their minds.

This is a dangerous game to play, and I’m afraid it’s a game America is about to lose. What has made this country so great is democracy, freedom of speech and the ability for everyone to have their own viewpoint, which limits the power any one person can have.

Now, we’re teetering on the point where we can’t have a genuine conversation with those who disagree with us. The word “racist” is being thrown around like a football on Sunday afternoon, and those throwing the ball around don’t want to listen to those who disagree with them.

Isn’t this the same game going on in China right now, where those who insult the Chinese anthem will be thrown in prison for three years and fined up to $6,450?

That’s dictatorship.

And right now, we’re trending that way in America. People who disagree with each other are constantly getting the cold shoulder, and we’ve reached a point where you can’t say what’s on your mind without getting slammed for it unless it fits a certain agenda.

The only athlete I’ve seen make an attempt at peaceful conversation is Jets running back Le’Veon Bell. On Tuesday, Bell tweeted, ‘it’s more about UNDERSTANDING other people’s PERSPECTIVES! & until that happens, I don’t see how anything can change in the world. We need more LOVE! what is LOVE?! LOVE is SELFLESSNESS! when I say selflessness, try understanding others perspective! that’s TRUE LOVE! THATS NEEDED.’

Bell is entitled to his own opinion. But his message was powerful and what everyone needs to hear: stop bickering and listen to each other.

I’m not going to give my opinion on Brees’ comments or Kaepernick’s protest that started this conversation nearly four years ago. Quite frankly, my opinion doesn’t matter. I’d rather listen to what these two have to say to get a better understanding of where we need to go as a country. The most I’ll say is I’ll simply acknowledge I see where both sides are coming from, and I support both of their rights to have freedom of speech.

There’s a good chance a lot of you reading this right now will disagree with me, and that’s perfectly fine. Because unlike LeBron and a good majority of professional athletes who praise those who agree with them and slam those who don’t, I’ll actually welcome a conversation with those who disagree with me.

For the good of America.

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