It’s no longer the Saskatchewan Roughriders versus the Calgary Stampeders. Or Ottawa Redblacks.
It’s now the Roughriders versus their fans, some of whom were upset their beloved players and coaches linked arms during the Canadian national anthem preceding Saskatchewan’s 15-9 loss to the visiting Stampeders. The Roughriders subsequently released a statement supporting the show of unity that concluded with: “As an organization, we stand alongside our players and support their individual right to freedom of speech and their beliefs.”
Riders receiver Duron Carter insinuated on Twitter he was told to “Just shut up and play.’’ Riders offensive lineman Derek Dennis tweeted his sadness about the reactions he got supporting “Family and Friends and ourselves who have to deal with systemic racism.”
Under a photo of them linking arms with teammates, Dennis’ and Carter’s timelines were subsequently filled with people supporting their stance, which may be a Canadian slant because polls show 70 per cent of Americans disagree with the protests that have caused NFL teams to scramble for solutions and issue their own statements to explain what they’re doing during pregame anthems.
The CFL and CFL Players’ Association also defended the rights of individuals to non-violently protest or support whatever they wanted, without disrupting the games.
So this protest that was started 14 months ago by since-blackballed, former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick – his CFL rights are owned by the Montreal Alouettes – has now turned into a show of unity instead of a statement decrying racial discrimination?
It’s certainly become way more than that.
It’s left versus right. Equality versus disrespect. Black versus white. “Stick to sports” versus “Politics permeates sports.” It has leaked — no, poured — into Canada.
Everyone has an opinion. And nobody listens.
Former Roughriders president Tom Shepherd, who now handles fund-raising through Friends of the Riders Inc., praised U.S. President Donald Trump in a radio interview, the same president who stated NFL owners should “fire” any “sons of bitches” not standing for the American national anthem.
From across Canada came some support and negative backlash for Shepherd’s views. It certainly didn’t change anyone’s mind, it simply entrenched everyone’s thoughts even deeper.
Everyone could debate the logic of playing anthems before sporting events, but that’s now beside the point. Anthems are played in American arenas while black athletes kneel through them, sometimes with white teammates showing support by draping arms over their shoulders. Fans now watch games to see who and how many players are kneeling.
It infuriates people who believe the kneeling disrespects the country, police and military, people who have fought and died for freedom. Kaepernick and every other kneeler has insisted they love their country and respect the military; the military has nothing to do with this. Nobody listens.
Everyone has made it into their own passion play, seeing it through their own eyes and rendering their own opinions, criticizing anyone who disagrees. It’s us versus them.
It’s divisive, hurtful and damaging. It’s uncomfortable discussing topics nobody wants to discuss, when nobody wants to admit they’re wrong or right. It’s like cheering for the Roughriders, or the Stampeders, or the Redblacks and not understanding how someone doesn’t cheer for your favourite team.
But this is much more important than a game.