Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Backlash Is Real

It is what it is right now in the NBA. Order is now being restored.

The Golden State Warriors are back in the cellar for the first time in almost a decade, and the league couldn't be much happier. They are taking this time to get their revenge. But is it really revenge or just another narrative designed to appease the masses who do not reside on Warriors Ground?

This is from an ESPN article two days ago:

"Despite an obvious opportunity to win against the battered Warriors, (Atlants Hawks coach Lloyd) Pierce said the Hawks didn't prioritize Monday's game."

The Warriors. Back to irrelevance. Not a priority. 

This was the Warriors' reality since the early '80s - save 2 or 3 blips on the playoff radar  - until the dynastic run that just ended this past summer. They were a laughingstock, a punchline, and a write-in "W" on the calendar weeks before thr actual game. The league with its default marquee teams and a select group of also-rans for a few years enjoyed the Warriors being an easy mark in a difficult place to play. No one expected anything from them. They were far from a threat and even further from a priority unless they wanted to fleece them of their most valuable players.

And then this decade happened: an ownership change, foundational draft picks including a generational talent, tide-turning free-agent pickups, and a coach with an innovative culture and offensive system. This made the Dubs - a longtime farm system for the Association going back to the days of Robert Parrish - a desirable destination for roomies and veterans alike. Not to mention their uncanny ability of turning the trash of one team, or several teams, into their treasure (JaVale McGhee). 

3 titles out of 4 trips to the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant's migration to the Warriors after 2 of those trips. An embarrassment of riches built over a 6 year span. Awards and records amassed by several of their All-Star, homegrown players. And the failure of teams to beat them at their own game, or overpower them with their star power. 

The NBA had had enough. So it was time for the Association to strike back. 

And the presenting of rings to the Toronto Raptors coupled with the Warriors' breakdown in the Finals this summer presented the opportunity the league and non-Warriors fans had been looking for.

Revenge. At least that's the narrative they're selling.

I would argue that revenge has already occurred. It started around 2009 when the Warriors drafted Stephen Curry. The slow build into a basketball juggernaut was only known to the Almighty because jokes about Steph's ankles dominated the NBA's view of the Warriors' centerpiece. Lest we forget the prevailing perception of Golden State. 

What we see happening here is not revenge, but something else best defined by Merriam-Webster:

Backlash: a strong or violent reaction, as to some social or political change.

Some say it was Arthur Schopenhauer who said that truth passes through three phases. It is first ridiculed, then violently opposed, then accepted as self-evident. Clearly, the NBA landscape scrambled those stages. First, Golden State was ridiculed for the better part of 3 decades. Then they forced everyone to recognize them as self-evident WHILE being violently opposed (see Barkley, Charles). Then after the fall of the dynasty, violent opposition grew even more. Now teams desire to teach the Warriors their rightful place in the NBA empire. 

Not a priority.

How dare they act like they are the Lakers or Celtics with their storied history, or any team LeBron James joins prompting instantaneous expectations of a Finals appearance. So let the beatdowns commence. It's time to give them a taste of the medicine they had given everyone the past few years. 

Except the NBA empire was the one with the laboratory.

Look, I get it. Golden State didn't do themselves any favors in a couple of cases, one in which the owner talked about being "light years" ahead of the league. But the fact is the NBA used to reward teams that came up from nowhere and went about it the right way, garnering the team with deserved respect and accolades especially with a transcendent talent in their midst who got them over the the '80s and '90s Bulls. The league went against that practice this time and is showing their true colors. 

So now Golden State is 4-18 for the year with a team of 8 or 9 fluctuatingly active players on their best night, a slew of injuries suffered by their core, Draymond Green trying hard to accept not being a winner for once in his life, and a league hellbent on treating them like the scrubs they used to be. The gloating that they participate in over the Dubs' currest state is just gravy. Because they're mad and it's time for The Big Payback, in James Brown terms.

Except that the Warriors had already got them back. And in sociopolitical language, you don't follow successful revenge with more revenge. That is redundant. Success is followed by backlash. Roland Martin will even cosign on that.

What the league is embracing is comparable to The Dark Side trying to strike back against the Rebellion. In their minds, it is high time to crush these uppity blue-and-gold miscreants and restore order to the NBA universe. And the fans who didn't like the Warriors' success are stormtrooping onto the planet of Backlash to set up shop and take advantage of this delicious moment to make Golden State their footstool again.

If you happen to fall into the group that was against Golden State, you are enjoying this - in more than a few cases, revelling in this - and have a ready comeback to any positive argument or apology for the Warriors. And the comeback isn't a pretty one. Nor is it entirely logical or balanced. It doesn't have to be in your minds. It is what it is right now in so many respects. 

You don't have to agree. The contempt in your voice says it all.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What "The Church" Produced: The Disappearing Bass

I have vivid memories of growing up at my childhood congregation that bring me an overwhelming amount of joy and an overwhelming amount of wistful nostalgia.

One of the most vivid memories is how the men in the congregation used to represent during the songs and praise.  The men whose voices were naturally in the lower register were trained well by our worship leaders to sing the bass section of the songs. But there were two brothers that knew more than what they were taught. One had a booming, melodic voice that resonated throughout the sanctuary. The other one was to me a bass savant - flowing with syncopated runs and "flatted fifths" that I have not heard from ANY man singing bass in worship service before OR SINCE.

Those two brothers were my master class in singing bass and my initial introduction into music theory. I received a master class in leading the music of worship from them as well, but I focus on the bass for a reason. I learned in my childhood that the bass voice in the assembly dynamically sets forth a sonic spiritual picture of strength, solidarity, godly manhood, and readiness for spiritual warfare.

Fast forward to today. When I sit in worship, I wonder where all the bass singers have gone. Even in a recent service at a sister congregation, one of the worship leaders during a particular song had to blurt out, "This is a battle song, brothers...where are you at?"

And that's where we are in 2018: having to sound out a call for brothers during a song to see who is ready to fight musically and (if at all possible) harmonically.

This is not an isolated issue, as the typical choir in Protestantism houses and highlights soprano, alto, and tenor voices...but rarely, if ever, bass ones. That's where the instruments kick in to fill in the dead time...or become highlighted themselves with guitar solos. Even as my voice changed to a much lower register when I was younger, I wrestled with self-acceptance through my self-proclamation of being "a tenor in a bass' body". The reality was that I wanted to do both tenor AND bass. That's not a bad thing. But my own experience helped me to understand more clearly the dominant presence of the song/worship/praise leader.

There is a cause-and-effect dilemma that I would like to introduce. This might not be universally true, but the latent truth of this statement is undeniable: as the song/worship/praise leader's influence tends to increase, the bass voice tends to decrease.

What some men who sing bass in worship sometimes feel like...
that is if they don't have a mic.
Most every brother has at some point secretly wished to be gifted/anointed vocally to lead a congregation in song, much like most every brother has at some point secretly wished to be gifted/anointed to preach a sermon that generated successive choruses of amens. It's the human side of happens. For those who are the vocally gifted ones entrusted with the leading of worship music, there oftentimes is not enough wherewithal to nurture and train men in the lower register to understand the necessity of their voices in the congregation. Not only that, but these gifted ones are often oblivious to any potential to help their brothers appreciate how their voices can harmonically blend in with the others.

But this is only a microcosm of our musical quandary with song/worship/praise leaders. As YouTube is propagated each month with videos of brothers possessing sick runs and mesmerizing range, and as their names are bandied about to secure their services across the country in near celebrity-like fashion, the emphasis to elevate the musical abilities of the not-so-gifted somehow gets lessened. The natural byproduct of this is more brothers trying to hang with the song/worship/praise leader and parrot what he does, instead of (to borrow slightly from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) knowing their roles and opening their mouths. Or worse...the song/worship/praise leaders leaving segments of the congregation the bass.

Let me get down to brass tacks. Making a case for praise teams, bass mic(rophone)s, or multiple and individual song/worship/praise leaders is not what the issue is here. The issue is when praise teams, bass mics, multiple song/worship/praise leaders, or even individual song/worship/praise leaders believe their own hype (and yes, it DOES happen), get caught up in their own praise (and yes, it DOES happen), and make assumptions and draw conclusions about the quality and/or follow-ship of everyone else's praise...yet fail to directly assist in the musical participation of all in the assembly. Those who sing in the bass register are usually the first to get kicked to the curb and the first to get called on the carpet.

Kicked to the curb, you say? Indeed so. When the bass leader beat-boxes, improvises on the fly, or even hits ridiculously low notes that James Earl Jones would envy, how can the brother who has not even come close to mastering the original or colloquial arrangement of the song keep up? If he is not even remotely inclined in a musical fashion, he may end up lost, confused, fending for himself in off-key ways, or simply being a passive "participant" listening to everyone else...which is what praise teams, bass mics, multiple song/worship/praise leaders, or individual song/worship/praise leaders are supposed to be there to prevent.

The truth of the matter is that the average member runs the risk of getting caught up in the rapture of musical or vocal "excellence" to the point of valuing talent over corporate purpose. And what is the corporate purpose? To foster and facilitate a mutually shared, mutually invested, and mutually inspiring worship experience through song.

So how do we begin to resolve this quandary that could, like the Jedi in Star Wars, signal the return of the bass register in full force and, like The Force, bring balance to the musical reality of the Kingdom?

Have Bible teachers and preachers undergo an education on the theology of the music in worship...AND teach their members on it. For decades, specifically in the African-American "fellowship", there has been a void in importance of understanding why the music of worship should be taken with great care and in all seriousness. It can and should go much further than the age-old "war of the worlds" on whether to have or not to have instruments in worship, or the relatively new contention between traditional and contemporary. How about tackling the idea of waging spiritual warfare musically, just as David did with his psalms (Psalm 91)? Or celebrating deliverance through music, much like Moses and the nation of Israel after the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 16)? Or perhaps the indulgence of a joyful spirit, reflecting the words of James (James 5.13)?

Music is a powerful medium for all humans, and God designed it so that worship and music are virtually inseparable. Preachers and teachers must understand how dynamic music worship can bring about dynamic life-changing results long after the closing prayer. But more importantly, they must set this idea forth in the minds of their flock so they will not only appreciate this God-given emotional and intellectual vehicle, they will anticipate new spiritual heights before walking into the assembly on Sunday morning (and, if it still applies, Sunday evening).

Stress the need for vocally gifted song/worship/praise leaders to be educated in (a) music appreciation, (b) music theory, (c) vocal training...well, all of the above and MORE. The parade of ill-equipped, unprepared brothers having to put the brakes on a hymn halfway through a refrain, for example, has run its course for way too long. But what has been unforgiveable in my humble opinion is the enabling by church leaders, offering misguided statements such as, "He's doing the best with what God gave him"...or the more reprehensible defense, "We covered that in training class." If church leaders are not musically equipped (yet under the delusion that they have some rudimentary technical background) or fail to position a brother to improve on what his current personal best might be, then the larger message to the brothers in the congregation - and the entire congregation for that matter - is that inspiring worship is not a priority at all.

But for the vocally gifted, riding on ability alone is just as subpar. With the wealth of music resources available within secular and spiritual circles at the virtual tap of a finger, not having basic music principles or fundamentals is simply inexcusable. Church leaders should strongly encourage men who function in this worship capacity, be they gifted or not, to seek instruction on pitch, tempo, musical terminology, time signatures, vocal dynamics, vocal care, and public speaking, just to name a few.

Better yet, church leaders should commit a certain portion of the church budget for this purpose and...wait for it...send these men to a worship seminar or music workshop where they can acquire, implement, and sharpen their skills. In real time. With honest criticism and expert feedback. I can honestly tell you that the women of the congregation will thank you later for the focused financial investment into your song/worship/praise leader(s) today.

The late Melvin "Blue" Franklin of The Temptations...a true subterranean bass.
Avoid the temptation to self-promote or self-anoint to the point of forgetting your corporate purpose. I saw a flyer from a congregation announcing a revival in which they had invited had two guest "psalmists" to lead the worship music. The last time I checked, a psalmist is one who composes or writes psalms. Forgive me for being blunt here: I would estimate that 95% of the song/worship/praise leaders in the Kingdom do not qualify (and I'm being conservative with that percentage).

A psalmist can definitely be a song/worship/praise leader, but a song/worship/praise leader is not, by definition or function, a psalmist. Holding a hymnal/reading a projector screen and starting a song is the surface being polished. Freestyling vocally just because you can doesn't get you any closer. And carrying a manufactured air about you in either position when a label is misapplied only makes the atmosphere around you stifling and unbearable.

In certain communities (specifically the Black community), those who sing well in churches are given what I'd like to call "church cred". They may get prestigious invitations throughout the brotherhood, be welcomed as a guest vocalist on recordings by singing ensembles, or even become a sought-after commodity to "teach" congregational singing to churches. If a brother in this situation is not humble or grounded, it will lead to him expecting a higher level of "church cred" - often exposing itself in manufactured swag, grandstanding, and presumed Black Card-level entitlement or handling. I've run into those individuals many times. YouTube only further inflates his head to the point that psi measurements become pointless.

Don't misunderstand the point. What I'm not suggesting is that it is inappropriate to post YouTube clips of your music leadership during worship services. That is a wonderfully helpful way to use technology to inspire or encourage people on a global scale to worship (or enhance their worship) outside of the sanctuary. Nor am I suggesting that you should turn down invitations to be a guest song/worship/praise leader. What I am suggesting is to keep your well-meaning or not-so-well meaning spiritual siblings from putting you on a pedestal so high that you can't climb down, especially if a congregation that is "less than the least" seeks out your ministry to aid them in some musical way.

In other words, check your  "church cred" at the door...and lose the claim ticket.

The bass singer's "secret sauce": the mixing board with an equalizer.
Stress the importance of congregational "four-part" harmony without becoming a church music legalist. Four-part harmony is nice to have but takes work to get...and it's worth it. The overwhelming problem is churches don't work hard enough to achieve and maintain it. Learning music takes time, but it also requires an effective approach. And the most successful approach to learning songs is repetition. From the studio to the car stereo to the front row to the front pew, this is a universal truth. But here's the rub: once you learn a song wrongly and repeat it to the extreme, it becomes a laborious challenge to undo the damage.

So there needs to be the patient yet strategic approach to help a congregation learn songs in their natural vocal range. What Keith Lancaster has done with the Praise & Harmony Workshops is proof positive that those with no vocal or musical background can know what to sing and how to sing it if shown what to do and how to do it. With this and other effective methods, we can better outfit men to sing in the powerful bass register instead of having 50 men creating an echo chamber by mimicking or copying what the song/worship/praise leader does, note by note.

As an aside to this point, I stumbled across one of our brethren offering his Siskel-and-Ebert-styled critique on church hymnals. He stated in one of his songbook "reviews" that a particular one was too heavy on "one-stanza numbers having a set of seven, often touchy-feely, words sung eleven times to a new age melody"...songs which, in his opinion, are "useless for congregational worship". With this rationale, I wonder if Paul and Silas were able to remember every "stanza" in the songs they were singing at midnight, and whether their time was useless. Oh wait, that wasn't "worship service"...and they didn't have what...were...they...singing...?

Surprisingly, many churches and leaders don't even know what this piece of equipment is. (Spoiler alert: it's an amplifier...)
But does it matter? The point is for the assembly to sing...not to sing with superfluous conditions attached to the activity, conditions that are based on a dominant (or predominant) ethnocentric influence or perspective. In other words, no one segment of the church population has the authority, and should not have the audacity, to prescribe something "useless "when it actually has more impact and relevance than some songs written in near antiquity. That includes the ultra-conservatives among us. This is not to say that older songs lack meaning; in fact, some have more relevant significance than some newer ones. But it's not about the age of the song; it's about whether that song has the ability to inspire the assembly to worship, draw near to God with their entire being, and serve the Lord authentically - starting with the closing prayer.

So for those who want to legislate on the "usefulness" of a song in a hymnal or on a screen - especially when questioning its scriptural basis - take heed lest you become so rigidly self-justified in your stance to where you forget or distort the purpose of the assembly coming together. And if you want to offer reviews, at least use an acceptable and divinely-guided standard that is not biased by some subjective, carnally-driven preconception.

Say what you want about least they have that one nailed down...minus the divinely-guided" part.

Realize that worship innovations improvements upgrades are not (and should not be seen as) the end-all and be-all of corporate praise. Let me be clear: I believe there is a place for praise teams in the church. The concept is over 40 years old, but is just now making inroads to certain congregational environments. However, regardless of how new or fresh a particular approach is or appears to be, that doesn't make that approach the hands-down best thing since "moving pictures" with sound.

I recall the first time I witnessed a praise team in person. The leader of the team made it crystal clear that their purpose as a team was to teach new songs in each person's voice more effectively. I appreciated that statement because one of the most challenging things to do in ANY church is to introduce new worship songs. So praise teams have their place. And to be even clearer, the place where the praise team can effectively be used is to teach new songs outside of Sunday worship so that they can be sung in Sunday worship and other gathering times. "Teaching" songs during Sunday worship will open up the Bermuda Triangle for more brothers to vanish...and that's just for starters.

Although I believe there is a place for the praise team in the capacity of music training for Sunday worship, there is still another hurdle. There isn't enough lasting repetition in a praise team "session" for people to overcome delayed memory recall for the next time the team chooses to sing that particular tune. So if the praise team is there to allegedly teach songs in corporate worship, yet the songs can be more effectively taught outside of worship with strategic repetition (read: compact disc, mp3), and the success rate for melody retention (I just came up with that) is at an arguably higher percentage using strategic repetition than the sporadic occurrence of the same song by the praise team, then what purpose does the praise team serve inside of the worship service? Or better queried, what is there left to teach or lead? I'm just asking questions here...

The crux of the issue is this: it isn't necessarily about a song being too "contemporary" or "traditional", or whether you do or don't have a praise team, but about having the proper method to teach the songs to the members so that the full import can be embraced by as many members as possible.

Now that I have your attention,'s not that kind of blog.
By "full import", I mean embracing it vocally and meaningfully. Spirit and understanding is how the Apostle Paul put it (1Corinthians 14.15). That can be communicated effectively through a praise team, a brother on a bass mic, multiple song/worship/praise leaders, or one song/worship/praise leader. It's not all about the method necessarily; it's about the purpose, preparedness, and spiritual impact.

Some may be reading this and feel that I'm targeting praise teams. That's far from the truth. I'm targeting future "sacred cows". If we haven't learned anything from the advent of the song leader - or any methodology that can possibly be perceived as "traditionalistic" - we should have learned that the ends don't always justify the means. We also should have learned that methods change with time and should be modified within reason, expediency, and adherence to theological principles.

Anyone becoming elitist or imperialistic about advancing the new worship developments should be warned lest they become the millennial or Gen-Y version of their early 20th Century predecessors who struggled with installing Radio Shack-quality mics on their pulpits. For these people, the advent of worship upgrades in this current worship season can become an idol, a crutch, or a thing to which people can be irrationally and/or emotionally attached. Just like the one-man "praise team" (read: song leader).

We're all striving to offer more perfect praise. So no one has arrived yet. Nobody has crafted the perfect worship environment. And no one should try to look at others who are not on their page of the worship mail-to-order catalog as backwoods, red-headed stepchildren.

And while I'm at it, here is something for free...for all of us...

Stop stealing. Another one of my vivid memories of growing up at my childhood congregation was the song pages pasted to the inside covers of the hymnals. Even at a young age, I remember seeing the © symbol (that means the song is copyrighted) with the phrase, "All rights reserved", at the bottom of every "sacred selection". Unfortunately, these songs were never sacred enough to scare church leaders and members alike away from the Xerox machine (or mimeograph, depending on which era you grew up in).

Church music piracy takes on many forms - illegally copying sheet music, illegally singing these works in public worship service, illegally creating projection slides, and yes...illegally recording the services with those songs being sung on an audio source or uploading them to YouTube. Whenever this is done, the composers, publishers, and artists receive less money from their creative work. Being a survivor of church music theft myself, it is a very distressing experience to have your intellectual property hard work lifted without your permission.

Yes, even YouTube draws the line at some point...
The argument from some people becomes, "Well it all should be for the Lord, and you should not be trying to make money off of churches for wanting to praise God with the music He blessed you to come up with. It's selfish and greedy to not share your songs for free." I'd like for those same people to tell that same fairy tale to Stanley Steemer when they want the sanctuary carpets cleaned, Guitar Center when they need updated sound equipment, and Costco when they need fresh rotisserie chickens for their potlucks. And some of the people providing these products and services are literally in the body of Christ.

That dog simply won't hunt. In a world where Max Lucado has earned millions for his written publications on Biblical topics, I'm quite sure no one has taken him to task for not shipping his books for free to every congregation that wants to read them. And those who claim that getting rich off of royalties is the issue behind the cries against ecclesiastical bootlegging are missing the issue and, dare I say it, turning a tone-deaf ear to the Word of God (1Cor. 9.7-14; 1Timothy 5.18). Pun intended.

Of course this narrative runs deeper, since many pious churchgoers have more than a few cassettes and CDs with the words Maxell, TDK, and Memorex emblazoned across, holding dubbed versions of albums by their favorite Christian artists. Making personal mixtapes for your own use is permitted when you bought the music outright; becoming your own pro bono music distribution company for friends, family, and the congregation takes money out of the pockets of those who created and produced the music. And it's illegal.

So what should every church do to keep from becoming "thieves in the temple"?

I introduce to you four letters: CCLI.

In other words, get a copyright license to make sheet music copies, sing songs in public worship without watching your back for the Library of Congress, and upgrade your EasyWorship repertoire. And CCLI is just the tip of the iceberg. That's the starter kit. There's much more to this than meets the eye. And if the eye can be trained to read shaped notes on top of this, an elevated musical hope has the chance to spring eternal...or at least a little closer to everlasting.

We as a whole just need to insure that, in the words of hip hop legend Rodney O, all of the bass voices in the congregation can have a similar everlasting that we "can't get enough of".



Where baseball may be America's national pastime, football is America's national obsession. Except that the borderline addiction to the entertainment schedule offered by its professional version may have many people creating NFL Anonymous groups.

Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, recently decided - after what seemed like 5 years when it is actually just over 2 years - on the issue of their players kneeling during the national anthem. The Shield mandated decided among other things, that all league personnel and players to stand during the anthem. Those who choose not to must do the locker room (or some other equivalent off-the-field location). Those who violate this will cause the team to be fined by the commissioner , and the individual disciplined by the Commish and/or the team. This decision has disastrous ramifications to Black NFL players, the ones who largely protested during the song to raise awareness to the struggles and challenges to those full-fledged, patriotic American citizens who just happen to be of African descent.

Never mind that a Black NFL player should have every right to kneel in public protest to draw attention to the countless atrocities carried out every day in America on the African-American community. The fact that his First Amendment rights are being violated by the NFL in this move smacks as something more serious than an insult. Yes, I know that "Congress shall make no law" against the right to "assemble peaceably", but that doesn't excuse or prohibit from making their own law those individuals who are clearly ignorant (or unsympathetic, apathetic, or vehemently opposed) to the plight of the Black NFL player, past and present.

Never mind that the issue was ramping down and not much of a driving sentiment. Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid - former teammates on the San Francisco 49ers and the Batman-and-Robin-like duo who spearheaded the push to protest during each pre-game anthem - made it known that they will stand for the anthem if a team happens to be willing to utilize their above-average talents...which still has not occurred. The NFL in their decision has re-awakened the beast with several players, who had no designs to protest during the upcoming season, seriously considering some method of peaceful assembly.

This creates a conundrum for the players who feel so strongly about what is still happening in communities they were raised or represent with their teams. And with the increase of frivolous phone calls by Caucasian citizens to the police on phantom or nonexistent infractions by African-Americans, this is becoming even more tenuous of a situation for all involved...more importantly for the ones hurt the most: African-Americans.

And since no Black person is safe, including professional athletes such as Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks, someone needs to jump behind the wheel and continue driving home this caravan of an issue. Except we don't know where "home" for this issue is and what it looks like if/when we get there.

Meanwhile, the conundrum is further exacerbated by this "stay in the locker room" rule. It's far worse than "Shut up and play". Matter of fact, it's the worst of Catch-22s one can devise for athletes of color. Stand on the field to "respect" the flag, and the issue is easily forgotten by everyone not even indirectly impacted, and the conscience of Black NFL players is unbelievably troubled. Stay in the locker room, and the questions will arise: Is he in the bathroom? Is he at the snack bar? Or is he "disrespecting" the flag, veterans, police, and anyone or anything else that can be considered fair game?

It's a no-win situation for Black (and, in a similar vein, Latino) NFL players. It can't be fun to take a stand against a wave of inherent entitlement and selective patriotism by Caucasian fans, NFL owners, coaches, and sports commentators, suggesting that systematic subjugation and forced patriotism - stand on the field or else - is some productive or successful way of working through the issue. It surely makes those wrap-around hugs that Goodell pines for at the NFL draft appear a little less ingenuous. I mean, if you can hug somebody, why would you honestly cause them to feel less deserving of one? Or is the hug simply the formal welcome to yet another form of societal control? We pay your multi-million dollar salary, so...stand on the field, or else...

Those watching the games in person or on the preferred cable package also face a choice that could affect the trajectory of their autumn Sundays. The choice: watch games filled with conflicted, socially at-risk Black NFL players or not watch at all and fill time with car washes, shopping with the wife/girlfriend, or transferring "church" membership from one with PSLs (personal seat licenses) to one with B-I-B-L-Es.

Here is the reality we face with this new decision. However, I would like to offer a potential reality that makes more sense than the one we see now. This reality can potentially shift the balance of power from the conglomerate to the common-sense consensus. This new reality can be summed up in this one not-intended-to-be-catchy phrase:

Money talks and activism walks.

What the American public at large must accept is the fact that the NFL is a business...a corporation no different than United Airlines, Denny's, and Abercrombie & Fitch. (These were chosen for an obvious reason.) No wonder the 32 teams that make up the NFL are referred to as "franchises".  When I hear that word, my mind gravitates to McDonald's, the franchise-making titan. Very little differentiation between the outposts in what they offer, independent only in the internal makeup of the staff, and usually mostly holding to the corporate company matter how nonsensical, illogical, or on-the-wrong-side-of-history the line may be.

What we do know about corporations is that it only takes the worst of scandals to shake it to its core, similar to Enron, Bernie Madoff, and, more recently, Uber. And the NFL is flirting dangerously with a similar fate...if it realizes how the new "stay-in-the-locker-room-then-shut-up-and-play" rule is going to possibly blow up in their faces like opening a Pepsi can agitated in a Maytag washer. 

If domestic violence (Ray Rice), CTE and player safety (Will Smith in Concussion), and ethnically offensive team names (Washington Redskins) were not enough to force sensible action, squashing players' 1st Amendment rights to protest police brutality against African-Americans should qualify as a constitutional crisis - and I'm speaking about the NFL Constitution - that would be bad for business. And whenever race impacts business to the point of swaying public opinion and standing legislation, race usually gets the upper hand. Just ask Sambo's.

So what gets a corporation's attention in these situations? The O'Jays don't call it The Almighty Dollar for nothing. And that is where the players have an opportunity to impact that bottom line to help the Commissioner and the 32 team owners (his bosses) to rue the day that they unofficially-yet-officially decided to sidestep a more effective approach to the matter, be unduly influenced by the U.S. President, and leave the players out of the process altogether yet leave them chafing under it.

And what is the opportunity for the players? To do one thing, and one thing only when the flag is being held by servicemen at midfield, and the soloist prepares to sound the first note in the first stanza of Francis Scott Key's ode to America:

The players should stand* for the anthem. (Note the asterisk.)

My suggestion is more symbolic and hopefully disarming to all who choose to stand on the negative side of the issue, transmogrify the narrative, and redefine the intent of the protest in the social stratosphere from police brutality to disrespecting law enforcement and the military.

My recommendation is to stand* for the anthem...with the right hand over the heart, the left hand held high in a fist, a blindfold inside of the fist, and a silent prayer on the lips.
  • The right hand symbolizes love of country and respect for those men and women who sacrificed their lives for the rights - as well as the security - we enjoy as American citizens.
  • The left hand in a fist symbolizes power and value not yet fully realized, being the proverbial "awkward" or "weaker" hand.
  • The blindfold inside of the fist represents the ideals of justice and equal protection under the law (per the 14th Amendment) to which people of color desperate cling and hold fast. If justice is blind, then it is that justice being sought.
  • The lips - similar to Hannah, the mother of the great Biblical prophet and judge, Samuel -  are in motion, verbalizing an inaudible prayer for not only the soul of the country, or the integrity and the heart of the NFL, but for the safety of every athlete of color on a professional football field that week.
The reality of the matter is that, for the athletes of color, it could very well be their last game -  not due to what will happen on the gridiron that afternoon, but on account of what might happen on the streets that evening. There is no guarantee that they won't be the next victim of blatant and discriminate roguery by an alleged "peace" officer. Celebrity status, affluence, or game-saving catch matters nothing. Standing* matters...

So this stand* will serve as a referendum on the true meaning of patriotism. When folks who stood in line to buy a $10 beer during the "rocket's red glare" walk back to the seat only to hear about a Pro Bowl player who didn't walk through the line of cheerleaders and tunnel of smoke, the question is not who is the bigger patriot, but whose stand is going to qualitatively help our country from Pennsylvania Avenue to Crenshaw Avenue in the long run.

So all athletes should stand* proudly for the country, their communities, and everybody in between. And what can someone say in protest to this stand*? That they disrespected the flag? Their hands were over their hearts honoring it. That they picked the wrong time to protest? They picked that time to pray sincerely for a peaceful resolution to this issue...just as their protest was peaceful. That they were race-baiting? They simply appealed to the law of the land in their quest for justice. In effect, this stand addresses and nullifies any argument against it. Just as the flag is a lasting symbol of what our country represents, this stand* is a rising symbol of what these athletes' communities need.

As apropros as this can get, I'll end with some choice lyrics written and sung by Sly Stone and his Family Stone back in 1969...from the title track of the album, Stand!, a record that directly addressed racial tensions in our country almost 50 years ago:

For the things you know are right
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight
You've been sitting much too long

There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong

There's a midget standing tall
And the giant beside him about to fall

And 49 years later, the need to stand still exists, even in every NFL stadium. But the stand just needs to be punctuated on the field, in the stands, and across our land...with countless asterisks.

I'm sure Tommie Smith and John Carlos would approve.