KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Gosh dangit we’re at it again.
Why do we keep doing this? When did so many of us decide the extremes are the place to hang out, that everything has to be the worst or the best, that if you don’t agree you suck?
Before the Chiefs and Texans starred in America’s most-watched live event since the Super Bowl, Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium, players on both teams were booed. The country heard it. The players heard it.
Though, to be fair to those booing, those doggone athletes were promoting the radical idea of — checks notes … unity.
This booing, including during what was supposed to be a moment of silence, instantly became a Thing … and in modern America when something becomes a Thing it goes through this awful and corrosive car wash of manipulation, misinterpretation and quick headlines.
It’s amplified and spread on social media until millions of people have a biiiiiggggg opinion on something they won’t take one minute to examine.
Many Chiefs fans showed up to defend the city’s image: They weren’t booing, they said. They were yelling CHIIEEEEFFFFS. Or they were booing the Texans, but not because of the social-justice message, just because they were the opponent. Or they were booing the booers. Whatever.
Just know: Some Chiefs fans Thursday night were definitely booing the messages of racial justice and unity.
By the time that video clips from the stadium were shared, and the hot takes had been made, you had some believing Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night was Watts in 1965. No. It was not.
Just know that many more Chiefs fans were at least respectful during the pre-game presentations — the first for racial justice, the second for cultural unity — than not. Kansas City has its problems, including some involving race. But this is not the Jim Crow South.
Can we at least agree on these basic facts? Can we stop making each other defend the furthest extreme?
If so, we might actually be able to take something positive from what happened Thursday night.
If this cottage industry of manipulating news events to bolster predetermined stances was merely dishonest, we could all manage our lives unencumbered. But it’s much worse than dishonest.
It actively makes us worse, more divided, more likely to close up and cover our ears and shut our eyes in our familiar corners than prompt an honest evaluation that might move us along a better path.
The truth is that life is messy, especially around difficult topics. Random events don’t often fit our tidy preconceived notions, no matter how much we’d like them to, or how much we try.
Kansas City is taking a beating in some places. My stomach dropped a bit writing that sentence for at least two reasons: because it’s true, and because this place is dear to me, warts and all.
Kansas City’s race issues go back years. Decades. They’ve been around longer than most of us have been alive. They are ours to fix now, or at least try, but this isn’t a Kansas City problem, and the more it’s presented that way locally or nationally the further we drift from honest conversation and the better future we all hope for.
Those who wish to divide or to manipulate real events for dishonest purposes can always find a reason to do so. It’s a Portland problem. Or a Republican problem. Or a politics problem.
It’s not. These are our problems, together, because we all live in this place and it’s in all of our best interests to make it the best place we possibly can.
Last month, FC Dallas and Nashville SC pro-soccer players knelt during the national anthem, and fans at the Frisco, Texas, stadium booed. Is the distaste for peaceful protest only a problem in Kansas City and suburban Dallas, then?
On Sunday, 13 more NFL games will be played, each presumably preceded by some sort of pre-game promotion of racial justice and unity. The Colts-Jaguars game will be the only one played with fans in attendance — just under 17,000, so roughly equivalent to the number of spectators that Arrowhead held Thursday.
Will anyone be surprised if some of them boo?
When that happens, will this only be a problem in Kansas City, suburban Dallas and Jacksonville?
We all like to think of ourselves as special, or better, but the truth is we’re all much more similar than we’ve been led to believe by cable news, politicians and the social-media echo chamber. Problems in one place are often problems in our place, and we’d all have more solutions if we did more sharing and less blaming.
We know better than the lies we keep telling ourselves.
Can we not listen to each other? Listen to the reasonable majority in the middle, anyway?
In this way, at least, Chiefs coach Andy Reid and the players who spoke after Thursday’s game are terrific examples. They heard the boos. Of course they did. But they downplayed them, focusing instead on the positive.
Reid encouraged Americans to work together. Safety Tyrann Mathieu thanked fans for showing up. Tight end Travis Kelce focused on the crowd noise during the game. Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes went closest to the fire, saying he’d “seen a little bit of the videos” of the booing.
“We wanted to show unity and we wanted to show we’re going to come together and keep fighting the good fight,” he said. “I hope our fans will support us like they do on the game every single day.”
That’s the whole thing. Focus on the positive while still working on the rest.
A friend of mine is a career military man and a passionate football fan. A Chiefs season ticket-holder and sympathetic to the push for racial justice. Just not at games. This is an underrepresented viewpoint, a man who believes we should try to improve America, and also a man who would be labeled by some as a racist because he wants his football served straight.
He believes in racial equality. He’s also worn down by social issues (they’re not politics, by the way; they’re social issues) seeping into sports. He knows athletes support the military. He knows they don’t intend disrespect toward the flag. But he can’t help how he feels.
Why should he be made to feel he’s the problem?
There’s an obvious counter here: good. If he’s uncomfortable, that’s part of the point. No significant progress — women’s suffrage, civil rights, gay marriage, nothing — has been achieved without some folks being made uncomfortable.
But uncomfortable doesn’t have to come with accusations of racism. Uncomfortable should come with a genuine desire to have a two-way conversation. That’s missing now, way too often.
Two-way conversations mean people like my friend being willing to be uncomfortable, but it also means points of view like his being honestly listened to and considered. It means him doing the same in reverse.
In these ways, we’ve made an inherently complicated issue astronomically more complex. Look at the lazy and self-protective ways we’ve dealt with it.
There are a lot of hard conversations to be had right now. If we’re willing. If we’re honest. If we can see the fundamental truth that, yes, we’ve made a lot of progress in the last 50 years and, no, it’s not enough.
We are better when we act on what we have in common rather than our differences. This can be the path for improvement for all of us. Those conversations are there to be had, if we can speak respectfully with the reasonable majority and not be distracted by the rest.
The trick is we don’t have forever. The reasonable majority seems to be thinning over time. Or perhaps it’s just becoming less noticeable.
It’s time we stand up, differences and all, and be better for the effort.
©2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)