The following piece recounts correspondence between two of The Prompt’s staff writers, Jillian Conochan and Gavin Lippman. For context, it is important that the reader know that Gavin graduated from The U.S. Naval Academy before serving for 13 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He separated from active duty in 2016. In addition to being a veteran and great human, Gavin is also The Prompt’s featured writer this week.
On Oct 2, 2017 at 5:46 PM, Jillian <jillian conochan> wrote:
I hope this email finds you doing well. It feels like that’s never a sure thing this moment in time, even for optimists like you and me.
Is it too forward of me, since we’ve only really ‘met’ on Prompt calls and Twitter, to ask you your opinion on the #TakeAKnee movement rippling through the NFL and professional sports? As a black man and a veteran, I’m sure I’m not the first person to ask you this question.
I would love to share my thoughts with you too, but respectfully defer to your opinion to start.
Looking forward to our dialog!
P.S. My most heartfelt gratitude for your service.
On Oct 3, 2017 at 5:46 PM, Gavin <gavin.lippman> wrote:
I was introduced to you when I saw the video of you spittin some bars when Kelaine got married, so its all good!
Its been a lot to unpack the past few weeks regarding the #TakeAKnee protests. Let me start by saying that between college at the Naval Academy and my service in the Marine Corps, I’ve been a part of the military for 13 years. I’ve written previously how much the oath means to me, how much my service at home and abroad has meant to me, how hard it was to transition and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. When I hear the national anthem, it reminds me of all of those things and more. I think about my service but also all those who continue to serve, including some friends and colleagues.
In the context of sports, I love singing the anthem before an international competition where I will cheer on those playing in the red, white, and blue.
That being said, I know that America has its faults. Racism, structural inequality, and police brutality have been problems that African-Americans have faced for decades. I think the murder of Trayvon Martin was the tipping point for African-Americans of our generation, and Black Lives Matter formed to fight against racism and inequality. The deaths of Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile (just naming some) all unarmed, all at the hands of police who all escaped prison time.
Because of social media, all of these protests, and in some cases the deaths, were brought right into people’s timelines and newsfeeds. More people started to speak and take notice, including athletes. LeBron James and a number of basketball players spoke on this at the ESPYs. Then Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem. When he started taking a knee, more people started to pay attention. My experience with Kaepernick had been watching him come 5 yards from beating my favorite team (the Baltimore Ravens) in the Super Bowl.
However, I immediately developed a new respect for him; he was putting his entire career on the line to take a stand and say to America: We need to have a serious conversation about these issues.
What’s so frustrating for me is the common narrative that has emerged that if you take a knee you not only hate America, but you also hate the military. As many NFL players have said (to include Kaepernick and Eric Reid), taking a knee is not meant as a sign of disrespect to members of the military.
Over to you Jill, what are your thoughts on the recent events?
On Tuesday, October 3, 2017 at 7:53 PM, Jillian <jillian conochan> wrote:
That is one of my proudest moments, so in this case, I’m glad my reputation precedes me!
Thank you for your thoughtful, heartfelt response. Is that an oxymoron? It shouldn’t have to be. You’ve demonstrated it’s possible for Aristotelian concepts of logos and pathos to align.
As a [white] [female] [non-military] person, I am comforted to know that I share many of your points of view. I am not just thankful for, but also indebted to the men and women of the military who serve so I can enjoy liberty and justice in my home country. My gratitude extends as far back as 1776, so I sincerely doubt, no matter how many care packages I send, or how many times I make eye contact with a soldier in uniform and smile, that I can ever truly say thank you enough.
Your list is 7 lives too many, and yet the real number tallies up into the thousands. I have so much to say about the individuals you listed–how I cried for Philando Castile, his girlfriend, and her daughter; how I recommend the Freddie Gray podcast to anyone who will listen; how I can still hear Eric Garner’s dying words if I close my eyes and listen hard enough. Yet this information sounds hollow, as if I’m trying to humblebrag about how “woke” I am.
I fear it also alienates people whose views differ from mine. There is so much discord right now and I don’t know how I can engage in a meaningful conversation with someone who may not see things the way I do without eliciting an eye roll, a deeper divide, or worse.
I also never want to disrespect anyone whose sacrifices benefit me and so many Americans.
I forgot to bookmark the article you mentioned about Colin Kaepernick. Will you please send it again? I want to get a fuller understanding of his perspective. It’s my understanding he began his—is it even right to call it a ‘protest’?—seated during the national anthem, but after some feedback from a veteran(?), agreed kneeling was a more deferential gesture. Even though I know that facts don’t always help to change an opposing view, it’s still important I get them right.
How does it make you feel that Kaep made a change to his format? As a vet? As an African-American?
On Thursday, October 12, 2017 at 8:24 PM, Gavin <gavin.lippman> wrote:
Thanks for your kind words!
Since Day 1, Kaep has repeatedly mentioned that this protest is not meant to disrespect the members of our armed forces in any way shape or form.
I wholeheartedly supported the causes he was trying to bring attention to, but like some others, wished he found another way to get his message across. I understood how sitting during the national anthem could offend people, especially current service members and other veterans like myself. I was glad when he connected with Nate Boyer, a former Army Ranger who played college football with the University of Texas (and had a tryout with the Seahawks and 49ers) about how he could protest but also be respectful of the military.
Kaepernick is not spitting on or burning the flag (actions that I think are horrible) but instead he is taking a knee. The sad thing is that the entire message of his protest is being distorted and convoluted. Now the discussion has turned to “Why is this man protesting against the flag and against the military?”
And as I mentioned earlier, now anyone who takes a knee hates both the military and the flag. Now the NFL owners are thinking about mandating that players stand for the anthem. What’s also really ironic to me is that the players used to be in the locker room before the anthem. Now because of a deal with the Department of Defense, they are out on the field for the anthem…
How do you feel about it Jill? Have you boycotted the NFL because of him taking a knee? What’s your take on all of the visceral reactions on social media?
On Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 5:46 PM, Jillian <jillian.conochan> wrote:
I, too, have read reports about the Department of Defense donating over $5 million to the NFL in exchange for high-profile on-field promotion.
Is it forced patriotism?
A less-than-scrupulous use of taxpayer dollars?
Is it just a strategic brand partnership?
I’ve been stuck on this thought for the last 45 minutes, so I’m just going to leave those questions open-ended. And you know what? That’s a good thing. Because more than anything, I want for people to use critical thinking and their own set of values to determine what they think about the relationship between the NFL and the Department of Defense. I want them to introspect and formulate their own conclusions.
I’m afraid right now we’re in a very dangerous place. Instead of seeking out quality information—including perspectives different from our own—we’re consuming news in shot glass-sized doses. It’s fast, and it’s cheap. It lacks nuance. It’s terrifying.
To wrap this up, the #TakeAKnee movement was never intended to disrespect the military, but because we’re living in a moment where every issue must fit the format of a sound bite or a meme or a tweet, it’s not hard to see how the message got distorted.
This is a satisfying ending to our collaboration.
Unfortunately, it’s not such a satisfying ending to the issue. Because you know what?
I kind of had a feeling that you and I would agree before I approached you.
How do I have this conversation with someone on the other side?
That’s the answer we really need to get to.
On Sunday, October 22, 2017 at 8:33 PM, Gavin <gavin.lippman> wrote:
I think your last question is the most important one:
When I think about that, I think about what President Obama had to say about this issue:
“I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot. One of thing I saw about American democracy is that it can be frustrating, but it’s the best system we’ve got.”
We might not agree, but hopefully we would walk away learning something new and considering an issue from a different perspective. Thats the key, Jill. I know I will keep trying to do that and I hope others do too.