It’s difficult to be an American and not have some type of strong, visceral reaction to the current climate in which we find ourselves as a society. It is not an uncommon opinion that we are living in hyperpolarized times, and sometimes it seems there’s little we can do to bridge the gaps between ourselves. Not that fatalism is the antidote.
Even things that, on their surface, might not seem to be a political issue immediately become polarized, rooted in mistrust of ‘the other side’ more often than not. Is water wet? I’d better find out what my ideological adversary thinks first before I decide.
The long and short of it is that, due in large part to this hyper polarization, we have also seen an increase in tension, and an increase in the practicing of free speech and expression. That’s pretty much being taken as a given for the upcoming NFL season, during which many players and coaches, and owners, have expressed either the intention to protest or support of those who make that choice.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have more or less already acknowledged that this will happen. They have also make it clear that they don’t know what they will look like, yet, as Cameron Heyward reiterated yesterday to Andrew Siciliano during an interview on the NFL Network. “We have not figured it out. Whether it’s just locking arms and choosing what they want to do, we don’t know exactly what it’s going to entail”, he said.
“I think we’ll deal with that more in person, but going forward, everyone has a chance to do it”, Heyward, a perennial team captain, said. “That’s their right. For me to tell someone else what to do and how to do it would be unfair and unjust. These are the things we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with the injustices, and if people feel strongly, I advise them to have action behind that, and not just use that as a platform where you say one thing and do another. Going forward, there are going to be opportunities to voice your opinion”.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has previously said that he wants his team to be united in action, but he also said that he would encourage and support any thoughtful acts, including kneeling, and like Heyward, will urge that gestures be supported by long-term actions behind them.
At this point, assuming that there is a season, it feels like a given that there will be some form of protest, no matter what shape it actually takes, or when, on every NFL sideline. Whether it’s individuals or entire teams will vary. The cultural temperature and attitude has shifted since 2017, as well, to help account for this. As well, of course, as recent events, which spurred that change.