I’m not a big fan of professional football. The more bloated it becomes, the less I like it, although I liked living in the Bay Area during the heyday of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. I worked for the Diocese of San José back then. We invited a Forty-Niner offensive lineman to help us promote a fundraiser for youth programs. His Super Bowl ring was ridiculously large, his neck even more so.
I do not listen to sports radio or watch ESPN, so I’m not up to date on the kneeling debate, but two things have occurred to me lately. The first has to do with Ancient Rome, the second with the Ancient Church. Why Rome? Name another sport that moves legions down an open field in formation against an enemy. Why the Church? That’s just me. A Shakespeare professor once observed that I saw Christ in everything. “Well, isn’t he?” I asked. Of course, that would make Colin Kaepernick Jesus.
For me, the only context for making sense of the kneeling issue is Rome, specifically, the legions. Legionaries were tough, toned, and disciplined. When they enlisted, they served for ten years, often without seeing their homes again. They endured rigorous training lasting months and then had to march ten miles per day with full gear. They often faced overwhelming odds as at the battle of Alesia, when sixty thousand of them under Julius Caesar faced a quarter million Gauls under Vercingetorix. Guess the outcome.
Apart from engineering, what made the Roman war machine the most formidable in the ancient world was discipline. The men ate, worked, and fought as one. I can’t imagine Caesar putting up with some of his men–even auxiliary units from Gaul or Germania–taking a knee in protest of anything. Had they done that, they would have had their legs sliced off before being executed. Any other complaints?
I don’t know why coaches allow kneeling. Regardless of how they feel about race in the United States, on the field their men should act as one. One body, one team, one color. If you watch teams on game day, you can see how kneeling physically disrupts that unity before the game has even begun. That’s asking for trouble. When you are surrounded by the equivalent of a quarter million Gauls (the Steelers’ offensive line), it could be the difference between victory and defeat (Cleveland Browns).
Second, the Jesus thing. There’s a concept in christology known as dyophysitism, which the Council of Chalcedon defined in 451 AD. It said that Christ was one person, which people had already figured out, but with two natures: human and divine. It then said that within him there was no confusion or mingling of these natures. Both were real and complete.
NFL teams today have two natures–kneelers and standers–although they are anything but real and complete. Half of the players stand, half kneel, and there seems to be a lot of confusion. Still, they are one team, signified by their uniforms and the kneelers holding their hands over their hearts to pledge loyalty to the flag they are protesting against.
It could be me. Maybe I am missing the deeper significance of the protest, because I do not watch enough football or read too much christology. Both are certainly possible. I have been accused of being insensitive although never a racist. I do know that had Roger Goodell been running things at Chalcedon, heresy would have been the order of the day.
Take a knee, Jesus.