NFL Protests and the Strawman Olympics

“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”

— Eric Reid, Why Colin Kaepernick and I Decided to Take a Knee

Strawmen wrestling

Image found here.

Civil discourse is riven with rhetorical fallacies, but one of the most popular is the so-called “Strawman Fallacy“, where you misunderstand your opponent’s argument and then you refute your own “strawman” misunderstanding, rather than the actual argument. In yesterday’s New York Times opinion piece, Eric Reid of the San Franciso 49ers laments the rampant strawmanning going on now by President Trump and other critics of the recent NFL “take-a-knee” protests, and does his best to set the record straight:

“It should go without saying that I love my country and I’m proud to be an American. But, to quote James Baldwin, ‘exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.'”

Really, what could be more American than exercising one’s First Amendment Right to express one’s opinions publicly and to peacefully protest? What could be more legitimate than to use that right to protest police brutality? Even if you think that media sensationalism may have grossly and unfairly exaggerated the actual occurrence or significance of police brutality, surely you must agree at least in principle that police brutality is wrong? That it’s worth being concerned about? That it’s a legitimate thing to protest and voice opinions against?

And yet none of that legitimacy is being taken seriously by critics of the NFL protests, at least as far as I can detect. As far as I can see, the core of the argument against the NFL protests seems to be the absurdity that exercising one’s right First Amendment rights is somehow disgraceful or even disrepectful to U.S. service veterans who fought and died to defend those very rights.

But maybe I have misunderstood something here. Maybe my own social media “echo chamber” has insulated me from the appropriate counter evidence. Maybe all I’m doing in this post is criticizing my own strawman misunderstanding of what Trump and these other NFL protest critics are actually claiming. Maybe I’m just pitting my own strawman against theirs in some futile wrestling match of the Strawman Olympics.

What do you think?

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