Here are two different white men, each with careers in and around the NFL, talking about the same topic: Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit or kneel in protest during the national anthem, and his outspokenness about the oppression of black people and police violence. I've transcribed parts of each, and added a bit of emphasis.
"Football is the ultimate team game and ... you want to be a championship teammate, you want to fully be bought into having your team have the best chance at success, then you put your team above yourself. And no matter how passionate you are, no matter how much of a burden you have for a social issue, you don't let it get in the way of the team. And the big thing that hit me through all this was: This is a backup quarterback, whose job is to be quiet and sit in the shadows and get the starter ready to play Week 1, yet he chose a time where all of a sudden he became the center of attention."
"I play in a league that's 70 percent black and my peers, guys I come to work with, guys I respect who are very socially aware and are intellectual guys, if they identify something that they think is worth putting their reputations on the line, creating controversy, I'm going to listen to those guys.
"And I respect the anthem. I would never kneel for it. We all come from different walks of life and think differently about the anthem and the flag and what that means. But I think you can respect and find a lot of truth in what these guys are talking about, and not kneel. Those aren't mutually exclusive ideas.
"And listen, I'm just going to listen to my peers because I respect those guys, and I can't put myself in their shoes."
There's much more substance to each of what these guys said -- and in the case of Dilfer, there is also a response to Kaepernick's response -- but I'd like to focus on those highlighted pronouns. Long says "I," because he's expressing his own values to contrast them with others'. Dilfer says "you," which makes me wish he'd talk to Chris Long about all this.
Dilfer was once a backup quarterback, just like Kaepernick, and he says he became passionate about the issue of modern child slavery, but didn't use his platform to speak about it because he wouldn't want to disrupt the football team, which he valued foremost. That's fine. That's backup quarterback Trent Dilfer's choice for backup quarterback Trent Dilfer. That notion of a backup quarterback's job description is an "I" thing.
"You," though. In speaking this way, Dilfer neglects that his values are neither arbitrary nor universal; he presupposes that his priorities must apply to others. Dilfer acknowledges the different life experiences Kaepernick and his black co-hosts have faced, then in the next breath forgets the bridge between those experiences and one's approach to life in the NFL.
Kaepernick's issues are intimate to him by default. Where Dilfer found out about child slavery and chose -- nobly! -- to adopt it as a cause, Kaepernick and the black people by his side know racism and the threat of police violence firsthand. For Kaepernick, so intimate a cause might come first, before his team. Even if you can't relate, can't you understand?
Dilfer says he doesn't respect Kaepernick's choices, but I think he might if he stopped to listen, and to empathize. That's the meaningful difference between Dilfer's words and Long's. Like Dilfer, Long doesn't approach being a football player the same way Kaepernick does, but he says "I," because he knows his own values, his priorities, and his actions -- like standing for the anthem -- come from a place of privilege. Someone in his position has the good fortune to, say, gaze upon the American flag with uncomplicated feelings.
That's what Dilfer's missing, and something easy for white people, myself included, to miss because we've never quite felt it. A white NFL player gets to select his causes, plus when and how they matter to him. For Kaepernick and those protesting alongside him, blackness and the challenges therein are not a choice. It's fine to value different things. It's fine to behave differently. But your values are a product of your self. If you wish to understand, and to respect, the values of other selves, just listen.
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