It has been a week since the chilling terrorist attacks in Paris, an unforgiving reminder that the world has become a small, more dangerous place.
Tragedies like that put things like the Green Bay Packers’ loss last week to the Detroit Lions into perspective. The world is a smaller place that we thought it was, and violence can be found around the corner.
It’s easy to start seeing the world in black and white. Us versus them, and it is easy to be blinded by prejudices and the fear of people different from ourselves.
Sport has always had this inexplicable knack for bridging that gap and bring people of different ethnicities, religions or political beliefs together. It is a common thread that often binds us together.
By now the world knows — after all, the internet makes any bit of news fly across the globe in a matter of seconds — about the moment of silence before the game in Green Bay last Sunday. The French flag fluttered on the jumbotron, and it was a time to reflect on things vastly more important than football.
Unfortunately that show of unity and understand has been overshadowed by fan — it doesn’t really matter which team that fan cheered for — who took the opportunity to paint an entire religion with what numerous news outlets have reported to be a broad-brushed slur against Muslims.
Fans on the west sideline in the stadium bowl heard it, and the players heard it too.
While quarterback Aaron Rodgers struggled on the field that day, and his leadership and abilities have been questioned through the week since that stinging loss, there is no questioning his ability to lead by example.
When questioned about it last week in the post-game press conference, what Rodgers said has since gone viral worldwide with everyone from the BBC to bloggers in French-speaking, predominantly Muslim Africa tweeting about it.
Aaron Rodgers just won the weekend for his response to a fan's Islamophobic slur. https://t.co/h0fpi9INDL
— Sarah Ben Hamadi (@Sarah_bh) November 16, 2015
Rodgers could have deflected the question, or said he didn’t hear what the fan had yelled. Instead he answered in a way that let everyone know where he stood on the issue.
“I must admit, though, I was very disappointed with whoever the fan was who made a comment that I thought was really inappropriate, during the moment of silence. It’s that kind of prejudicial ideology that I think puts us in the position that we’re in today, as a world.”
In that moment he understood that words are divisive.
Agreeing with the fan would give others permission to see a world divided. After all, rhetoric of that nature doesn’t bridge the gaps of understanding and help force that divide apart all the more. It’s easy to dehumanize a race or religion if you think those different from ourselves are inherently evil or bad.
Us versus Them.
While some vocal critics wasted no time attacking Rodgers’ call for tolerance in the comments section of articles covering the subject, fellow Packer Clay Matthews not only had his quarterback’s back this week to deflect some of the daggers, he echoed what Rodgers said last Sunday.
“I think it really just goes to show the level of impact we can have as athletes on not just the community but the nation and everybody who’s listening. Guys like Aaron have such a platform to share their ideals and for that time when we’re trying to have a moment of silence for the victims for somebody to say something that hateful, it just wasn’t right.
“So (as with) anytime Aaron realizes what he’s capable of doing about lending a few words here or there, he felt strongly enough to say something when obviously he was in the right. I just think it just kind of speaks volumes to who he is and what he wants to represent as well as what he wants his country to represent.”
Matthews realizes how much impact a player can have on public perception.
While they often claim to not be role models, the truth is, players often are. What they say is often taken to heart. Fans come for the entertainment of the game, but sometimes what they take home is something that doesn’t come from the field. It comes from the bully pulpit of a press room.
Critics notwithstanding, it appears that both Rodgers and Matthews understand the power of words and how an open hand is often more productive than a clenched fist. After all, some believe that what Rodgers did is the exact opposite of what the terrorists want.
They desire separation and discrimination. On some level, they want us to dehumanize and disenfranchise. They want us to yell pejoratives and spew hate speech like the man attending the Packers game.
What better way to recruit the disenfranchised, ready to fight and die for a cause if those they are fighting have kicked them to the curb as an unwanted class? When the mainstream casts them off as garbage, the extremists are ready to welcome them with open arms as they try to radicalize.
Aaron Rodgers spoke up, not because it was it was the politically correct thing to do. He did it because he felt it was the right thing to do.
It made him uncomfortable and it disappointed him. Perhaps we need more people calling for calm and understanding, realizing that words carry meaning, that divisiveness only breeds animosity.
Perhaps we need more people like that who allow common sense to direct civility. It reminds me of something another Mr. Rogers once said, and it’s something we should all remember.
Funny how Fred Rogers is the trust voice of reason many recall when horrible tragedies strike. In the book The World According to Mr. Rogers, he writes, “What matters isn't how a person's inner life finally puts together the alphabet and numbers of his outer life. What really matters is whether he uses the alphabet for the declaration of a war or the description of a sunrise.”
It’s important to be reminded of the plain spoken truth. This past Sunday, Aaron Rodgers did just that.