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There’s that thing where the church asks you to speak on what’s weighing on your heart. So.

BE THERE FOR THEM. On the long list of things we shortchange student-athletes on, the last thing should be compassion, understanding, and love.

I don’t want to hear a sarcastic “best fans in football” off this. There is no winner in the Fanbase Racism Sweepstakes. Your school or community is right there, and there are people in it whose patriotism and self-identity is so weak and insecure that they will lash out for the rite and symbol over the flesh-and-blood person, and the very freedom their protest symbolizes. They will not recognize that the act of protest during that moment validates the importance of the anthem, the game, and the community collected around it.

They will anonymously threaten a young black man who works for terrible wages for their entertainment. You can start with George Foster, former UGA lineman, here...

...or you can just watch Michael Rose-Ivey and hear how hurt he is. That is the part that breaks my heart here, before I start thinking about all the other heartbreaking things beyond a young football player standing at a podium. He’s hurt because the people that by uniform and affiliation are supposed to be his tribe turned on him not through disagreement in civil discourse, but by denying him his basic humanity.

That’s what a death threat is supposed to do: deny the most basic right of your humanity, the right to live. And he got that from someone who, by some unknown degree of affiliation, is supposed to at the very least respect his willingness to go out and play a game for them, and try real hard, and do all the things we include in the fan/player exchange at the college level. That “us” included “you”, full stop—even when you might disagree on a protest, or especially because you disagree.

You should be tougher about that, by the way. Your patriotism and understanding of America should be tougher. Your love for those around you should be tougher and stronger and able to listen and withstand questioning, even in the sphere of a game. You should be stronger than a brand of performative Americanism reliant on a systematic, sneering cruelty. You can’t be this fragile and survive a Tuesday, much less an entire life.

You should greet the anger you feel when you see a young black athlete protesting. Ask what sent it to you so hot and so fast in the first place, instead of rejecting it.

You will have to do the toughest thing of all for anyone in life: to love these young men, because they need that, and you need that. Not a lot, on the whole: but a little in the grand scheme of things, on Saturdays and select Thursdays in the fall, and every day in the community, just as you would anyone else in the exercise of something just beyond what the Greeks call agape.

You need that as much as they do, because otherwise you wouldn’t be here in the first place. It’s not all bread and circuses here, at the immense pile of bread and circuses. There is a need for affiliation, for community, and for relation, something to establish that you are not alone. There are a thousand slimy layers of sports—oh god, especially at the college level—but I’ve watched fandom act as a conduit for way, way too many good things to say there is not something of value here, and at the university level, which ends up being a safe haven and second home for so many, for so many different reasons. (See Jane’s piece from yesterday for a story about that, and a lot more.)

I just want you to know who you’re really talking about when you say “we,” and to love Michael Rose-Ivey. He is trying to lead, the very thing football coaches and fans and writers harp on as one of the most important cornerstones of a team. He’s doing that without hurting a soul in the process. One of the few places he thought would understand and accept not only did not do that, but instead lashed out in the ugliest fashion imaginable. Not everyone there, no—but enough to convince him that home, as he’d define it, was a different place than he thought it was.

It’s happened before, and it will happen again. Nebraska is not unique—far, far from it. You’re going to have to be stronger, and more loving, because I have just enough Judeo-Christian hardwiring in me to believe one of those qualities doesn’t happen without the other. If you need an example of that strength, there’s Michael Rose-Ivey right there, or Jourdan Lewis at Michigan, or everyone at Eastern Michigan. Bring a pair of open ears. They come free with the standard model.