What it was, was trouble
By John Railey
With apologies to Andy Griffith’s “What It Was, Was Football” …
It was back last weekend. We was in the big city when we got caught up in a crowd that pushed us through all these doors and gates and a bunch else, and then the crowd parted with one set of folks goin’ to one side of this cow pasture and the other group goin’ to the other side.
A man on one side of me yelled, “I hope they kneel!” and another man on my other side yelled “They better not!” and it seemed like a lot of other folks in the crowd were arguin’ about the same thing.
About that time, the crowd started cheerin’ and down in the pasture a bunch of men in short tight britches come runnin’ out of a silo at one side of the pasture and another bunch of men dressed like that but in different colors come runnin’ out of a silo on the other side. They were great big strong fellers, and they seemed right happy to be together too, raisin’ their hands in the air and grinnin’.
Then it got quiet, and this pretty woman with a lot of hair walked to the middle of the pasture and she commenced to singin’ some words about “bombs bursting in air” and “the rockets’ red glare.” Well, friend, everybody got quiet around me and some held their hands over their hearts but they won’t lookin’ at that woman singing. No sir, they was looking at the players and watchin’ ‘em something awful close.
Well sir, about half them players down there, ones of both sides, they’d gotten all serious and were kneelin’. This little feller beside me, he whispered to me, “Wow. Good for them.”
But this big feller on my other side, he said, “Those kneelin’ players are disrespecting our national anthem, our flag, our country and our soldiers who fight for it.”
I couldn’t quite figure this out, because I’d always thought of kneelin’ as being kind of respectful-like, even church-like, like that hymn where it says fall down on your knees and hear the angels’ voices. Even if these fellers were kneelin’ on just one knee ‘sted of both knees, I reckon they could still be hearin’ angels.
Naw sir, I couldn’t figure out how them players were disrespectful so I asked that big man beside me, I says, “Excuse me, friend, but who says them fellers is being disrespectful?”
And he says back to me kind of mad-like, “The man in the white house.”
And the little man on the other side of me, he said, “The man in the white house and plenty of others don’t like black folks. That’s why they’re kneelin’ in protest.”
Well sir, I don’t know nothin’ about protests, but they had started me wonderin’ about this man in this white house. Who was he and why did it matter what color his house is or what color those cow-pasture fellers are? And about the time I’m wonderin’ the big man beside me said, “The man in the white house loves all our people, especially our soldiers.”
So I asked him, I did, I said, “Well sir, was the man in the white house a soldier?” And that big feller, he turned sorta red but he didn’t say nothin’.
Then the little man beside me, he commenced to laughin’ and said to me that the man in the white house had gotten out of goin’ off to fight in the war when he was young and had let other fellers go and do all the fightin’ and dyin,’ and he’d even picked on one of those heroes.
Well sir, by then I was even more bewildered. It seemed a mite strange that this man in the white house was so taken up about the flag and fightin’ when he ain’t gone to fight for the flag his own self.
But I just kept watchin’ them fellers kneelin’ in the cow pasture. And friend, I have to tell you, they looked respectful enough to me. I wondered if that man in the white house, whoever he is, might have stepped in somethin’.
John Railey, who grew up in Courtland, is the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, which first published this column.