By Rosalie Tirella
When NFL players began “taking the knee” during the National Anthem before their football games – broadcast on TV and sundry media before millions of folks – to protest police killings of unarmed Black men – What gets me, said a pal, is when they just keep pumping bullets into the guy! – I immediately thought of my late Mom. …
Unlike her sports-oblivious (yawn) daughter, my pretty little Ma was a lifelong, rabid classic New England sports fan: the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics – she adored them all. In her “golden years,” she watched all the games on TV, her teams’ schedules (home and away) printed on the back of little Dunkin Donut wallet cards, parked right next to her rosary on her TV table.
Ma was obsessed with her sports teams! She prayed for them! She cheered them on, as she watched their games on her old Zenith, hollering in her teeny studio apartment in the seniors housing complex: GO!!!!! GO!!! And she would shout YESS!! in delight when her boys hit that ball over the Green Monster or made that Hail Mary Pass. She’d walk right up to her TV set, in one of her flower-covered Building 19 dusters I had bought for her, whistling her approval and “blessing” herself in thanks to God – making the sign of the cross, just like she did in church or when, in my childhood, in our kitchen, kneeling on one of our old ugly green wooden kitchen chairs – the ones that gave me “slivers” – before her big Infant of Prague statue in its big glass case (now in my kitchen!) …
… In thanks. To honor God for that home run or that amazing Tom Brady! Acknowledging God for the wind that caught that ball just right and set it sailing into the sun or the magical swivel of a sinewy or chunky! hitter’s hips.
Sometimes, when visiting Ma mid-game!, I’d see many of the Black football and baseball players, blessing themselves, too, just like Ma. Or even kneeling. Right after they did something grand on the field. Thanking God for their little miracle, just like Ma had thanked Him! Feeling the same happy feelings as Ma had felt! So grateful – and humble. For the smooth glove or solid trusty bat God had given them or maybe just the day itself: warm, crisp, cool, sunny or drizzling… Nature was God, too.
Tiny old Ma, old school religious to her core (but cool and liberal like Jesus would be today) and the big mountain players were simpatico. She’d say to me, smiling: See, my Rosalie?! See him bless himself! If the hit or touch down won the game, Ma would walk up to her TV set in her big white walking shoes that all the old people wear and kiss her index and middle fingers and touch the player on the TV screen and make a blessing over him and then walk back to her easy chair.
Voodoo. Momma love!!
Lots of the NFL players came/come from backgrounds similar to Ma’s: Poor, up against it all, strong church backgrounds, resilient church lady mothers or grandmas raising/teaching them, single parent homes, a belief in a real, human-like God who sits with the angels on puffy cumulous clouds in a real Heaven dispensing his favors, rewarding those who acknowledge His omnipotence: people like Ma and the Black football players.
So when the NFL players took the knee during the National Anthem, I knew Ma would understand – and approve. Maybe even going up to her TV and taking the knee with them. The guys were not committing blasphemy, hating America, as stupid demagogue Donald Trump bellowed before a WHITE ALABAMA crowd, during a campaign rally where he threw good men, Ma, prayer, grace and America under the bus. For votes. Nope, the NFL players were honoring God, their country and asking America and God, in the best way they knew how: WHY?????????