As protests divide, Lions’ Tate seeks dialogue

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — For Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate, it’s about time we talk this through.

What started as one player sitting down during the national anthem to protest the treatment of minorities in this country, has become one of the nation’s most polarizing issues. And after league-wide demonstrations last week, and talks of counter protests as fans post videos on social media of their sacrificial burning of season tickets and team memorabilia, Tate would like to see some dialogue between the two sides, to gain understanding and potentially reach a compromise.

Tate hasn’t kneeled for the national anthem, but he understands the mindset of those who do. He locked arms with teammates and Lions ownership before Sunday’s game with the Atlanta Falcons, a showing of unity following president Donald Trump’s comments earlier that week. The demonstration drew jeers from a healthy percentage of the sold-out crowd, something Tate said he understood.

“Look, there are people who feel it’s completely unacceptable to kneel, to mess with the flag,” Tate said. “That’s your opinion, and I have no problem with any opinion.”

Tate might be the right voice to facilitate the conversation, between those protesting and those upset with the anthem being used as the vehicle. While he may side with the kneelers, he seems to have a good grasp on both sides of the issue, has an extensive track record of supporting the military — including traveling to Kuwait with the USO last year — and is an ardent supporter of respectfully expressing of opinions, whether he agrees with them or not.

This week, a Trump supporter emailed local media outlets to announce plans for a counter protest and encourage an NFL boycott at Ford Field for the Lions’ next home game, Oct. 8 against the Carolina Panthers. Lions coach Jim Caldwell’s reaction to the possibility was brief.

“It’s a free country,” he said.

But when Tate learned from a reporter that the counter protest was being organized, the receiver’s first response was to explore discourse with the organizer and try to find middle ground.

“I want to hear a breakdown of why you’re choosing to do that,” Tate said. “Maybe we can talk to him on where we’re coming from. Who knows? Maybe we sit down and brainstorm something that helps America.

“I don’t fully understand, mentally, what’s going on with him, why he thinks the way about what he’s doing,” Tate said. “And I’m sure he doesn’t completely understand why we’re doing it as well.”

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Tate does have his limits. He’s not sure he’d be able to find common ground, or even a starting point for conversation, with a white supremacist. That’s a reasonable non-starter for any black man. But for anyone else willing to explore the whys of the issues — why the players are kneeling and why people find kneeling offensive — Tate is all ears.

“I’m so OK with it,” he said. “I feel like there are so many ways to handle situations and the only way you get anywhere, with anything, is talking it out. Again, I respect people’s opinion.

“That’s what this country is built on. You’re allowed to have opinions. Instead of saying, ‘You’re an idiot,’ or ‘You’re stupid,’ or ‘I don’t know why you think that,’ why don’t we sit down and talk it out.”

The anger and the insults aren’t likely to stop anytime soon. The current social climate dictates hardline stances on every issue and social media has given an amplified voice to those with the most extreme views.

Tate understands that protests, regardless of the side you’re on, can only do so much. He, and other players, will continue their work in the community, largely behind the scenes. Tate’s foundation, which focuses on helping military families, held their biggest annual event earlier this month, with all proceeds benefiting three veteran charities.

“I think they’re real-life superheroes,” Tate said. “What they do for this country, to allow us to have the freedoms we have, it’s spectacular.”

Additionally, Tate proposed the ideas of working cooperatively with first responders, potentially holding panel discussions at local schools to discuss the issues impacting our communities, including the racial concerns that sparked the anthem protests in the first place.

“The truth of the matter, it’s easy for us to go out and lock arms and talk to you guys about it,” Tate said. “We need to go out and do something in the community. …That’s way more powerful.”