Super Bowl LII: A Figurative Match-Up Conveys a Timely Sentiment
by Khary Bekka
About the Author: Khary Bekka is a writer and Quaker historian currently residing in Five Points; formerly of Meetings held in Sing-Sing, Wende, and Sullivan County Correctional. He is originally from Red Hook, Brooklyn.
On the night of the recent Super Bowl, the Empire State Building was lit up in green in tribute to the Philadelphia Eagles’ improbable win over the New England Patriots. In one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, we witnessed the Philadelphia Eagles orchestrate a relentless offensive. The game entertained us with over one thousand combined yards of offense with league MVP Tom Brady, playing for the New England Patriots, throwing for a record-setting 505 passing yards. However, that was not enough to secure a victory over a Philadelphia team that seemed destined to seize the moment and carve their place in history.
Embodied in all the hoopla of American’s most celebrated sporting event, a rather unique and timely symbolic message was conveyed within the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. There is an insightful article that was well written by Tony White and published in the February 2011 issue of Friends Journal titled “The Immorality of Patriotism” that re-surfaced in my mind immediately after the NFC and AFC title games, when it was determined that Philadelphia and New England would both advance to the Super Bowl. The symbolic implication of these two teams playing for the championship at this transitional juncture in American history was, for me, almost too good to be true. I was so inspired by this figurative match-up that if I was a gambling man, I likely would have bet the house on Philadelphia.
Within the last two years this country has been engrossed in social events that have provoked numerous protests, divided the country, and brought forward the best and the worst of America. Most of these events have been provoked by our President Donald Trump and his presumed-to-be erratic character and way of governing. The NFL itself became a forum for American politics when predominately African American players protested inequality in America’s society, notably racial disparities in its justice system. Colin Kaepernick initiated the protest during the 2016 NFL season when he took a knee during the national anthem. The protest was confined to a handful of players until our President took it upon himself to change the narrative of the protest; he claimed the players’ dissenting gesture of taking a knee before the flag was unpatriotic and disrespectful to American veterans. While the NFL was handcuffed by what turned into a political quandary, cases of sexual harassment taking place in the entertainment industry and the workplace ignited the “Me Too” movement, bringing the issue of gender equality to the forefront. We can add to the mix the Trump administration’s agenda of military expansion while engaging in an antagonistic back and forth with North Korea, an immigration dilemma infused with discrimination, and a systematic deregulation of federal policies that protect the earth, water, and atmosphere. While these issues and a variety of others have served to engage—as well as perplex—Americans and the world at large, in the midst of Trump’s politics, the Philadelphia Eagles earned an improbable win over the New England Patriots in Superbowl LII. But why should that matter to us?
We find ourselves at a crossroads socially in the country, and we are at a point where we could easily find ourselves heading down the same road as ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt. Fortunately, we have on hand a historical commentary to serve as our compass, validated by an improbable Super Bowl win. When this country was in its infancy, the early Quakers who migrated to the New World from Europe believed that the new spiritual principle that they had discovered (or re-discovered) would revolutionize life, society, civil government, and religion. In 1681, William Penn, a Quaker visionary who had grand ideas for projects, secured land from King Charles II, who had owed his late father a debt. Penn would go on to establish Pennsylvania as a Quaker colony on the American continent, which he called his “Holy Experiment.” The codes and laws that accompanied his charter for the new colony became a revolutionary inspiration for the New World and would serve to facilitate human evolution. The laws of other colonies of the time were narrow and intolerant and kept the colonists in chains spiritually, mentally, and physically. The Quakers in Pennsylvania introduced to the New World a government conducted with Quaker principles, creating a distinctive Quaker culture—a unique way of life. The experiment, which the Quakers envisioned as a utopia, debuted a society devoted to democracy, liberty, and peace, free from dogmatism or aristocracy. From its very beginnings, Pennsylvania had religious liberty, a legislative council and assembly elected by the people, trial by jury, and a penal system designed to reform, not merely punish. John Locke objected that Penn gave entirely too much power to the people; nonetheless, Penn’s flexible democratic frame of government for Pennsylvania survived to be the model for most of the state constitutions, and for the constitution of the US. Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, was established to serve as the capital of this utopian government.
Quakers believed in the equality of all people answering to “that of God in everyone.” They established schools for those who had none: free blacks, emancipated slaves, and Indians who were often denied a proper education found opportunity in the Quaker colony. The Quakers were conscious that to establish a great society on earth it was essential that women be as literate as men, as both needed a strong basic education as a prerequisite for a life of service. The prevailing mission of all Quaker schools was to educate students for society as it ought to be. Now fast forward to 2018, where women and people of color (particularly African Americans) still find themselves in a struggle to obtain equal status as American citizens. There has been significant progress made within the last 337 years; yet to witness repeated cases of sexual harassment, and how a democratic gesture of dissent like kneeling before a game inflamed our national racial divide, informs us that we still have some ways to go before we complete a 360 circle of progression.
Why should the outcome of Super Bowl LII matter to us? Seven years after William Penn established his utopian government, the first protest in America against slavery was made by German Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1688. By 1711 the Quaker assembly of Pennsylvania forbade by law the importation of Negroes. In the same year that the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, stating “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Quakers gave power to the Declaration by taking these esteemed words at their full value. By 1776, there were no Quaker slave holders. The City of Brotherly Love would soon become the center of the movement toward emancipation and the introduction of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. In Philadelphia, a society was organized, largely by Quakers, to lobby for and protect people of color. The “Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery: the Relief of Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage; and for the Improvement of the Condition of the African Races” first met in April 1775, including among its members Benjamin Franklin. By 1799, Quaker petitioners could offer thanks that Pennsylvania and all states north of it now banned the trade in Africans, at least to some degree; and had passed emancipation laws which eventually distinguished the ideologies of the North from the South. These laws sparked the events leading up to President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
The Religious Society of Friends was also the first sect to embody a concept of the spiritual equality of both genders within its church, government, and disciple, liberating women to preach and prophesy as well as share responsibilities. In Pennsylvania, the largest and most significant Quaker settlement, a culture of equality allowed women to plead their own cases in court; there is also some evidence that women served on juries in the early days of the colony. The experiences Quaker women had in public speaking, holding meetings, taking minutes and writing epistles allowed them to develop their own talents and strengths in a male-dominated era. Subsequently, we witnessed an explosion of Quaker women asserting themselves on the social front. It is quite appropriate that a female by the name of Elizabeth Hooton has the distinction of being the first person to be convinced by the Society of Friends founder George Fox in 1647. The first Quakers to reach the American hemisphere in 1655 were Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, women who in deep seriousness regarded themselves as apostolic messengers under divine call and direction. British Quaker Elizabeth Heyrick published a pamphlet in 1824 titled “Immediate, not Gradual Emancipation,” which many believed influenced the change in public opinion leading to Great Britain’s abolition of slavery in 1833. Prudence Crandall was a Quaker school teacher who was one of the first to admit black pupils into her school and eventually opened a school for black girls. She found herself engaged in a heated legal battle with the Connecticut legislature, which prohibited the education of out-of-state black children; she was jailed three times as a result. Her story, reported in The Liberator, was followed eagerly, and her service ignited a fire in women activists. When the time was ripe for a Women’s Rights Movement, Quaker women would assume leadership roles.*
Why should this matter to us today, and how does it relate to the outcome of Super Bowl LII?
Vs. New England Patriots
For most Americans, the indoctrination process starts as early as kindergarten, when we all stand before class and robotically pledge our allegiance to the USA. As a result, during our early development we procure biased attitudes of patriotism toward our country and bigotry toward everyone else. As we mature, the coercion toward patriotism becomes reinforced with propaganda; we are constantly reminded that we are first and foremost Americans. This acquired way of thinking is a source of violence, and patriotism is an instrument of war that divides the world. Many of us become so intoxicated by pridefulness toward our country that we are ready to die as well as kill for this vain glory. Patriotism is the primary force that glorifies combat, and it is what makes it possible for a decent person to murder on command in good conscience
Governments conveniently use patriotism for manipulating public opinion. Our current president knows the efficacy of patriotism and faithfully uses patriotism as a tool to divide us, distract us, and detract from real-time issues.
Just recently after the tragic school shooting in Florida where 17 children lost their lives to gun violence, President Trump referred to the National Rifle Association as “patriots,” not capitalists in the business of selling guns. To change the narrative of the NFL players’ protest against racial inequality at a rally he asked the crowd, “How do you feel when you see these players disrespecting our flag?” This innuendo served to shift the spotlight away from his administration’s inept response to the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico; a mass shooting in Las Vegas where 57 people lost their lives to gun violence, spurring a gun control debate; and a Russian collusion investigation that began to pick up steam. In an attempt to move the country away from the Paris climate accord, President Trump used rhetoric such as “Putting America First.” These are recent examples of how patriotism was effectively used to divide Black from White, distract us from an issue and/or detract from the core issue at hand.
Human beings as a whole have an innate inclination to be free and to express our freedom via that God force within. We love the idealized version of the US and the values of equality and liberation written in the Declaration of Independence. These values existed in the human heart long before this country was established in 1776, and will continue long after the US is gone. God is an infinite force in everyone, everywhere. Why should we reduce God’s omnipresence to a country, race of people and/or beings, and pledge our allegiance to anything or anyone but God? To pledge allegiance to a country, and not to see humanity as a whole, is to become an agent of violence.**
A Seasonable Statement
What happened to William Penn’s Holy Experiment in PA? Quakers have always been objectors of war and advocates of equality since the inception of the movement in England. During the early years of the colony the PA Quakers were struggling to maintain their pacifism while controlling the governing body of the colony. Problems became even more widespread by the middle of the 18th century. Quakers had become a minority in their own colony, since their policy of toleration had attracted many settlers of other persuasions. Frontier settlers who had no tradition of pacifism were in direct contact with Indians. These settlers came into frequent conflict with their neighbors and demanded more defenses against the Indians from the Quaker assembly, creating a spiritual dilemma.
The conflict reached its boiling point during the French & Indian War. Maintaining a principle of equality (answering that of God in everyone), Quakers concluded that they must withdraw from active involvement in government in order to maintain their peace testimony. Subsequently they gave up the reign of the most prosperous colony of its time. The culture of PA was distinguished for its practice of peace, equality, and justice for all. Philadelphia was the first capital of the country and the center of culture in the New World. For all these and many more reasons, the City of Brotherly Love was the Beacon of Light. A light that, though it now seems remote, dim, and obscure, still symbolically leads this country forward.
With the social issues of universal equality for people of color and women at the forefront, America finds itself at a transitional juncture under Trump. Fortunately, everything that this country ought to be is embodied in the origins of Pennsylvania—with the City of Brotherly Love as its capital. This is eloquently conveyed in a symbolic gesture of our forefathers, who designated the address to the White House: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Every time a new president is inaugurated, his or her motorcade will travel down PA Avenue in tribute to the early ideas of the utopian colony established on this continent.
Patriotism has served as a hindrance in the people’s evolution, as it is a leftover survival technique from barbarous times; and it is a main cause of violence and war, systematically dividing humans and building walls. Though in no way suggesting that there is a conspiracy at hand, I’d like to make note of a peculiar coincidence. The New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl during the 2001-2 NFL season following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, when the US population was swept up in a wave of feverish patriotism and fell in line with a warmongering government agenda. Patriotism was used to excuse violations of our civil liberties. We were intoxicated by propaganda as the government infringed on our constitutional freedoms with warrantless surveillance, wiretapping, search and seizure, as well as detention and no-fly lists under the Patriot Act. Propelled by a propaganda campaign rooted on patriotism and deception, we blatantly ignored the UN cautions about entering Iraq, only to find out after our invasion that it had neither WMDs nor links to 9/11.
Within the NFL championship game played on February 4, 2018, the Philadelphia Eagles figuratively embodied the fundamental values from our country’s origins, and what we ought to be striving for collectively in a season of transition. Their opponent, the Patriots, figuratively embodies an old, and soon to be obsolete, ideology of human division that leads us down the wrong road and stunts the process of evolution. Fortunately, we witnessed the Philadelphia Eagles pull off an improbably victory over the Patriots. Let us hope and pray that this recent emblematic gesture will serve to inspire a nation going forward.
*On July 13, 1848, five women sat around a table and planned a gender revolution. Six days after, in the small town of Seneca Falls in upstate New York, the world’s first woman’s rights convention was held and a declaration of women’s rights was proclaimed and signed by one hundred participants. Of the five women who planned the convention, four were Quakers. With Quaker trail blazers as Lucretia Mott from Philadelphia, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, just to name a few, the progression of women today in America can be credited in large part to the ideas of a utopian government set forth by the early Quaker settlers of the colony of Pennsylvania, with the City of Brotherly Love as its capital.
**Albert Einstein wrote in The World as I See it in 1931, “The greatest obstacle to international order is that monstrously exaggerated spirit of nationalism which also goes by the fair-sounding but misused name of patriotism.”
Mothers of Feminism: The Story of Quaker Women in America, Margaret Hope Bacon, 1986.
The Immorality of Patriotism, Tony White, Friends Journal, February, 2011.