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Bucky Gleason: Bills young and old personify endless, multisided national debate

Bucky Gleason

When Jerry Hughes criticized Jim Kelly on Monday, he didn't just take a stand against the greatest quarterback in Bills' history, inspirational cancer survivor and communal treasure. He added yet another layer to a debate that has shown more staying power than Kelly himself.

I'm sure Kelly's supporters quietly were disappointed in Hughes for being disappointed in Kelly for being disappointed in LeSean McCoy for being disappointed in President Trump for being disappointed in Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who have been disgusted in the country's history of social injustice.

Will it ever end?

Should it end?

Such questions have been asked for hundreds of years before and in the 25 years since Rodney King stood before the media amid a six-day riot in Los Angeles, after three of four cops were acquitted of beating him into submission during a traffic stop that was captured on video, and asked:

"Can we all get along?"

One day after hugging it out Monday with McCoy and Hughes, Kelly told The News that emotions played a role in him criticizing the Bills running back for showing indifference toward the national anthem. Kelly also released a statement in which he tempered his criticism.

"I want to be clear that I agree with the reason some NFL players have chosen to peacefully protest, and appreciate players, coaches and organizations being unified," Kelly said. "I would hope that while we all, myself included, may not agree with using the national anthem as the appropriate forum for such display, we should continue to strive to work through these issues with great respect for each other. God Bless."

Keywords: Respect for each other.

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Not always, but sometimes, our country once seemed more equipped to respectfully disagree on politics, religion, race and sports even though fundamental differences remained unresolved. Years ago, respect was chucked out the bus window along the information superhighway by people congregating in packs and leaning toward extremes.

Literally and figuratively, we have turned discussions into black-and-white debates with one side entrenched in their positions while trying to scream louder than others who are equally strong in theirs. Somewhere between soaring decibel levels and matching desires to be heard rests inaudible conversation known as common ground.

It does exist, you know.

Gray area has been there all along when it comes to Kaepernick and other players who joined him in protest. Most baffling to me in this steady diet of controversy has been the willingness of people to swallow the entire side of an argument without realizing that most complex issues are served a la carte.

People can agree with demonstrators while disagreeing with their execution. And they can dismiss protesters while admiring their resolve. Some World War II veterans were appalled by demonstrations over the weekend while others applauded them for validating why World War II was a must-win in the first place.

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Some players took a knee during the anthem without being offended by those who did not. Others stood at attention while sympathizing with those who knelt. The Cowboys did both, kneeling before and standing during the anthem before their game Monday night against the Cardinals.

Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger who was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan, stood alone during the anthem while his teammates waited in the locker room. Sadly, he felt compelled to apologize a day later for contributing to a mixed message.

Here's my message: Do as you please. Take a knee. Stand at attention. Sit on a recliner. Scream from the rooftops or remain silent. You can blame the president for inflaming the nation with his remarks about NFL players protesting or thank him for inadvertently refueling a debate that time reduced to a flicker.

It's all within your rights.

For what it's worth, I applaud Kaepernick for taking a knee, drawing attention to his plight and creating much-needed discussion. Somehow a cause that started out focused on oppression and police brutality morphed into a national debate about the flag, the national anthem and the military.

I never viewed the protests that way, but others did. I didn’t agree with Kaepernick wearing socks bearing pigs wearing a police cap, but others believed he made a powerful statement. I admired him for speaking out against the government, but it bothered me that he failed to vote in the last election.

But that's just me. Not in my lifetime would I pretend to understand what minorities have been forced to endure. I'm a white guy who was raised in the suburbs. I was never pulled over for being white or handcuffed without cause. To be clear, being sensitive to a cause is a million miles from suffering through years of oppression.

Nobody wants cops brutalizing people based on skin color. You know who despises white cops who beat black citizens for being black? Upstanding white cops who see their occupation take one step backward – as they take one step closer to danger – every time police officers violate the rights of another.

Unfortunately, police brutality and racial inequality continue, as Seahawks defensive tackle Michael Bennett alleged recently after being wrestled to the ground by cops following a concert in Las Vegas. Police say race was not a factor in Bennett being detained.

There's also a long list of examples that have gone unreported across the country. Enough is enough.

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But many fans have had enough, and they're on the verge of suffering from protest fatigue. When it reaches that point, it becomes counterproductive to the initial cause. People who once listened to Kaepernick and other athletes speaking out are equally capable of tuning out.

Bills fans booed Sunday for a variety of reasons. They booed the protests or the government or the anthem or McCoy or other fans who were booing. Or they booed out of habit after walking into the stadium.

Sad but true, my sense was a vast majority of fans didn't care if the Bills took a knee before the game Sunday so long as Tyrod Taylor was kneeling with the ball in his hands at the end. A good many wanted nothing more than a few beers and a football game and watched a solid win get lost in debate.

Will it ever end?

Should it ever end?

More than a year after Kaepernick first took a knee, we're talking more than ever about the underlying root of the problem. It will end when racial inequality no longer exists, when we all get along. Unfortunately, there's no end in sight. And that's the most disappointing aspect of all.

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