Responses to NFL protests during the national anthem have divided the nation and resulted in a dangerous reality for democracy.

The debate over kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the U.S. seems to have reached a new milestone, with the Philadelphia Eagles having their invitation to the White House revoked by Donald Trump.

Per tradition, the Super-Bowl-winning team was invited to meet with Trump, but much of the team backed out. In response, Trump issued this official statement on June 4, the day before the event:


"The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow. They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country. The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better. These fans are still invited to the White House to be part of a different type of ceremony — one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem. I will be there at 3:00 p.m. with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus to celebrate America."

The sentiment is the equivalent of "Fine! If you're not gonna play with me, I'm not gonna play with you!" But Trump's statement, along with his subsequent tweets, are more than just petty; they're dangerous.

One might even use the word "fascist" — and that's not a term I toss around lightly. Fascism has some fuzzy definitions, but forced nationalism is a hallmark of all of them. A leader of a country attempting to coerce citizens to perform specific displays of patriotism is an undeniably fascist move.

Trump isn't punishing his detractors — he's punishing those who simply associate with those who disagree with him.

None of the Eagles players knelt during the anthem last season, though some have been outspoken supporters of such protests.

Some Eagles players did want to meet with Trump, and those are the players who were punished by the revoked invitation — not for kneeling during the anthem, not for disagreeing with Trump, but for merely being associated with people who disagree with Trump.

Trump could easily have welcomed those team members and taken a "that's their loss" attitude toward the rest. But instead, he washed his hands of anyone having to do with the team at all — even those who might be supportive of him.

That's unfathomable.

In addition, he has given players no options to protest peacefully without receiving his presidential ire.

The NFL has ruled that players are not allowed to kneel during the national anthem without facing fines: They must either stand on the field or remain in the locker room while the anthem plays.

But Trump has stated at least twice that staying in the locker room is unacceptable.  

[rebelmouse-image 19346501 dam="1" original_size="771x504" caption="Image via Donald Trump/Twitter." expand=1]Image via Donald Trump/Twitter.

[rebelmouse-image 19346502 dam="1" original_size="769x496" caption="Image via Donald Trump/Twitter." expand=1]Image via Donald Trump/Twitter.

If the erroneous capitalization doesn't make you shudder, the statements made in his tweets should. What Trump is saying is that football players must — not should, but must — "proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart" or they will be publicly flogged in official presidential statements.

Some might suggest we ignore his rants, but a president's words matter — politically, socially, and historically.

Forced displays of patriotism aren't actually patriotism. They're the hallmarks of an anti-democratic regime.

Why is Trump giving this much attention to what football players do during games, anyway?

Supporters say it's because he loves his country, but anyone who's studied how a society slips into oppressive authoritarian regimes (see Madeleine Albright's new book) can recognize the writing on the wall.

Dictatorial power won't come to the U.S. overtly and immediately — it will come through the steady erosion of civil norms, the demonization of peaceful protesters, repeated attacks on the press, and fear-mongering.

It would appear we're right there, folks.

I'm sure some players will still kneel peacefully for criminal justice reform and other social justice issues and face the consequences. I just hope that more citizens, like the man pictured below who boldly knelt during the White House's alternative ceremony, will defy these attacks on the first amendment and join them.

Despotism only wins if we let it.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

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