Movies Are Prayers by Josh Larsen, Free for CAPC Members
In Movies Are Prayers, Josh Larsen exemplifies how critical engagement with a film can be an act of neighbor-love.
“You can’t have the inmates running the prison.” Houston Texans owner Bob McNair’s use of this phrase was a poor attempt to illustrate what and how he thought about NFL players protesting the civil injustices of police brutality in the United States during the national anthem. He apologized for using that particular phrase to illustrate and reinforce a stereotype that insinuates African Americans are ripe for prison (as African American players are the main athletes protesting). His apology and explanation was not well accepted by his players.
What once looked like a Super Bowl season is quickly turning into a nightmare season: His star rookie quarterback, Deshaun Watson, suffered a season-ending ACL injury; his veteran superstar defensive end, J.J. Watt, also suffered a season-ending injury; he, and other owners, are under investigation of illegally colluding with the NFL to keep Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL. So in a unique turn of irony, if McNair is interested in saving the Texans’ season, he could soon be writing checks to the man who started the protests
he vehemently opposes . Will McNair choose the shallow road of self-atonement marketing, or will he use this opportunity to take a true stance for justice?
Because Kaepernick has essentially been banned from the NFL for his choice to peacefully protest the injustices of the American justice system, the recent talks of the Texans possibly signing him are scandalous to many fans. Call the Texans’ talk of signing Kaepernick irony, coincidence, or fate, but if a deal were to go through, it would be worth analyzing if the decision were a poor attempt at marketing one’s self-atonement or standing up for greater good of justice.
For Bob McNair, signing Kaepernick could be his “See, I’m not a racist!” moment in light of the current allegations he is facing. It’s an opportunity to market his position of inclusivity and alleviate the pressure he’s receiving from players and minorities who support the organization. If seized, this is McNair’s chance to publicly absolve himself from his offensive and racist comments. But will the public buy McNair’s self-atonement marketing scheme? I guess it’s worth asking if signing Kaepernick would even be a good marketing move.
Historically, we’ve seen marketing used to self-atone for controversial business failures before. Following the controversy surrounding the documentary Blackfish, SeaWorld spent nearly $10 million trying to convince the public of their moral positioning and humane treatment of animals. They even led efforts to care for marine life affected by the May 19, 2015, oil spill in Santa Barbara. And When BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they spent nearly $100 million for marketing good and moral messages over the course of the spill’s four-month long disaster. Though both companies still exist, SeaWorld and BP have struggled to completely win back the hearts of consumers, if stock prices are any indicator by which we mark consumer emotions.
Trying to market self-atonement can be destructive and draining. Christians know this better than anyone, because if we’re honest, we see it too often in our own lives. In moments of guilt and shame, we try masking or excusing our sin by doing something good to make up for it. We try to show God how sorry we are. Some repeatedly chant a prayer of forgiveness until they feel forgiven; others perform good deeds to feel good about themselves; some fill their schedules with ministry work to get lost in busyness. There are a myriad of examples stretching from private, self-inflicted punishment, to minimal confession and obfuscated public transparency.
Unfortunately, this sort of self-atonement marketing happens in public evangelicalism too. The world witnessed it in the aftermath of controversy surrounding Mars Hill Church’s pastor Mark Driscoll. His eagerness to return to the pulpit despite a long list of disqualifications as a pastor are perceived as a marketing campaign to communicate, “See, I’m trying to do right things, so support me because I’m doing the right things!”
If we’re honest, though, we know none of our works can truly atone for our failures. We are imperfect and will go on living in imperfection until the day we die. No matter how much we try to make up for our sin, it’s always crouching at the door waiting to strike again. I think this is the reason many people are reluctant to forgive, let alone support, individuals and businesses that market their self-atonement.
Some might take these words as condemning and argue that it is important for people to show their repentance. But marketing self-atonement and living a repentant life are two different things. An individual living as though their sins are atoned for will not need the approval and acceptance of their community to confirm that they are better. They will not need to put on a show and throw cash at their mistake. Those who live as though they are forgiven will confess and turn from their sins, wrestle with the consequences, and go on living. They will indelibly react somewhat like Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien.
When asked if the Texans talked about signing Kaepernick, O’Brien nonchalantly replied, “Oh yeah, everybody gets discussed. Is that a problem? Isn’t that the way most teams do it? People seem shocked by that.” His response signaled that his decision to discuss signing Kaepernick was not one based on bias, nor was it an opportunity to self-atone for the mistake of the organization’s owner.
When you know you’re forgiven, you don’t have to market it to God or the people around you. You won’t have to sound trumpets to let the world know you’re doing the right thing. If the Texans sign Kaepernick, it would be a move of justice. It would also be a wise business move and could potentially save the Texans’ season. But would signing the controversy-ridden Kaepernick be self-atonement marketing for Bob McNair? Kaepernick and his inspired protests have been blamed for the drop in NFL viewer ratings and pizza sales. Would signing him disprove any notion of self-atonement marketing? It would certainly be an opportunity to exhibit the importance of justice over dollars, which is rare in many business decisions today.
If I had to guess, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Kaepernick signed to any team in the near future. Dollars often talk louder than justice in our country today, even if it means sacrificing what could be a potential Super Bowl season. Then again, if signing Kaepernick could win the hearts of fans who are swayed by the marketing of self-atonement, perhaps we will see him on the field sooner than expected.
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