Crowd jeers as man takes to his knee at football game

Tying a shoe at game proves costly for unaware fan

My fishing pal Patella took a knee at a football game last month, and he’s still dealing with the unexpected consequences — threats, curses and worse. He’s not dealing with it very well, and I’m sorry to say he isn’t receiving all the emotional support he deserves here at the Fish or Cut Bait Society.

This is a nurturing place where fishing-doers gather in times of crisis, but today feels different. The football kneeling fuss has opened some nasty arguments over patriotism, treason and (almost forgotten) constitutional rights and social justice.

As a group, we are out of our depth on that stuff. Usually, we disagree over nothing heavier than catch limits.

“Fish lives matter,” the catch-and-release purists say, but carefully so’s not to make cooler-fillers feel guilty.

Now even our crowd is talking about knees, and with a lot more emotion than reason. If anyone’s talking about fishing, I can’t hear them, other than a small, scolding voice saying Patella should have been where he belongs, out on the water with rod and reel and beer, instead of watching football with beer and belligerent fans.

Today he’s out at the end of the dock by himself, staring into the water. Gulls and pelicans are always there, but not now, and he’s sure they’re shunning him. He could be right.
Cleat Bollard, the dockmaster, went out there a while ago, pretending to check for loose planks but really to see if Patella was okay. He wasn’t.

“I don’t guess he’s gonna jump,” Cleat told me, “but the tide’s low. Maybe you could try to console him before it’s high enough to drown.”

So I took a couple of beers, gave one to Patella and sat beside him. Patella, who sees a funny side of practically everything, is usually giggling about something. Not now. As soon as I saw his sad face, I could tell why the dockmaster was worried.

Tell me about it, I said gently, hoping he wouldn’t cry — or worse, make me cry. Patella sighed and tried. “It was all a misunderstanding. At least that’s what I thought,” he said. “And then it got entirely out of hand. I was jostled and spat upon. I thought I was going to be filleted and devoured until security hustled me out of there. One hothead followed me to the gate, wagging
a finger in my face and hollering “j’accuse!”

“That was staggering. When was the last time you heard French spoken in this town?”

I asked my audible cell phone dictionary for the Spanish translation. “Te acuso!” it shouted, and Patella flinched. It sounded like the phone was denouncing him.

He’d heard the same shout at the stadium. When he arrived home that day, neighbors called their children and pets indoors. Many had seen the incident on television and tweeted alerts like, “OMG, that’s Patella down on his knee. Bad!”

Some of the older neighbors put on their old military hats and marched in front of his house. “Hup two three, uhhh, four,” they chanted, out of step. “Hup, hup.”

I know those guys. Like me, most of them served half hitches (I served meals in the mess hall) at half-vacant military posts during peace gaps between wars and then thought up slick excuses to get out of reserve duty early.

It didn’t look like they were there to support Patella.

“Nothing against you,” one of them said. “We’re just being careful in case the enemies you made at the game have followed you home.”

Hurtful stuff like that brought him today to the Fish or Cut Bait Society, where he expected a little emotional mollycoddling. A little is all he got.

Like a lot of men who’ve experienced combat, Patella was reluctant to tell the details of what happened at the stadium. I gave him the second beer to loosen his tongue.

Here’s what I got out of him: When he arrived at his seat, he was carrying a cardboard platter of nachos, a radio, a poncho in case of rain, a cup of beer and suchlike. His shoe laces were loose, so he put all his stuff on his seat and got down on one knee to re-tie them.

He was doing that when the fan who had the next seat walked up behind him, unaware that Patella was only tying his shoes.

“Can I help you up?” the other fan asked and Patella said no, thanks, I’m fine.

“Then why are you on your knees?” In hindsight, Patella thinks his voice held a belligerent edge, but at the moment he didn’t notice it or hear the announcement that the anthem was about to be played.

Patella said, “Well, somebody has to do this or the cause of social justice will falter.” He should have grinned and added “LOL,” just in case the other guy didn’t get that he was kidding.

In fact, the other guy did not get it. He looked at Patella kind of strangely and, in a moment, seemed to disappear. It occurred to Patella that the other guy thought he was a goof and went looking for another seat to get away from him. Patella mistook that for an opportunity to move his stuff to the vacant seat instead of balancing everything on his lap with his nachos, which he could now eat gracefully, without dribbling cheese on his knees.

Still kneeling, he was so preoccupied that (amazingly but truly), he did not hear the national anthem being played or realize everyone around him was standing and singing off key with their hands over their hearts as if they were at some solemn patriotic event.

Now, you or I might say a football game is that sort of event, but Patella would disagree very, very respectfully even though he thinks we are silly, because he is a nice person who doesn’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings or cause confrontations.

Anyway, while still down on one knee tying his shoes, he noticed that his nachos were loaded with jalapeño pepper slices, which he hates and didn’t ask for at the food stand, but there they were anyway.

How could you not notice that? I asked.

“Don’t blame the victim!” He cried. “Everybody who knows me knows I can’t stand jalapeños.”

Right, I said, but what do peppers have to do with you taking a knee during the anthem and appearing to be disrespectful or unpatriotic or, Lord have mercy, even treasonous?

Patella gave me an answer that seemed reasonable to him: “Now that the guy in the next seat was gone, I saw a way to get rid of the peppers discreetly. So I picked them off the nachos and dropped them under that seat. If the other guy was sitting there, it would have been gross.”

Well maybe, but just as he started doing it — still down on one knee or maybe both, he forgets — the other guy came back with more other guys. They grabbed him and yanked him to his feet and mushed the nachos and cheese and peppers into his face.

They called him a commie and a traitor and a son of something I can’t repeat because this isn’t about a dog show. The security staff rescued him and threw him out for his own safety.

I can understand see why Patella thought it was all a misunderstanding. He seemed to feel better after talking it out. I invited him into the clubhouse for another beer.

“Not yet,” he said. “I’m afraid a lot of the guys are still PO’d at me.”

I left him to brood, still sitting at the end of the dock. I’m lurking a few yards away, behind the ice locker, watching him. The tide’s almost high now.

I don’t guess he’s gonna jump, but I’m not taking any chances.