The NFL Sanitizes The Declaration of Independence

I suppose that I could go on and on about how high-handed, pretentious, manipulative and ultimately hollow the annoying Super Bowl tribute to the troops was (someone else already did that here). Instead, I will point out a glaring omission in their reading of the Declaration of Independence.

As every schoolboy knows, the Declaration features a list of grievances against the Crown, among which is this one, condemning His Majesty for being insufficiently committed to exterminating the natives:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

The item referred to the alliances that the British and the Loyalists had entered into with many of the tribes on the frontier. Leery of the intentions of the Patriots, many native leaders had thrown in their lot with the Crown. Their weariness was understandable. Britain’s agreements with tribes had long been controversial among colonists eager to expand into the frontier, so joining the effort against the rebellion was a matter of survival.

When war came, tribal allies joined British forces in the brutal irregular fighting on the fringes of the wilderness, and the reports of atrocities by Indians, some exaggerated, some wholly fictional, rallied support for the Patriot’s cause. Of course, the Patriots were hardly blameless in this violence. After all, it was not without cause that the Iroquois called George Washington “Town Destroyer.”

In fairness, the reading omitted the entire list of grievances from the  Declaration, including this one, which attacked the Quebec Act of 1774, which was considered offensive by the colonists for, among other things, recognizing the rights of Catholics:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

I know that it is absurd to expect a history lesson at the Super Bowl, and that we as a country have largely gotten past the worst of the bigotry exemplified by these passages. However, it does not seem that our understanding of our past, or, for that matter, our present, is well served by ignoring the complexity of American history, even the parts that make us a bit uncomfortable.

It should be pointed out that this sort of thing has been done right. About 10 years ago, Norman Lear and Rob Reiner put together this short film with famous actors reading the unabridged Declaration of Independence. Graham Greene’s reading of the passage about “savages” at 10:58 is particularly powerful in its irony.

5 thoughts on “The NFL Sanitizes The Declaration of Independence

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