It’s an uneasy moment, and people are on edge. It has been two weeks since armed supporters of the defeated president overran the seat of the national government on his behalf and at his behest, with a great and murderous fury but seemingly not much else in mind, all of which just as a general rule is the sort of thing that tends to upset a lot of people. Well before that and after, the nation’s fractured and fraying politics collapsed into a series of dumb feints and various threats and taunts and weird obvious lies; in that interim, the outgoing president was impeached for a second time, although he left office under his own power and amid the overwhelming sense that he might once again not be held to any kind of account for his serial shameless desecrations. The process of re-instituting something like normal political pomp is happening behind phalanxes of federal troops, amid a hail of threats that are both preposterous and not quite jokes, in a moment of near-unprecedented national suffering and institutional failure. The edge feels like the only place to be, if only because of how insistently every minute shoves the whole of our society towards it. It’s not great.
And so when Raiders quarterback Derek Carr posted an image of himself in a camouflage vest on his Instagram story, with the tagline “It’s that time again,” it was both inevitable and understandable that some people took it the wrong way.
Given that this sort of look and this kind of post is a staple of the posting-addicted reactionaries that ransacked Congress two weeks ago, the question basically asked itself: Time to do what again, Derek? Storm the damn Capitol building? Hoist another gallows on the National Mall? Try to overturn by force the obvious will of this country’s beaten-down and wrung-dry voters, out of some raw spite or some bloodthirsty conspiracy delusion? Time to bring your stupid personal war home because you can’t think of anything else to do? That time? It’s time to do what, Derek Carr?
Ah. What we have here, it turns out, is a case of a Football Guy having a Football Brain. It is strange to encounter in this moment, but there are still people who wake up every morning, even now, thinking not about how much further down we all will fall that day but thinking, in full, “rise and grind.” It is no knock on Derek Carr that he is like this, both because it is very important to his job that he be like this and because it honestly seems almost blissful relative to the ways that most people are right now.
Carr, for his part, seems to come by this honestly. Here he is, for instance, after the election of Donald Trump in 2016:
Yes, these are absolutely off-the-rack sports bromides, but they’re believable all the same given the source. Did the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016 also “remind [you] so much of football?” Did you think to yourself how it’s like a team, and how there’s sometimes a coach that you like, and how there’s going to be sometimes a coach you don’t like? Were you wearing one of the NFL’s Salute To Service sweatshirt as you expressed these thoughts, with a multi-scale camo pattern sewn into the hood and a faux-military nameplate over your heart but also with a dorky little NFL team logo on it? Probably not! But Derek Carr absolutely did all that, because that’s just what he wears to work, and this is how he thinks and talks at work.
Given how all-encompassing Carr’s work is, and how much he is required to give himself over to it, there’s no real reason to think that Carr was sending some kind of coded signal in that Instagram bit. The military aesthetics of that vest (and that sweatshirt) are something like the uniform for this worldview, and if the fact that so many of the culture’s masculine defaults are currently just Pretend Army has a political valence of its own, there’s also no indication that Carr himself notices it at all, or any more than fish notice that they are swimming around in water. It is just what Carr wears for his job doing football things; he is just noting the time, and then rising and grinding. Honestly it sounds nice.