Civil discourse has been thrown out the window

Looking back, Jane Fonda is probably the person we should be blaming for all of this.

Her photo with enemy troops during the Vietnam War forever changed the way we discuss major issues in this country.

That photo, which has haunted her ever since, became the face of the anti-war demonstrators who demonized American soldiers.

After the soldiers were spat upon and called names like “baby killer” when returning home, Fonda became known more for her anti-American demonstration than she was for her movies or exercise videos — and that is not only because she is a terrible actress.

People even cheered against the Atlanta Braves in the World Series 25 years later because Jane was married to the team’s owner. Well, I did, anyway.

Thanks to Jane, there was no way to be against the second Iraq war and still love your country. If you expressed opposition to the war, it automatically meant that you were anti-American or hated the brave young men and women in uniform.

Towns across the nation passed pro-troop resolutions. Some towns even put up signs to express their support of the troops, almost as if they feared being accused of the opposite.

Along the way, our debates turned into all-or-nothing fistfights. Instead of examining the much more complicated gray, we see everything in black and white. I am right, and you, my friend, are dead wrong.

That has led us to where we are now, where our bitter political outrage has invaded the sporting world. Instead of using sports as a break from reality, we find ourselves screaming at each other because some professional football players took a knee instead of standing for the national anthem.

Everywhere you go, the kneeling NFL players are the topic of conversation, and everybody has an unwavering opinion on the matter. Things really hit the fan when our President made some inflammatory comments about the players and team owners, even as people are still dying in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

We are stuck in a national debate where finding middle-ground is about as hopeless as a Mike Glennon pass. There is no end in sight, and each week we just get madder and madder.

If you make a comment in support the players’ rights to protest during the national anthem, then you hate America. It is as simple as that.

If you are offended by the players who take a knee, then you are a fascist who should move to South Korea.

Lost in it all is the reason why Colin Kaepernick, the apparently former NFL quarterback, started his protest in the first place. Nobody seemed to ask why. We only fight about how the athlete is courageous or ungrateful. The ungrateful word, by the way, sure seems like it has become the new “uppity.”

Right or wrong — or maybe a combination of both — Kaepernick started his protest in the preseason of the 2016 NFL season because he feels that black people do not enjoy the same freedoms of white people in the United States. He is clearly not alone in that opinion.

The great kneeling debate followed a string of well-publicized incidents of alleged police brutality. It also followed extremely-violent riots and instances of police officers being targeted and murdered because they wore the uniform.

That all brought the racial divide to the forefront of the national discussion.

Actually, it should not be called a “discussion,” because it never really was discussed. A discussion involves listening as well as talking.

Kaepernick, and those who supported his right to protest (even though they might not have completely agreed with his reasoning), were labeled as anti-police by people who never even considered what it might be like to get pulled over for being black.

Those on the other side were called racist by people who never even considered how scary it might be to wear a badge and not know if the driver of the car you are approaching is going to pull a gun. They never thought what it might be like to wonder if your mother, father, husband or wife will come home from work.

Sure, you might point out the patriotism comes in many forms. You might laugh off the notion that anyone is really disrespecting the flag or the nation.

But have you considered what it might be like if you were the parents of a Marine who died in Fallujah? Can you see why those parents might be upset when they see what they think is disrespect to the flag that draped their son or daughter’s coffin?

While you clench your fist in anger as you decry the kneeling football player — and those who support his right to do so — have you ever considered what it might be like to walk a few blocks in the shoes of someone of color?

It appears we have not. Instead, we collectively head to social media to label the other side. We start with our conclusion and then work backward to find the information we need. We go to the websites and the cable networks that will tell us what we want to hear.

While social media sites like Facebook should help foster conversation, they have, in fact, done the opposite. Listening to the argument of our “friend” is completely out of the question.

But what if we did that? What if we truly tried to understand why somebody so strongly holds a belief that is 180 degrees different than ours? Then maybe those who disagree with us could also try seeing why we feel the way we do.

Maybe we would find out that we are not really all anti-Americans and fascists.

Protesting, which is woven deeply into the fabric of our nation, is supposed to make people uncomfortable. That is the whole point.

If protesting did not make people uncomfortable, it would never work.

If the NFL players decided to hold their peaceful protest when nobody was looking, nobody would look.

Protests are supposed to make us think. That thinking is supposed to lead to talking, and that talking should lead to answers.

Instead, the original message of the protest is getting muddier by the hour, and our nation’s divide is continuing to grow as the conversation gets nastier.

Pretty soon, the only thing we will be able to agree on is that nobody likes Jane Fonda.

— Bill Foley, who wouldn’t have cheered for the Braves if Ted Turner had better taste in women, writes a column that appears Tuesday on Email him at Follow him at