There is a sense that in this world, one of the things that is missing is a belonging to a larger whole.
We are alone or in small family groups and there is a huge scary world out there. This may be overly reductive, but there is something about joining and belonging that is important enough that sociologist write books about it like The Lonely Crowd or Bowling Alone.
We substitute this sense of belonging with fandoms on in a way. It can be a type of music or fictional world or a political party or even sports teams – this creates an important sense of belonging that can be mocked but is what helps us create a sense of identity. If you had to describe yourself, it is often by what you do and then next by what you like. Walk through a parking lot and look at the stickers on the back of the cars. These stickers are all the person choosing their tribal allegiances and putting that out in the world.
This tribalism is also what causes controversy.
Kaepernick or Cardale Jones of Ali or John Carlos standing up for themselves and bringing attention to causes that concern them makes people mad. I think it is not just because people are racist. Believe me, I find it odd that situations like this will bring people forward to say in a public forum attached to their name that someone should go back to Africa or call them hateful names. But it is not just the reaction of sad men thinking they’re losing whatever perceived power they have.
Tribalism causes people getting mad because athletes are stepping out of their perceived tribal roles. You see the same thing when actors or musicians make the same kind of steps. There’s so much hatred for Bono because he decided to take his platform and try to do what he perceives as good. It seems that people in their tribes assign very important but narrow roles the athlete. They are alienated from their tribe when the shaman wants to be a farmer. The real problem is that this tribalism creates an environment where the pathetic racist thinks he can pop up in the discourse and try to other the person using their voice and platform – but this one is even greater, since they appeal to a new tribe, this one wrapped in the flag.