NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally picked up the ball and tried to run it into the end zone Tuesday, sending all 32 team owners a letter stating players should stand for the national anthem:
Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.
Goodell’s letter followed a tweet by President Donald Trump asking “why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag, and Country? Change tax law!” Whether that is a threat or a promise is, like so many things regarding Trump, subject to endless speculation. But it certainly seemed to get the attention of the NFL Commissioner, whose league enjoys an exemption from anti-trust laws.
The protest against the national anthem and flag started with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during a game in 2016 to protest racial injustice. From there, other players slowly started joining in until the madness spread throughout the league. The Pittsburgh Steelers, among others, decided to remain in their locker room during a recent game, which sparked another wave of protests.
Goodell in his letter said: “The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.”
Some would argue that Goodell’s long-awaited response was a result of a significant drop in ratings as many American fans refused to watch their flag disrespected. The commissioner’s letter was debated vigorously on Fox News by Horace Cooper, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, and Civil Rights Attorney Leo Terrel, who said Goodell’s only interest was to make money for the team owners. He argued in favor of the protests, claiming 70% of the players are black Americans, and a higher percentage of black Americans serve in the military. He also said that the players were kneeling before the flag, not turning their back on it. “We kneel in church, so what is wrong?” he said.
Cooper had another opinion:
“As for this idea that it’s okay to offend the American people, we get the right to also choose whether we’re going to watch something that we don’t like,” Cooper said. “In overwhelming numbers we’re watching the American people say we don’t like what you’re doing and we will not participate. That’s as American as apple pie.”
People are taking a stand, and the country is being divided – again. Recently, Vice President Mike Pence gave the kneeling players a White House snub after he walked out on the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers in his home state of Indiana. Some of the players did not stand for the anthem, and the vice president did not stay for the game.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones announced that if any of his players decided to kneel or sit on the bench during the anthem, they would be benched.
The only thing protesting the flag and anthem seems to have accomplished is to divide our country even more. It has become less about the issue of racial injustice and more about dishonoring our country, military, and police – not to mention the president. The argument that this is about the players’ First Amendment rights is bogus because NFL teams are privately owned, and thus the players are subject to the workplace rules set by their employers. There is a time and place for everything. How many employers would allow their employees to violate company policy and protest in the office while on the clock?
Goodell’s letter didn’t say all players had to stand for the anthem – it just said they “should.” Whether it will become a requirement, we will have to wait and see. But at least it’s a start down the right track. Trump also approved of the commissioner’s letter, saying in a tweet: “It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY.”
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