So now we know what the current NFL protests are really all about. Sure, kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner started with Colin Kaepernick last season as a protest against racial injustice generally and police brutality specifically. But now, these displays are all about the 45th president. And the NFL was willing to violate its own rules by allowing it.
After a Sunday full of games marked by widespread and varied forms of protest, the Cowboys and Cardinals made a grand spectacle of it during Monday Night football with a heavily choreographed show of “unity” that included a souped-up version of what happened Sunday. Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the lone holdout among NFL owners who had been willing to stand up to the players’ refusal to honor the flag, finally caved. Jones kneeled and locked arms with his players. And he apparently believes the fact that he did so just prior to the playing of the Anthem gives him plausible deniability on the issue of disrespecting the flag. No matter. The fans booed.
This is what it has come to: a sad and sorry spectacle of athletes and their intimidated stooges in ownership refusing to honor the flag that has enriched them beyond measure for playing an ultimately meaningless game.
But did you also know the NFL broke their own rules by allowing these protests? It’s right there in black and white:
The rules are found on pages A62-63 of the league’s game operations manual:
The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem.
During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.
So in failing to enforce what must now be interpreted as fake rules, the precedent for Monday Night’s spectacle was set in three responses on Sunday to Donald Trump’s now-infamous remarks about NFL players disrespecting the American flag – one aggressive, another clever and the third one designed to either avoid the issue altogether or make a collective statement.
Predictably, the aggressive response was more players than ever taking a knee. But we also witnessed the at-once comical and clever spectacle of wealthy NFL owners locking arms with their players. And finally, there were three entire teams (except for one player on the Steelers) who avoided the spotlight by remaining in the locker room for the anthem. The Steelers were booed lustily in Chicago after emerging from their quarters after the anthem, as were the Seahawks and Titans in Nashville.
Trump then tweeted his reaction
Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Much has been said over the last year about the kneeling. And remaining in the locker room is difficult to interpret precisely. But locking arms for a couple of minutes to signal their hatred for Trump does not constitute virtue. It constitutes either hypocrisy or cowardice.
Why else would Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars who donated a cool one million dollars to the Trump inaugural committee, lock arms in public solidarity against Trump? Why else would Robert Kraft, a longtime friend and major supporter of Trump and owner of the New England Patriots say, “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the president on Friday,” and support the players’ “right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner they feel is most impactful?” And why else would another owner who donated over a million to Trump, Robert McNair of Houston, say the president’s comments were “divisive and counterproductive to what our country needs right now?”
Other owners who donated to Trump issued statements supporting the players without directly criticizing the president. Good for business, they apparently believe. We shall see.
In fact, NFL owners contributed no less than $7.75 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, so these bosses acting as if they are on the side of players who disrespect the flag and the duly elected president is disingenuous at best.
At the same time, many have defended the players’ “right” to kneel during the anthem by citing the first amendment’s freedom of speech. This is a specious argument because NFL teams are privately owned, which means the owners have every right to set the rules of conduct for players to whom they are paying hundreds of millions of dollars. Would you be able to insult the boss in your workplace and then defend your right to do so under the first amendment? As Liberty Nation, legal correspondent Scott Cosenza points out, “The First Amendment guarantees freedom from government prohibition of or imposition of speech. Neither is present in the instance of football players and the national anthem.”
The owners should not escape the spotlight, for they have chosen to validate the players instead of prohibiting or penalizing their behavior. The inmates are clearly running the asylum.
Of course, there was also the matter of how the networks who cover the NFL – CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN – would protect their investment of billions of dollars for the rights to televise the games. Should they downplay the story, or amplify it? Many announcers on Sunday tried their best to report about the situation with bland vanilla language. But one announcer covering the Jets-Dolphins game, former player Steve Tasker, said the fans would be surprised at the admirable character of NFL players.
Well, that’s a new one. NFL players as paragons of virtue? While there are certainly many good people who play in the NFL, the players’ history with issues ranging from domestic violence to murder makes the league, shall we say, an unlikely candidate for virtue-signaling. The image below of the Baltimore Ravens kneeling includes former Raven Ray Lewis, who struck a deal to testify against two friends and pled guilty to obstruction of justice after he was originally charged with two counts of murder. And former Patriot Aaron Hernandez was convicted of murder.
Those were just Individual cases, you might say. But consider that between 2012 and 2014, 33 NFL players were arrested on charges involving domestic violence, and almost half of those players were arrested for battering women. Remember Ray Rice caught on video punching his fiancée in the face and calmly dragging her out of an elevator? The NFL’s feckless Commissioner, Roger Goodell, later helped justify his breathtaking $40 million salary by instituting harsh penalties for domestic violence, but the damage had been done.
And yet despite this history of what many consider the most despicable form of violence – men beating up women – the NFL is trying to virtue-signal in their own tortured way. Nice try.
In the end, the people will decide what they think about all this. They will vote with their feet, deciding in greater or lesser numbers whether to buy what the NFL is selling considering these developments.
In caving to political correctness and hatred for the president, the league has tried to spin the notion that it was respecting the players when in reality it has been disrespecting its customers, not to mention the 62 million people who voted for Trump. And the blowback has likely just begun.
The best guess here is that the NFL will continue to tank and lose fans by the millions.