In a burst of patriotic fervor, the grand exalted poobahs who run the National Football League decided to penalize their players when they express their First Amendment right to free speech by kneeling during the National Anthem. Some of those players can be accused felons. That's acceptable. Many of them will spend the afternoon turning their brains into grape jelly. That's OK. Team doctors are free to shoot up players with opioids to keep them on the field. That's just good sports management! But expressing an unpopular point of view? That'll cost ya!!
Ostensibly, this action was taken out of a sense of good, old-fashioned patriotism. Can't have players reminding us that there is rampant social inequality among the races, it might give people the wrong idea. Besides, the NFL owners have too much invested in patriotic displays like F-18 flyovers and unfurling gigantic American flags to allow for any dissent visible from their comfortable seats in obscenely expensive sky boxes.
Let's face it, this change in NFL policy has nothing whatsoever to do with love of country. It's all about one thing and one thing only. MONEY! The grandees of the NFL have, in effect, told their players to sit down and shut up because their silent protests were costing the NFL owners the almighty dollar.
The simple fact is, as more and more attention was drawn to kneeling players protesting social injustice, there was a reaction among America's football fans, and it wasn't positive. Especially irritated were adult males between the ages of 18 and 49, the key NFL demographic. Their reaction was straight forward, a lot of them started boycotting games. Now this didn't necessarily cost the owners any money. Season tickets were sold long before the REAL games began, so that money was tucked away safely in the bank. Ah, but fewer people at the games meant fewer parking spaces were sold and concession sales were WAY down, putting a pinch on the owners' pocket books. OUCH!
Worse still, television ratings were down significantly. The network executives started to express their concern. If the audiences kept shrinking, it wouldn't be long before Corporate America began protesting in its own fiduciary way, cutting back on all those commercials that turn a two hour game into a three and a half hour marathon. The networks would be forced to reconsider the lucrative television contracts they had with the NFL and THAT meant a whole lot more than mere patriotism.
The owners panicked. And why not? Their well-paid minions were showing a little independence and this mini-revolution could prove to be expensive. And then President Trump entered the fray, stating that players who knelt during the National Anthem should be fired, a pronouncement that triggered rapturous applause in some circles. Clearly the NFL owners had to do SOMETHING. Not because the protesting players were showing disrespect to either the country or its flag but because their little show of independence was costing the owners money and could conceivably cost them a lot more. And so they acted, taking it upon themselves to restrict their players' right to freedom of expression.
Now I get why a lot of fans are pissed off at the players. Their relatively insignificant gesture was in some small way interfering with the fans' enjoyment of America's past time. Sitting down and watching the game was how they relaxed, away from the shouting and screaming of today's political world. Who wanted to be reminded of America's social and racial inequality during THE GAME? So telling a bunch of over-paid athletes playing a little boys' game to sit down and shut up was all right in the fans' book.
But what the NFL owners did still restricted the freedom of expression for a small segment of our country's population. And this freedom thing is tricky. While it's easy to want to shut someone up who is blathering what YOU consider a lot of nonsense, limiting their freedom to do so is ultimately destructive. We must protect EVERYONE'S right to free expression because it's the best way to insure OUR freedom of expression too. It can be a pain, but it's the only way to protect OUR First Amendment rights!
Filed under: Politics