There can be no doubt of my patriotism, respect for our flag, our military, our veterans, First Responders and good ol’ American apple pie. Naturally, many have assumed that I am up in arms over some NFL players, and now entire teams, choosing to take a knee rather than stand in respect of our flag and National Anthem.
I am disgusted by this disrespect, but I absolutely support free speech. That said, this is not a free speech issue. Nor is it political. It is economic.
While I do think the NFL should penalize and maybe fire these players and fine these teams, my reasons are not because of my disgust over the childish antics of privileged brats. I believe the NFL will act, but not just yet.
The NFL made a miscalculation last year when one entitled guy disobeyed the NFL rules. He believed he would get away with it because he was above the rules, special and a starter. It was a calculated move, and he was right. Not only did he get away with it, he thought he had a permanent pass. But, like so many before him, he simply failed to fulfill what was a promising start. No question he is athletically gifted, but there are a lot of incredibly gifted, hard-working atheletes who simply don’t make it in the NFL. Rather than fade into obscurity, he made a name for himself, created a media sensation and all but guaranteed his fifteen minutes would not be over at the end of the season, no matter how poorly he played. It must have been a real shock to him when he didn't get signed again.
The proper response of the NFL should have been to fine him the first time he failed to follow the rules and stand for the National Anthem. They do worse to the attention-hogs who dance in the end zone. They do far worse to those who bring disrespect or dishonor to their franchise or the NFL for behavior in their free time, even in the off-season. The fact the NFL didn't act, followed by the failure of any franchise to sign Kaepernick proves this is, and always was, about economics to the NFL.
I don't believe anyone in the NFL believed what came next was possible. By failing to act, they allowed the narrative to become one of freedom of speech or expression. Had they reacted as swiftly to his misbehavior as they have and continue to when other players break their rules, this would have been a tempest in a teapot. Sure, some media talking heads would still have tried to advance the narrative that it is about freedom of speech, but that would have failed and died out within a game or two. This freedom of speech false narrative would have rightly been put to bed as this was, and is, an employee failing to follow the rules of his employer.
Instead, other players decided they could garner some media facetime, too. Afterall, if one pays attention to the media, there is no downside. If you are an underperforming player, take a knee so you can pretend your lack of offers or field time is because of something, anything, other than the fact that you are an underperforming player. Brilliant! If you aren’t at risk of butt splinters, and are maybe even a starter, you have to join the chorus or be accused of being disloyal to your teammates.
I actually feel sorry for Alejandro Villanueva. By standing at the entrance to the tunnel, he was being loyal to his former teammates, those whose lives were once in his hands as his was in theirs. The irony of this happening at the iconic Soldier Field, an optic certainly factored into the “entire team’s” decision to not take the field for the National Anthem, is certainly not lost on fans. But the media still doesn’t seem to get it.
Villanueva said he was embarrassed, not for standing and respecting the flag, but for the perception that he was at odds with his Steeler teammates. Only those who understand the military culture know the significant distinction between that and headlines and reports inferring Villanueva was ashamed or feels what he did was morally wrong in relation to the muddled message these protests are ostensibly supporting. He is a truly good, decent man who lived and lives the Ranger Creed. If you don't know what that is, you can look it up and read it but unless or until you've lived it, you cannot fully grasp what it means.
Likewise, Mike Tomlin didn’t blast, chastise or throw Villanueva under the bus. He simply said that he asked the team to act as a whole, unified element, whatever their collective decision. What Mike Tomlin did that was wrong was to allow the players the opportunity to make this decision, individually or collectively. But, he is far from the only coach, franchise owner or NFL official to make this mistake.
During the preseason as word spread that Kaepernick didn’t get signed, those who turned the channel last year started talking about maybe, just maybe, giving the NFL another chance. Afterall, this is America’s pastime. They grew up rooting for their favorite team, maybe played a little ball themselves back in the day, or just spent lots of time on the sidelines cheering on their kids.
Then, it started again. This wasn’t a fluke, an aberrant lapse in judgment on the part of the NFL. It was the tip of the iceberg. Certainly, it can be said that there are real issues, injustices, and...whatever these protests are supposed to highlight that are being talked about because of the media frenzy. But talk is all that is happening. When these overpaid, entitled children in cleats get off their knees and do what they are being paid millions to do, all the issues supposedly being addressed are as bereft of answers, definition – and action – as ever.
I am not a rabid NFL or football fan, though I do enjoy rooting for my home team. I am also not a particular fan of our President, but once again, I do believe in supporting the home team. I don’t have to like everything or even much of anything the President does or says to still respect the office, and even the office holder. There is no mistaking my negative opinion of our former President’s policies and ideas on, well, nearly everything. But, I never did and never would support calling for his impeachment, and was sensitive to the reality that the divisiveness was not good for our country. The same holds true with this President.
I’m not just offended and disgusted by those who decried negative statements about our former President now acting justified in attacking this one because, well, “it’s different”, I’m baffled. I simply cannot understand how it wouldn’t be a national tragedy, particularly while we are still a Nation at war, to impeach the sitting President because someone fundamentally disagrees with him, or simply doesn’t like him. Or, because he rightly said the NFL should fire these employees who are refusing to follow their employers’ rules. This isn't just the definition of hypocrisy, it's lunacy.
This hypocritical lunacy is what I find most disturbing about this issue of NFL players taking a knee, or refusing to take the field for our National Anthem and unfurling of our flag. The President merely echoed what most who find this display reprehensible think when he placed the responsibility on the NFL. But because the President whom some hate said it, it is suddenly racist, bigoted, divisive and un-American.
Now, for the rant everyone expects.
Yes, I find it deeply un-American and simply ignorant to protest the symbol that guarantees your right to protest. This symbol is sacred, particularly during a time of war, to millions. It is sacred to our military, who swear an oath in front of it. It is sacred to our veterans, who sacrificed time, family, blood and limbs while following it into battle. To our Gold Star families, it is not just a sacred symbol, it is the physical embodiment of their loved one’s sacrifice. Their loved ones returned home under that flag. They embraced a folded flag in arms that will never again hold their loved ones, because of service to that flag and all it represents. And you think your protesting that flag isn't disrespectful? It doesn’t matter what your intent is, it is the net effect. When this is pointed out to you, and you continue anyway, that is a decision to do exactly what you say you aren’t doing.
So, let’s put this in its proper perspective.
First, the NFL is a corporation. These players are employees of that corporation. Their behavior, while in the uniform of that corporation is dictated by that corporation. If a player hits the end zone and breaks into a dance, they can be fined, benched or suspended, per the rules of the NFL. The reasoning is simply that it detracts from the game, from the cohesiveness of the team and makes it all about one individual, as if the goal they just scored was due solely and exclusively to their efforts.
No one questions the NFL’s right to make and enforce this rule. Again, the players are employees of that corporation and must adhere to the rules of their employer.
The NFL goes further and dictates what is unacceptable behavior off the field, and even during the off season. Again, no one questions their right to do so. If an employee, who is famous because of their job, engages in behavior that negatively impacts the image of the employer, their job is rightly at risk.
What the President said, echoing what legions of former NFL fans have been saying for over a year, is it is up to the NFL to allow or prohibit specific behaviors on and off the field. The NFL has capitalized on football ascending to the coveted space of “America’s Favorite Game”. When a player chooses to disrespect the flag and National Anthem, something the NFL rules require be displayed and sung at the start of every game, they are undermining and refusing to comply with the rules of the NFL. As an employer, it is the NFL’s responsibility to address this.
It has been repeatedly said the NFL is trying not to be political. Yet, this decision to not enforce its own rules and standards of behavior on its employees has political ramifications. It is also has economic consequences.
Viewership was down by the end of last season. The NFL lost the respect of millions of its most rabid fans. The tone of the country seemed to be in the same vein as was the tone regarding baseball when those players went on strike. Fan attitudes towards baseball players being overpaid prima donnas still prevail which has hurt the sport. Many believe this was the impetus for the ascension of football as “America’s Game”.
The NFL has and is benefitting from this controversy. Initial viewership is up as people are tuning in to see which players are standing, which are taking a knee. Calls to boycott certain teams and not buy some team and player jerseys are filling the internet, causing spikes in sales on the merchandise and jerseys of those on each side.
In the past few days, it is has been almost amusing to see the dawn of realization hit some players, owners and officials in the NFL. They are beginning to get the hint they may have gone too far. I believe the NFL was not making a political statement, but were capitalizing on the controversy to make money. But, some are starting to realize that any short-term profits will have dramatic, long-term impact. Perhaps it is too late. A large part of me hopes it is too late.
Perhaps this whole fiasco can serve as a warning that middle-America, those backward, uneducated residents of flyover country have had enough. One would think turning the vast majority of the map of the United States Red would have been a hint. But, then again, to listen to the news one gets the impression that what happens in a few urban centers is the mood of the whole country. They still haven’t gotten it right. I’ve got $20.00 that says they won’t this time either.
Should NFL players be fired? At this point, that's simply not a realistic course of action. I do believe the NFL will very soon come out with a statement that going forward, any player who fails to take the field, or chooses to take a knee, will be fined. The NFL needs to make it very clear this is an employer/employee issue. Each player signed a contract that included an agreement to adhere to the rules of the NFL. Don't follow the rules, suffer the consequences.
Those players who feel so strongly about this issue, whatever it is, are to be encouraged to use their time and resources on those issues. However, they will not be using the time and resources of the NFL to advance their muddled message. Because, whatever their intent, it is disrespectful to the men and women who serve, have served or given their lives under the symbol they are protesting. And it's costing the NFL money.