NFL con­tro­versy is volatile mix of pa­tri­o­tism, ideals

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION -

Wel­come to Sun­day. You know, the day of the week that is owned by the NFL. Or at least it used to be. The NFL has prob­lems. TV rat­ings are down. At­ten­dance in some cities is plateau­ing, or even de­clin­ing. The league is learn­ing not every­one will so ca­su­ally ac­cept pay­ing $100 to park after fork­ing over an even big­ger chunk of change for a sea­son ticket.

Roger Good­ell and his bil­lion­aire club of own­ers also are chaf­ing at the grow­ing din from health ex­perts and oth­ers who sug­gest that hav­ing peo­ple con­stantly bang­ing their heads to­gether – some times in high-speed col­li­sions – is not good for your health.

Chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy, be­lieved linked to the con­cus­sions that have for years been part of the game, is a grow­ing med­i­cal con­cern.

Many par­ents are now won­der­ing whether they should al­low their kids to play the game. Some say the very fu­ture of the game is at risk.

We agree, but not nec­es­sar­ily for the same rea­son.

The Na­tional Foot­ball League is now at the cen­ter of a na­tional firestorm that has noth­ing to do with run­ning, pass­ing or tack­ling.

This all started last sea­son with Colin Kaeper­nick, then the quar­ter­back of the San Fran­cisco 49ers. Kaeper­nick took a knee dur­ing the rit­ual ren­di­tion of the Na­tional An­them that pre­cedes ev­ery NFL game.

Kaeper­nick said he wanted to ex­press his con­cern for so­cial is­sues in the coun­try, in­clud­ing a se­ries of high-pro­file shoot­ings of African Amer­i­can cit­i­zens by po­lice.

Kaeper­nick gave no in­di­ca­tion that he wanted to dis­re­spect the flag, the coun­try, veter­ans or any­one else.

He merely wanted to spur a di­a­logue on an is­sue that con­cerned him.

As it turns out, own­ers have rights, too. The 49ers re­leased Kaeper­nick at the end of the sea­son. A quar­ter­back who led the Nin­ers to the play­offs has not been able to find a job in the NFL.

The protests con­tin­ued this year – but in the shadow of racial ten­sion that ex­ploded into the na­tion’s con­scious­ness after the sight of mem­bers of the Alt-Right, neoNazis, and the Ku Klux Klan march­ing openly, car­ry­ing torches and spout­ing racial hate, in the streets of Char­lottesville.

Then Pres­i­dent Trump de­cided to wade into the con­tro­versy.

In his now trade­mark be­hav­ior, the pres­i­dent im­me­di­ately threw a lit­tle gas on the fire. At a rally in Alabama, Trump urged NFL own­ers to fire those play­ers protest­ing dur­ing the Na­tional An­them. And, of course, he added a lit­tle clas­sic Trump, re­fer­ring to any player who would dare to kneel dur­ing the An­them as a “son of a bitch.”

His bravado did not achieve the ex­pected re­sults.

In­stead, own­ers ral­lied to their play­ers sides. Sev­eral, in­clud­ing long­time Trump sup­port­ers, blasted the pres­i­dent for his di­vi­sive re­marks. High-pro­file ath­letes from other sports took the pres­i­dent to task.

Then, last Sun­day, the own­ers came down out of their lux­ury boxes and locked arms with the play­ers in a show of sup­port dur­ing the pre-game fes­tiv­i­ties.

More than a few boos rained down upon them.

This is­sue is wrapped in a toxic, volatile mix­ture of pa­tri­o­tism, free speech and race.

Trump is ham­mer­ing play­ers for what he has branded a show of dis­re­spect for flag and coun­try, and all that stands for.

Play­ers in­sist they are merely ex­er­cis­ing their con­sti­tu­tional right to free speech.

Fans seem to be split down the mid­dle, many out­raged to the point of burn­ing their beloved team jer­sey – and in some in­stances even those pricey sea­son tick­ets.

Oth­ers, even while dis­agree­ing with the play­ers’ ac­tions, de­fend their right to do so.

And still oth­ers sim­ply long for the weekly es­cape that foot­ball used to pro­vide, a haven for a few hours to es­cape the world’s prob­lems.

But sports are noth­ing if not a re­flec­tion of our so­ci­ety. No one should ex­pect sport to be im­mune from the deeper is­sues that af­fect so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing who has the right to say and do what.

The play­ers have ev­ery right to take a knee or oth­er­wise ex­press their feel­ings.

Guess what? So do own­ers. And fans. And the pres­i­dent.

Don’t ex­pect this po­lit­i­cal foot­ball to go away any­time soon.

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