NFL controversy is volatile mix of patriotism, ideals
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.