The NFL changed its national anthem policy Wednesday, declaring if players sit or kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner” their teams will be fined. If individual players do not wish to stand, they can remain in the locker room until after it is played.
Sounds like a reasonable rule, although some players and patriots are firmly against it.
I’m already on the record as saying I had no real problem with players in the past doing whatever they wanted to do during the traditional playing of the song before games. The very anthem blaring out of stadium loudspeakers represented the freedom athletes exercised by way of their protestations.
On the other hand, I have no financial stake in the NFL, its ticket sales, its profits derived by television viewership, or the money it loses when those sales aren’t as brisk and that viewership is not as large.
The league, after all, is a business. Some of the origins of the tradition of playing the national anthem stem back to teams and leagues wanting to prop up the gate via popular shows of patriotism. Whether the anthem should be played at all before games is another discussion.
As is, my view on the posture of players during the anthem, and on the fact that the anthem is played, is this: It is an opportunity for Americans to unite for a couple of minutes before the opening kick or tip or pitch, a chance for us to celebrate the good things our country has to offer. Is it perfect? Far from it. Do we have serious problems that should be underscored and discussed and addressed and solved? Yes. Yes. Yes. And, of course. Respecting and calling for change is not hypocritical.
There are places and times for each to be accomplished.
It is not the NFL’s responsibility to provide that place or time immediately before the start of games, in plain view of its clientele, especially when its research shows that the demonstrations by some of its employees — the players — were chasing away business.
If players want to protest, they should do exactly that — on their own time, not on the company’s time. They should do it by their own means, not the means of the employer who pays them millions of dollars.
Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcom Jenkins, a leader in the Players Coalition, an activist group, strongly disapproves of the new policy, but part of his response on Instagram was exactly right:
“While I disagree with this decision, I will not let it silence or stop me from fighting. The national conversation around race in America that NFL players forced over the past 2 years will persist as we continue to use our voices, our time and our money to create a more fair and just criminal justice system, end police brutality and foster better educational and economic opportunities for communities of color and those struggling in this country.
“For me, this has never been about taking a knee, raising a fist or anyone’s patriotism but doing what we can to effect real change for real people.”
One of the powerful things sports does is create a vehicle for conscientious athletes to express themselves, and for those who choose to be influenced by them to see their example and think about what they are saying, in a manner that casts a big, bright light.
Team sports, like football, often are ahead of society when it comes to gathering all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds from all different ethnicities and cultures to join together to achieve a goal. It represents what can be attained when people work together, sweat together, play together, sacrifice together, laugh together, cry together, lose together, win together.
It’s an inspiration that all of America can take note of and learn from. Maybe if the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers can have African-Americans, Caucasians, Polynesians, and any other number of subsets, be they races or ethnicities or cultures or religious backgrounds, harmoniously blend to do their jobs, to win their games, to hoist their trophies, hopefully everyone across every walk of life can do likewise.
It’s a great goal, one that is accomplished every season in every league in every sport. Most teams have their differences, some of which must be worked through. But that’s the larger point here. They are worked through. Nothing stands in the way of winning.
Winning is good for business. But winning is also good for… winning.
Sports fans and people of all kinds can gain perspective and learn from this. And turn to face down the troubles that are apparent in many corners of our country. Underscore them. Discuss them. Address them. Solve them.
Just don’t do it as a display in uniform, on the field, right before kickoff.
If respect for what’s great cannot be individually demonstrated, stay in the locker room, where respect can be wholly withheld — without damaging the bottom line of the people who are signing your sizable paychecks. That’s called good business.
And pick up the cause — your cause — whatever it is, alongside as much disgust for what’s bad and unjust and intolerable, in a vigorous, appropriate, meaningful place and time where and when that real change can be affected. That’s called good citizenship.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.