So letâ€™s get this straight: The National Football League threatened to levy fines against players who wore cleats commemorating the 9/11 attacks, but not only permits, but indeed encourages, entire teams to protest during the National Anthem.
Talk about a massively blown call.
And in a league with a history of inexcusable play-calling, such as standing on the sidelines when players commit crimes, and meting out slap-on-the-wrist penalties only when forced ï¿½" thatâ€™s saying something.
The silver-lining is that, despite the loud but small minority that thinks players disrespecting America is somehow â€œsocial progress,â€ the vast majority think the NFL should punt its position on this issue and, instead, inject common sense and dignity into the league.
But donâ€™t hold your breath. The league almost certainly wonâ€™t budge, courtesy of its blinding arrogance. Ironically, that boneheaded move may yet cause the NFL to drop the ball when it can least afford it.
Commissioner Roger Goodell just doesnâ€™t get why people are furious at the NFL and its players ï¿½" though in all fairness, why would he? The sole responsibility of the leagueâ€™s $300 million man seems to be looking the other way on everything from domestic assault to concussions, all so that the ownersâ€™ billions continue to flow. (And yes, thatâ€™s Rogerâ€™s package over a mere seven years ï¿½" especially lavish given that, up until recently, the NFL was a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization).
But the players really donâ€™t get it. Their life inside the bubble ï¿½" the result of being pampered from grade school, creating a mentality that they can do as they please with no consequences ï¿½" keeps them aloof, and far removed from real life.
Then we have the many media commentators who are, as usual, wandering aimlessly on the wrong end of the field, focusing on the wrong issues. Not surprisingly, that incompetence continues to incur penalties in the form of declining ratings and a stunning lack of credibility.
Last, but not least, President Trump most certainly gets it, at least on this issue. He may not have tactfully articulated his opinion that players refusing to stand for the anthem be fired, but the message came through loud and clear. Now, many who donâ€™t consider themselves â€œpro-Trumpâ€ nevertheless find themselves in agreement with him. And for good reason.
America isnâ€™t perfect, but it is the freest, fairest, and most generous nation in history, where opportunities remain endless and past mistakes are both acknowledged and atoned. Therefore, showing respect for the National Anthem is as close to scoring an uncontested touchdown as it gets.
Hereâ€™s a look:
1) First, this has absolutely nothing to do with â€œfreedom of expression.â€ Those using that as a justification need a refresher in Civics 101.
The NFL and its teams, as private entities, set forth myriad requirements by which players and coaches must abide ï¿½" or risk punishment, including termination. Uniforms cannot be altered. Players canâ€™t push referees. Coaches arenâ€™t permitted to curse at fans. Meetings, practices, media access ï¿½" all mandates. Bottom line: During working hours, players are, unequivocally, not allowed to express themselves any way they want, but in the manner set forth by the employer. In other words, there are rules, just like in any other job.
The NFL and individual teams are legally permitted to mandate that players stand for the national anthem; therefore, those claiming itâ€™s a â€œrightâ€ to sit, kneel, turn oneâ€™s back, or, most cowardly, stay in the locker room, are grossly misinformed.
And unlike baseball with its guaranteed contracts, an NFL team can release any player, for any reason, whenever it wants. That should be the hammer to let players know, in no uncertain terms, that defiance of rules will not be tolerated.
2) No one is â€œlive and let liveâ€ more than this writer. Burn the flag? Distasteful and ironic, yes, but a right. Yet when you turn your back on the very country that afforded you everything, while employed by a private entity with a very public face, you need to go. The NFL should absolutely mandate participation in the National Anthem. Donâ€™t agree? Fine. Have fun playing in Ecuador for 50 cents a game.
There are 323 million Americans, and fewer than 1,700 NFL players. Therefore, being a 1-in-200,000 celebrity, you have a very powerful public platform. If the protesting players had any class, not to mention respect for the game and league that gave them their extravagant lifestyle, they would have protested outside of football, on their own time. Instead, their actions invited divisiveness into the league, and even more significant, into the fan base.
Rather than acting like leaders, these coddled players, many undoubtedly having no idea what they were actually protesting, personified ungrateful, spoiled children ï¿½" exactly what we donâ€™t want our entitled young generation emulating.
3) The NFL finally relinquished its nonprofit status, but retains its anti-trust exemption. But why does it have that? Why are corporate executives prosecuted for collusion, racketeering and price-fixing, when NFL owners doing the exact same thing remain untouched? Why does the NFL and its teams continue to receive billions in taxpayer money, from tax breaks to new stadiums for billionaire owners and millionaire players, all while remaining exempt from the most basic laws of fairness?
That must change.
4) The president was correct in stating that both ratings and attendance are down ï¿½" way down. The apologists will chalk that up to the hurricanes, but itâ€™s been occurring for years, and itâ€™s only getting worse, as stadiums with thousands of empty seats attest. The combination of pricing people out of games, the leagueâ€™s corruption, and politics being shoved down fansâ€™ throats has become a wake-up call for many to walk away.
The sight of spoiled, thin-skinned prima donnas, who make more per game than most do in a year turning their backs on America and the fans ï¿½" regardless of their reason ï¿½" isnâ€™t going to improve the NFLâ€™s situation. Neither will growing calls to boycott watching games, especially since the networks ï¿½" already on the hook for billions to televise NFL contests ï¿½" have seen their revenue significantly decline.
Commissioner Goodell, reap the whirlwind.
5) Numerous players stated that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (who started the anthem fiasco a year ago and is not currently employed), is better than some starting NFL quarterbacks. Hmmm. So the still-capable QB who created the firestorm isnâ€™t playing. Seems like a clear signal from the owners that he is damaged goods, and is a headache they do not want.
Yet because the president elevated the issue, and the players chose to â€œdisrespect in solidarityâ€ ï¿½" whatever the hell that signifies ï¿½" the cowardly owners decided to side with their perceived revenue generators, instead of standing their ground on the anthem issue. Only one problem. Players donâ€™t generate revenue. Fans do. Alienate those who foot the bill, and you have a big problem. And thatâ€™s exactly what the NFL has ï¿½" theyâ€™re just too arrogant to see it.
6) In a nod to Americansâ€™ patriotism, it was incredible to see the jersey of Pittsburgh Steeler Alejandro Villanueva become an instant best-seller because he had the courage to stand near the field during the anthem, hand over heart ï¿½" while his teammates remained in the shadows. Especially amazing is that the former Army Ranger, who served combat deployments in Afghanistan, is an offensive lineman ï¿½" a position that never ranks near the top in merchandise sales.
Villanuevaâ€™s jersey became an overnight sensation for one reason: Americans reward loyalty and guts, a lesson the NFL should heed since those traits are sorely lacking in the League these days. Even if he did admit later that his appearance was a mistake and he did not mean to show up his teammates.
A smart team owner, if one exists, would see the writing on the wall and call for the immediate sacking of Commissioner Goodell, mandate that his players stand for the National Anthem, and bench anyone who uses the field as a political platform.
An owner unafraid to take a stand for what is right, and who demonstrates that principle is more important than money, would, along with his team, become something infinitely bigger than Super Bowl Champion.
Otherwise, will the last NFL owner please turn out the lights?
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]