I’ve punched out a long time ago on expressing my personal beliefs on the great NFL “anthem controversy” unless somebody absolutely begs me for them.
(Strangely, my general physician asked me this week about it, and I tip-toed into the whole thing like a ballerina, since I had no idea of her politics, and don’t frankly care. She’s a wonderful doctor!)
I do however, find it immensely entertaining sitting on the porch with my lemonade, just watching the unending layers of this thing continue to unravel. It’s like a game of “mouse-trap fission” or more aptly like Sideshow Bob stepping into rakes.
This week brought pizza sales into the fight, as well as a decorated and disabled Navy veteran refusing to be honored by the Saints at halftime. And of course, we had DeShuan Watson go down with an injury, presenting another perfect-on-paper landing spot for a similar style QB to come save the day. “Kaepernick to the rescue!!!!”
The Texans opted instead, for Matt McGloin and T.J. Yates. So yeah… never mind. Crank up the “see, he’s being blackballed!” columns in 3… 2… 1.
This will never end.
I am now fascinated as to what the league’s endgame strategy will be. I don’t think they have one. Or, there’s not enough consensus, or willpower to see it enacted. I think it’s not debatable that this entire storyline has been a net-negative on the league as a whole.
You can argue pizza sales ’til you face turns into a pepperoni. The bottom line is that the NFL has become “The League That Protests” or perhaps the “League that Divides America” or perhaps “The League That Makes You Choose Sides.”
The NFL should be simply: “The League That Plays Football.”
Leagues do this silly sloganeering all the time, even if you, as a committed fan, aren’t even aware of it. I can’t swear that these slogans move needles on eyeballs or make a rats ass of difference in revenue, but I do think they mean something.
The NHL was once “The Coolest Game on Ice.” The NBA went with “NBA Action, It’s Fantastic!” Major League Baseball once used “I Live For This.” The PGA Tour: “These Guys Are Good.” And on and on.
If I recall, the NFL has used “Football Is Family” as a slogan. Well, if so, this is the worst family dinner ever. Plates are flying. Cuss words are being shouted, and family members are heading for the car, swearing to never come back to another one again.
My endgame would be for the NFL to excuse the players from standing for the anthem altogether. To say “the national anthem is an important part of our game presentation, which is overwhelmingly appreciated as a solemn moment of reflection for OUR FANS and CUSTOMERS. Players who do not want to stand respectfully during this part of our game presentation, are free to remain in the tunnel or lockeroom. Any players who DO wish to be a part of it, are welcome to stand on the sidelines. Any player who is on the field during the anthem who does not stand at attention, will be subject to fines and/or suspensions.”
Sure, many SJW’s would decry that the league has now “taken away the players platform.” So what? Let those people bray at the moon. Eventually, they’ll get exhausted and stop. (See: Augusta National, Redskins, etc.)
By positioning the anthem as an amenity for THE FANS, while excusing the players from needing to participate, I believe you snuff out most of the oxygen that has been fueling this inferno. In short, “this is not about you, nor for you, but you are welcome to join in, if you like.”
Finally, I wanted to do a little research on just how David Stern got his arms around this thing back in 1996 when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf decided he could no longer stand for the anthem. While it’s widely reported that the NBA’s anthem clause is ratified into the CBA with the players (I would guess that was done following the 1999 lockout) I wondered if at the time, the NBA anthem clause was more like the NFL’s currently is: a “game ops guideline” more than a collectively bargained player obligation.
I found this article from Marquette Sports Law Review by Christopher J. McKinney. It’s sorta ancient (2003) but covers a wide range of sports and “First Amendment” issues through the years. And while I disagree with it’s conclusion (that sports league should give athletes MORE 1st amendment room and protection while on the court/field) at least it is very well researched.
The NBA apparently had a “rule” about the anthem dating back to WWII. Was this a CBA “rule” or just a game ops “rule.” That I do not know. What I do know, is that Stern acted decisively to nip it in the bud, and also seemed willing to go to the mat if needed.
In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was arguably having the best year of his career as a shooting guard for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, averaging 19.2 points per game. Five years earlier, Abdul-Rauf, then known as Chris Jackson, had become a follower of the Muslim religion.In the years between 1991 and 1996, Abdul-Rauf became increasingly devoted to his faith, while at the same time becoming more and more dissatisfied with United States foreign policy, most notably its involvement in the Gulf War.According to Abdul-Rauf, who had described himself as “[f]irst, foremost and last… a Muslim,”’ the American flag had become “a symbol of oppression … [and] tyranny.”’ Thus, after coming to the conclusion that he “[could not] be for God and for oppression,” Abdul-Rauf vowed that he would never again stand for the playing of the national anthem that precedes every NBA game.This controversial decision put Abdul-Rauf in violation of an NBA rule dating back to World War II that required players to stand “respectfully” during the playing of the national anthem. Initially, the Nuggets, with the consent of the NBA, allowed Abdul-Rauf to return to the locker room during the playing of the national anthem so as to be out of the view of the fans in attendance. As time passed, however, Abdul-Rauf began to display his opposition publicly by remaining on the bench or stretching directly in front of it during the national anthem.In response, NBA Commissioner David Stem announced that Abdul-Rauf would be suspended without pay until he was willing to comply with the league rule. Stem based his decision to suspend Abdul-Rauf on a provision contained within the NBA’s CBA that allowed the commissioner to “discipline players who are ‘guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental’ to the NBA.’Both Abdul-Rauf’s action and Commissioner Stem’s reaction generated a swarm of media attention. While many found Abdul-Rauf’s refusal to stand for the national anthem offensive, others believed that Stem’s decision had violated Abdul-Rauf’s First Amendment and Title VII rights. In fact, the National Basketball Players Association went so far as to offer filing a grievance against the NBA on Abdul-Rauf’s behalf, an offer that AbdulRauf ultimately rejected.After the initial one-game suspension, Abdul-Rauf decided that he would be willing to stand for the playing of the national anthem, provided that he could “stand… with his eyes closed, his hands cupped close to his face, and praying to Allah.” Stem found this proposal satisfactory, and agreed to lift Abdul-Rauf’s suspension. Following Stem’s reinstatement of Abdul-Rauf, the matter was settled without lawsuit or arbitration.
Of course, Stern operated in a social-media and SJW free world back then. And Abdul-Rauf’s protest was couched in religious beliefs, not racial ones. Perhaps I’m being unfair to Goodell. Maybe even today’s environment would have overwhelmed Stern. But, I doubt it.