Baseball has historically been known as “America’s Past-time”. But over the years professional football – in particular the National Football League (NFL) – has unquestionably become the most popular sport in America. For many, an afternoon of watching rivalries like the Dallas Cowboys versus the Washington Redskins or the Minnesota Vikings versus the Green Bay Packers borders on a religious experience.
But that all seems to be changing now for many Americans. It started with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, refusing to participate in the National Anthem during a pre-season game in August of last year. And it appears to have ramped up with yesterday’s league-wide protests during the National Anthem in response to President Donald Trump’s statements on Saturday that NFL owners should “fire or suspend” any player “disrespecting our Flag & Country”.
The 2016 NFL season resulted in a decline in viewership. A CNN article last week cited statistics showing that ratings are down again this season. And last month CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus indicated that an internal study at the network showed that ongoing protests in the league did indeed contribute to the decline:
“…I think if you look at some of the reasons why NFL viewership was down last year, that is a reason that’s mentioned by a fair amount of viewers. It is something they don’t find attractive or they don’t find compelling in coverage of the football game. How big a factor it was? I don’t really know. But it was one of the factors that I think perhaps led to the slight decrease in ratings last year.” (Emphasis Added)
My personal feeling is that the media and much of society has given Kaepernick exactly what he he wanted– attention. Which was sorely needed for a player who was… well… not very good. I can’t help but wonder if people had ignored him, if it would have just gone away– much like his career at the moment? Or at the very least not exploded into what it has become?
An interesting aspect to the entire “silent protest” debate in sports centers around the First Amendment right of free speech. Do these athletes have a right to protest at the games? Well, yes and no. Why do I say that? Because it hinges on private property rights. If Owner A permits his employees (i.e. players) to “take a knee”, that is his prerogative. At the same time, if Owner B determines that his players will not be permitted to do the same, that is his prerogative as well.
I realize this makes many Americans uncomfortable. But if we were to accept the opposite view, then private property rights don’t exist at all. Not only would the owners of football stadiums have to open up their property to whatever the public wanted to do under the guise of “free speech”, but all other property owners would as well.
Employers all over the country would then have to deal with the antics of their employees– agreed upon or not. Besides, would the KKK then have the right to burn crosses in our yards? I think not. Nor do I believe you think they should either. At least I hope that you don’t.
Of course the NFL could also go the route of establishing a rule for the entire league through its personal conduct policy. Such a change would require a vote of the ownership. Which is what President Trump also seems to be advocating for.
Do I like what Kaepernick and others have done? Not at all. But has it hurt anyone? No. Do I feel these athletes should be forced to stand and participate? Not really. Do I think owners have the right to fire or suspend a player who chooses not to? Absolutely. And I also believe fans have the right to take their money elsewhere by choosing not to watch football or purchase NFL memorabilia and apparel.
The sad thing about all of this is that most fans just simply want to watch football– without it being politicized. Sports is inherently competitive, but historically it has been one of the few things that has united us as Americans. Does 9/11 ring a bell? The Boston bombings? Etc.
It didn’t even have to be tragedy that brought people together. A typical game brought together fans of all religions, colors, cultures, political persuasions, etc. But now that appears to have been ruined for some. In what was perhaps the last bastion of unity – sports – some folks couldn’t help but to fracture that too.
We now appear to be a nation that stands completely divided. And for some reason, President Trump gets the blame for that from people like NBA superstar Lebron James who said Trump has “used the sports platform to try to divide us”. Perhaps Lebron needs to be reminded that Donald Trump wasn’t President when this issue of National Anthem protest started in the NFL.
Some feel that this has all become a distraction from truly pressing issues of the day. Our nation is $20 Trillion in debt. Government meddling in healthcare is a disaster. We may be on the brink of yet another war that will have horrible and lasting implications.
And as far as an issue more relevant to the NFL; I’ve seen it pointed out by many in the last 24 hours that while so many people concern themselves with “taking a knee”, almost nobody discusses the issue of the NFL and its billionaire owners getting taxpayer subsidized stadiums. And the subsidies goes beyond that. Read this article if you want your blood to boil. Where’s the outrage over all this?
For those who still take pride in our nation’s flag and National Anthem, there was one man yesterday who represented his team and country well. Former Army Ranger, Alejandro Villanueva, is an offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He served three tours in Afghanistan. And while the rest of his team sat out the National Anthem in the locker room yesterday, Villanueva appeared outside the tunnel saluting the flag.
What are the results of Villanueva’s willingness to stand alone? A day later his jersey sales are the highest of any Pittsburgh Steelers players and he is among the top sellers in the entire league.
Will this issue of silent protests and the National Anthem eventually blow over? Will we one day be able to look back and be grateful that things returned to normal? Or is it possible that we are witnessing the slow death of the NFL as we know it? Worse yet, are we witnessing the slow death of America as we know it?
[UPDATE: ESPN has just released an article showing an apology of sorts from the Pittsburgh Steeler lineman mentioned in the article. While he didn’t apologize for saluting the flag during the anthem, he does express regret for appearing to leave his teammates. I’m guessing those jersey sales won’t remain so high after this. You can read the story here. Thanks to Shane Bengson for the information.]