NFL Caves in to the Demagoguery of the Commander in Chief

Posted on: May 27, 2018, by :

Commentary  –  By Jeff Turner

This Wednesday, May 23rd, the National Football League unveiled a new policy: teams will now be fined by the NFL if their players kneel on the field during the National Anthem. Players will be able to stay in the locker room while the anthem is playing, but kneeling will not be allowed.

Colin Kaepernick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, sparked controversy when he began to kneel on the sidelines two seasons ago in order to protest not just police brutality but racial inequality as well. Kaepernick originally sat during the anthem but switched to kneeling after talking to former NFL player and veteran Nate Boyer. The reason for this was because Boyer and Kaepernick both agreed that kneeling was the best way to present Kaepernick’s message without disrespecting either the flag or the armed forces. Many feel this is the reason no NFL teams would hire him after he left the 49ers last season. But Kaepernick started a movement, one that has sparked strong reactions from both sides of the issue, culminating in President Trump’s statement last year where he called NFL players who kneel “sons of bitches” who should be removed from the field. During the third week of the NFL season, after these comments were made, more players than ever before either knelt, locked arms, or sat in the games immediately following this statement. There was also wide condemnation of Trump’s statements by NFL team owners and coaches.

Multiple sources have said that the NFL was caving to pressure from the Trump Administration. This is not only most likely true, but rather sad and unfortunate as well. Former Indiana Governor and current Vice President Mike Pence made a scene at an Indianapolis Colts game when he left after half an hour due to players kneeling on the field, saying that he would “not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” in a Twitter post shortly thereafter. The visit for that P.R. stunt cost Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department alone $14,000.

In Indiana, Republican State Representative Milo Smith even attempted to introduce legislation that would have required Colts players to stand during the National Anthem. Smith has a tendency to propose a great deal of ridiculous legislation, however, and this bill fortunately never reached the floor. But this new NFL policy is not only worrisome, but also in blatant violation of the constitutional rights of NFL players to protest.

Approximately 80% of the NFL is African-American, and these are primarily the players who have been kneeling, sitting, or locking arms on the sidelines during the anthem. One could go so far as to say Trump’s disdain for NFL players kneeling is an attempt to satisfy certain racist elements of his base, many of which are the same people who are opposed to this form of protest.

But for some, the issue is seen in a different light. I talked to a recent IUPUI graduate today, Grant, who explained why he believed NFL players should be required to stand during the national anthem. “I personally think that it’s mandatory that you should stand during the national anthem. Because that’s how I was taught, that when you are somewhere you hear the national anthem, you have to stand up.” He went on to explain, in regards to the NFL players, “I don’t know why they kneel.”

Interestingly enough, Grant is also white. There are a great many people who don’t seem to understand, most of whom are white, why NFL players have been kneeling, sitting, or locking arms on the sidelines, a cultural disconnect from these predominantly black NFL athletes’ reasons for protesting. And this divide seems to further exacerbate the issue.

Of course, there are some white Americans who do support the players. Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, recently made headlines decrying the NFL’s ban on kneeling during the anthem, saying those who are opposed to kneeling on the field and supporting the ban are “basically trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people.”

For the past two seasons, players have either knelt, sat, or locked arms on the sidelines, inspired by Kaepernick. But, as of late, Trump’s rhetoric condemning the players has increased, the petulant Commander-in-Chief even going so far to say recently that those who don’t stand for the anthem shouldn’t be allowed to be in the country. He says this of American citizens, the very people he is supposed to be representing.

In the age of Trump, however, the meaning of this form of protest, kneeling, has been lost. These football players are paid high salaries, and yet they have continued to kneel these past two seasons. Kaepernick was not even able to be re-signed as a result of the protest he started, one that has become a movement. These men, the ones who kneel, are the true patriots.

Blind loyalty to a cause, an idea, a flag even, is not the type of lesson we should want to teach our children. It has led to the rise of many a corrupt figure and despotic regime. The U.S. flag is a symbol, it is true. But the country it represents has made its fair share of mistakes, too many to name.
The types of people who put out these messages about a need for blind loyalty and obedience, in this case standing for the national anthem, unable to empathize with these players or even understand why they are kneeling, THEY are the reason why these problems — in this case, police brutality and racial inequality — continue to go unaddressed. These players want to make this world a better place, hope to inspire by their actions. And this has apparently been lost on a great many people. The fact of the matter is that this NFL policy stems from pressure placed on the NFL by the Trump Administration, an administration that has normalized race baiting and bigotry. And for this reason, it can no longer be tolerated.

For the first games of the next NFL Season, EVERY SINGLE PLAYER needs to either lock arms, sit, or kneel on the sidelines to protest this grave injustice to their rights of free expression. Even if certain players don’t agree with the reasons for their teammates kneeling, they are still their teammates.

It seems that, in the age of Trump, people have lost the ability to empathize with their fellow human beings, have no desire to go out of their comfort zones and attempt to see the world from another person’s point of view, leading to the increasingly polarized, hyper-partisan age of Trump. Empathy is vital to understanding why these players kneel, what it is that they are protesting, and why they should be allowed to continue to do so. This goes beyond the NFL and simple statements of protest, to the point of absurdity.

Kneeling on the football field, sitting, or even locking arms during the national anthem is now seen as a treasonous act, worthy of deportation? Mr. Trump is not helping things, proving to be quite a detriment as a matter of fact. This has gone far enough. Trump has no right to influence the policy of the NFL and bully its owners into catering to his demands as he has his Republican sycophants in Congress.

Enough is enough.

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