You are at a National Football League (NFL) game and the singing of the National Anthem begins. “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light …” Are you thinking about all the injustice in America? About suspects who were killed during police interactions? While the dozens of people on the football field are quietly standing in uniform, right hand across the chest, are you considering the many things about America that you just don’t like? Probably not. In fact, football is one of the last places people would contemplate the social and political failings of our country.
So, when the NFL made a decision to require all personnel on the field to respectfully stand for the singing of the National Anthem, it seemed like a reasonable request. But, alas, nothing is that simple at a time when political agendas are being force-fed in even the most unlikely of places. Sports are designed to be a respite from responsibilities and serious issues; a safe place to be on opposing sides and short-term trash talk your neighbor about their team choices, without any long term ramifications. A place where we can temporarily leave our cares behind and enter a world of fantasy.
Nevertheless, the Players Association, and undoubtedly some other proponents of politicizing the NFL, have cried foul in response to the decision. They claim the NFL is attempting to silence their voices and take away their right to speak out and protest. This, of course, is sheer nonsense. If not having the Anthem’s few moments to make your protest is considered being silenced, I fear for the movement. This NFL ruling is very specific and narrow in its scope: on the field, stand; off the field, you decide.
It does not prevent its players from voicing their protests, just not during the few minutes already set aside for the respectful acknowledgement of the armed forces and our freedoms, including the freedom to play football. Players and personnel have been, and continue to be, welcome to utilize other ways to express their opinions. In fact, in line with the Players Coalition agreement and the league’s own stance on community engagement, the NFL has also set aside $89 million to combat social inequality.
Last season, various players who wanted to protest social injustice in America chose to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem. They didn’t choose to kneel while the reporters were talking to them pre- or post-game, not while they were on the field, and not when they were out living their celebrity lives, but during the Anthem. Yet, we are continually being told that it’s not about the flag or the National Anthem that they took a knee. Now, that is just plain confusing. If they had no intention of disrespecting the flag or the National Anthem, why didn’t they stand respectfully during the singing?
As a football player, one has an inherent celebrity status. Fans admire them and want to hear what they have to say. It would be fairly simple for these protesting players to create opportunities to speak about their cause: hold a press conference, engage in interviews, utilize social media, collaborate with one of the many non-profits that share their beliefs, or start one of their own. There are so many ways to make your stance known. Pick one, or some. Everyone has a right to speak out in public.
Interestingly enough, the heads of the NFL have a right to speak out, too. The difference is that they have a private business to run and the players are “employees” of that business. As such, they must adhere to the company policies set forth in said business, just like the millions of working people who must do the same. It’s their rules. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go to that business or work for that company. You can go elsewhere.
Last season’s controversy took a huge toll on the league, both with its image and its finances. Lest we forget, the NFL is first and foremost a business, and as such, a loss of $30 million and viewership down 10% is enough to garner its attention. Contrary to political beliefs, the league works for the football fan through the dollars generated by ticket sales, advertising, gear, licensing, and peripherals. Without fans moving the NFL engine along, the bucks would stop. Anything that hinders income must be adjusted. It’s that simple.
Perhaps this upcoming NFL season will harken back to the days when a fan could escape to the world of the pigskin, throw friendly taunts at their neighbor, and proudly stand as an American.