Are NFL Players Breaking the Bargain and the Spell?


I wonder how many Americans — after a strange, contentious presidential election followed by riots and the ultra-politicization of everything — were looking forward to the start of Autumn football and at least something normal and non-political.  Well, the spread of the practice of kneeling during the national anthem has blown that possibility away.  I’m not drawing this impression just from my various political feeds, but also from overheard conversations, such as on the sidelines of children’s soccer games, and the tone has been one of dissatisfaction.

In business terms, the development can’t be good.  Dedicated fans will consider it a minor annoyance, but some fans will fall away and perhaps not return.  No doubt the number whose avoidance of the sport amounts to a boycott will be minimal, but for many more who aren’t quite as dedicated, or whose teams are not doing well, or whose lives have gotten busier, the politicization may break the spell.  And the number whose love of the game will be strengthened, or who’ll take it up as a pastime is likely to be vanishingly small.

It seems to me that the sophomoric tone on statements that seem to get things backwards won’t help, either:

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month,” [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell said.

“Divisive comments like [President Trump’s criticism of kneeling players] demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

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Most Americans will understand:  If you’re kneeling during the national anthem before a beloved American pastime, you’re the one being divisive, not people who object, even if one of those people is the President of the United States.  I daresay a majority of folks who care enough to discuss this matter on youth sports sidelines or sports talk radio are likely to think Goodell’s comments should have been directed at the players who are disrespecting our nation.

Personally, as a non-fan of professional sports, it seems to me that these players are only further proving how silly America has been to make them millionaires for playing a game.  They’re changing the bargain.  Being stars with salaries potentially in the millions isn’t enough; they also want to use their podium to grandstand.

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  • Disgusted by the spectacle

    This politicization distracts from the claims these otherwise successful men put forward to explain their actions. They state they are protesting how a race is treated, claiming victim status and ignoring cause and effect. Their reasoning is as fact-filled as the “hands-up, don’t shoot” fantasy that still exists in some quarters. Nothing will change until these people discard the victim excuse and embrace accountability and responsibility.

    • Rhett Hardwick

      Let us be careful of what we wish for. Recall Pres. Wilson and the Sedition Act of 1917. People could be, and were, arrested for questioning the need to enter WWI. The Conductor of the Boston Symphony was arrested and jailed for not playing the Star Spangled Banner (It is unclear to me whether he simply did not, or refused). “Citizen’s Arrests’ were encouraged and people tarred and feathered. In NYC, 60,000 people were arrested by the police in one day, 166 actually charged. This is where J. Edgar Hoover got his start.

      Compare this to the “anti war protests” of the 60’s. Only 50 years later.

  • BasicCaruso
    The most basic fact of the protest movement in the NFL is this: while it is open to any- and everyone who can be moved to care, it is about something, a very specific set of crimes and an easily identifiable community of perpetrators. It comes by its divisiveness naturally, by making explicit the split between people who care about these things and people who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t or don’t. This is what has always been both so telling and so sad about the wild umbrage that Colin Kaepernick’s understated protest has inspired—the inability or unwillingness of critics to engage its simple central point. Instead, again and again, we see the same reflexive self-defense of taking offense on behalf of The Flag or Our Military because NFL fans and sports commentators can’t or won’t let themselves say that they don’t want to be asked, even gently, to think about things that they don’t want to think about.