Home > Uncategorized > More Than Meets The Eye: Paid Patriotism and the NFL Players Protest – posted 5/27/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 6/3/2018

More Than Meets The Eye: Paid Patriotism and the NFL Players Protest – posted 5/27/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 6/3/2018

The new policy outlined by Commissioner Roger Goodell which requires NFL players to stand during the national anthem did not come out of any collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players. It was a unilateral assertion by management.

Up until now, there has been no NFL rule that prohibited players from demonstrating during the national anthem. I am at a loss to understand how the owners think they can enforce a unilateral declaration. The NFL players are represented by the NFL Players Association and they were not even talked to about the new policy.

To be legitimate, the new policy must be a subject of collective bargaining and that hasn’t occurred. This dispute is about the rights of labor and democracy in the workplace. We are way past a time when bosses can rule by fiat and simply dictate policy.

For the NFL owners, the matter of protest is fundamentally about the bottom line. With NFL viewership trending down and with President Trump whining, the owners caved in to conservative pressure. Apparently the owners believe sanitizing the game by disappearing protest will boost ratings and keep the money flowing.

Under the new rule, players who want to protest can do so privately in the locker room and will be allowed to join their teammates on the field after the anthem without incurring penalty. The price of protest is a new invisibility.

As with issues of domestic violence and concussions, the NFL owners are demonstrating cluelessness. The new anthem policy is a model of incoherence. What happens with the next clenched fist? Will fines vary in red states and blue states? Who knows? So much remains unclear.

Essentially, a handful of white Republican billionaires are trying to strong-arm and silence a league that is 70% African American. It is not disrespectful to want to challenge police brutality or to want to foster better educational and economic opportunities for poor people as players have demonstrated through peaceful protest.

Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles has voiced the players’ perspective:

“What NFL owners did today was thwart the players’ constitutional rights to express themselves and use our platform to draw attention to social injustices like racial inequality in our society.”

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN has pointed out that until 2009, no NFL player stood for the national anthem because players stayed in the locker room until the anthem was over. The reason the players were moved to the field during the anthem was a marketing strategy to make the NFL look more patriotic and to enhance its bottom line.

The U.S. Department of Defense paid the NFL $5.4 million between 2011 and 2014 to stage on-field patriotic ceremonies as part of its military recruitment strategy. And it was not just the NFL. The Defense Department reported $53 million in spending on marketing and advertising contracts with sports teams between 2012 and 2015.

This paid tribute included on-field color guard, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, performances of the National Anthem and full-field flag details. The Defense Department paid teams for the opportunity to perform surprise welcome home promotion for troops returning from deployments and to recognize wounded warriors.

The sharpest comment I have seen about this paid patriotism comes from actor and activist, Jesse Williams:

“This is not actually part of football. This was invented in 2009 from the government paying the NFL to market military recruitment to get more people to go off and fight wars to die…They’re marketing.”

I do not believe the public has known how many of these displays were paid for at taxpayer expense and how many were a part of a sports marketing contract. The Department of Defense has maintained that all its spending on sports marketing and advertising with professional sports organizations is integral to its recruiting effort. However, disclosure has been lacking. Are military jet flyovers and anthem performances still contracted for NFL profit?

It would appear that the owners want the players to be silent, obedient props in their money making pageantry. Self-righteous posturing about paid patriotism is hardly appropriate. More is going on than simple respect for the flag and country. The game-time performances are about enlisting more troops for endless Middle Eastern wars. In this connection, President Trump must be mentioned. According to Trump:

“You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

To conservatives I have to ask: where is the free speech? Isn’t free speech for people who think differently? I have heard much berating of intolerant college students on campuses across the country who shout down their opponents. President Trump’s statements expose his opposition to free speech. He sets a new standard: not only can you not speak out, if you disagree with him, you need to leave the country.

Of Colin Kaepernick, Trump had previously said, “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him”.

The NFL players’ protest needs to be seen inside the long historical context of black athletes who have challenged American racism. I am reminded of Muhammed Ali who resisted the draft and refused to go to Vietnam in 1967. Among other penalties, Ali was banned from boxing for 3 years in the prime of his career. Ali told Sports Illustrated:

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?”

in 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics, sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos staged their famous black power protest on the medal stand, raising clenched fists with black gloves as the national anthem played. The U.S. Olympic Committee, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, subsequently suspended both Smith and Carlos from the Olympic team.

In his autobiography, I Never Had it Made, Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line in major league baseball, confessed, “I cannot stand and sing the national anthem.”. That was his silent protest.

The NFL players’ protest is the same struggle as that waged by earlier generations of black athletes. Instead of trying to silence the players, the NFL owners should listen, learn about and positively respond to their passionately-held concerns.

Categories: Uncategorized
    June 3, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks for reminding us of one of the many ways the DOD spends our tax dollars, for the benefit of team owners.

    • June 4, 2018 at 12:19 am

      Thanks for reading it John. Most of the the on-line comments were not as friendly as yours.

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