So now the protests
against the National Anthem by some NFL players have morphed into an
anti-Trump exposition. The story was always interesting but this weekend
it exploded in a way that may hurt the country. In this case there are
rights, but also what is right.
As you know, former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick
started a political protest last season by failing to stand during the
National Anthem before games. Soon, a few other players followed his
lead, some even giving the black power salute.
Mr. Kaepernick is now unemployed even though his skill set is high
enough to play in the National Football League. The problem for the
quarterback is that teams believe he is not good enough to start, and
apparently do not feel a public relations nightmare is worth it for a
Overwhelmingly, Americans do not want the anthem and flag disrespected
by anyone. You can imagine how our military people feel about the
situation while watching NFL games in war zones.
Kaepernick and some other athletes say they are protesting because they
believe that the country is basically unfair to African Americans and
other minorities and they want to draw attention to their point-of-view.
They, of course, have a right to that opinion.
However, professional athletes work for individual teams, and if the
owners of those teams believe the protests are hurting business, they
have a perfect right to lay down some ground rules.
Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones, for example, has clearly stated that he
does not want political protests on the football field. So far, his
players have honored his wishes.
But now things have taken a turn for the worse. In Alabama, President
Trump told a cheering audience that he'd like to see players who refuse
to stand for the anthem fired. Also, the president opined that fans
might want to leave the stadiums if anti-anthem displays persist.
As with the protesters and Jerry Jones, Mr. Trump has a right to his
opinion even though it inflamed the situation, leading to wider player
protests on Sunday. It is clear that many black players do not like the
president one bit.
Shortly after Mr. Trump's initial statement, the head of the NFL, Roger
Goodell, issued a press release saying the president's words
disrespected the protesting players and the league. Mr. Goodell went on
to cite all the good things the NFL is doing for the country.
Fine, but not relevant to the issue at hand.
So what's the answer here? Assuming we all would like to solve the
problem, here's what I would do if I owned an NFL team.
First, I would address my players, telling them that I respect honest
protest and the First Amendment right to state grievances.
Second, I would explain that professional sports is a business and that
alienating customers who pay a lot of money to see football games is
simply not good for business. The forum is wrong. The football field is
not a political place.
Therefore, if players on my team do not want to respect the president,
the National Anthem, and the American flag, they must stay inside the
locker room until the pregame exposition is over. That is a new rule
that I, as the owner, have a right to make.
By the way, the Pittsburgh Steelers did just that Sunday.
I would, however, give each player the opportunity to speak with the
press about anything after practice. I would even provide a special room
where the interviews could take place apart from the practice field.
It is interesting to note that the National Football League does not
allow personal messages to be written on uniforms. Years ago, former
Chicago Bear quarterback Jim McMahon got into major trouble for doing
that. The league came down hard on him.
But now the NFL apparently believes that political messaging on the
field is okay. Does that make any sense to you?
Summing up, the owners are entitled to make behavioral rules, President
Trump and everyone else is entitled to criticize the protests, but the
dissenters should be allowed their say in an appropriate setting.