LOS ANGELES, September 25, 2017 — The National Football League has obsessively tried to stay out of politics. Now they are on the verge of being devoured by politics from both sides of the political spectrum.
For the last few remaining people unaware, Colin Kaepernick was a quarterback making millions of dollars who saw his career decline. He began dating a radicalized Muslim woman who convinced him to become a social justice activist. He began kneeling during the national anthem to protest white police officers killing black men.
He then opted out of a contract that would have paid him over $14 million in 2017 and was surprised to find out that no other team wanted him to play for them. NFL owners dislike controversy, and Kaepernick’s skills had declined to the point where the risk-reward ratio of hiring him was unfavorable.
Leftists led by Black Lives Matter protesters threatened to boycott the NFL unless Kaepernick was hired. Attempts to accuse the NFL of racism rang hollow. In a league where two-thirds of the players are highly skilled blacks, the NFL owners did not want to hire a low-skilled player, black or white. Kaepernick was almost hired by the Baltimore Ravens until his girlfriend put out an image comparing Ravens owner Steve Biscotti to the slave master in Djiango Unchained.
Other players began kneeling during the anthem, leading to conservative Republicans threatening to boycott the NFL. While no rule exists mandating that players stand for the anthem, owners have the power to create any rule they want at their owners’ meetings. The flames were fanned in Alabama when President Donald Trump strongly suggested that owners fire players who refuse to stand for the anthem. Trump also implored the crowd to boycott the NFL until the protests stop. The crowd roared in approval, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and many football players and coaches disagreed with the substance and style of his remarks.
There is plenty of blame to go around, but the bottom line is that Trump is right in being angry about the protests. The players are absolutely wrong to say that they have a First Amendment right to protest the anthem. They actually do not.
There is no freedom of speech right in an office or place of business. Companies in all industries have routinely suspended or fired employees who engaged in political activism on company time. Handing out politically charged literature to coworkers can even be a form of harassment.
If NFL players want to protest on their own time and on their own dime, they can attend as many rallies as they like provided they do not engage in “conduct detrimental to the league.” The stadium is the office. Fans pay plenty of money to see sports and get away from politics. The owners have every right to demand that protests on the field stop. Sheer fear of the militant political left has allowed the owners to cave. So instead, the owners are now facing the wrath of the political right.
The NFL is torn. Two-thirds of players are black and 95% of blacks vote Democrat. Meanwhile, a large portion of the fanbase is white conservative Republicans. The NBA is a fairly liberal league, while NASCAR is very conservative. The NFL is less conservative than NASCAR but still to the right of the political center. Conservative fans are prepared to boycott the NFL and destroy it. This would be a major mistake for several reasons.
The first reason against an NFL boycott is strategic. A boycott plays directly into the hands of the political left. While there are plenty of liberal Democrats who like football, there are also plenty of liberal Democrats who despise the game. Football is at its core a conservative sport. It involves violence, and winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate meritocracy. Far too many liberal Democrats have been trying to destroy the NFL because it is one of the last places where conservative Republican values are paramount. The NFL wraps itself in the American flag and constantly pays tribute to the United States military. The NFL is one of the few places where conservative Republican values thrive. The left would love to destroy it. Conservatives should not help them.
Another reason to eschew a boycott is ideological. Boycotts are primarily a tool of the left. Conservatives have always been about the freedom of people to express themselves. Conservatives do not call for people to be fired simply for offering a dissenting view. Liberals are constantly threatening advertisers. Conservatives traditionally want more speech for everyone, even if that speech is abhorrent. Normally conservatives would ignore the protesters. Threatening to boycott and fire them only increases their power.
The third reason against a boycott is the concept of collateral damage. Plenty of players do not support kneeling during the national anthem. To blame the entire league for the actions of some players is unfair to the many decent, honorable players who passionately salute the American flag. A poignant scene during the Pittsburgh Steelers game saw one player pull a complete reversal of Colin Kaepernick. Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva refused to stay in the locker room with his teammates. He is a former Army Ranger who did three tours of duty in Afghanistan. He came out of the locker room and saluted the flag. The media should give him every bit of attention given to Kaepernick.
Many players have deep connections to the American military. Others are bible believing Christians with a deep love of God and country. Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr tithes a portion of his income and eats at Chik-Fil-A. Houston Texans defensive standout J.J. Watt has raised over $50 million for Hurricane Harvey victims. Plenty of NFL players raise millions of dollars for noble charitable causes. Watt, Carr, and Villanueva are the exact type of players conservative Republicans should embrace.
The fourth and final reason to refuse to boycott the NFL is the NFL itself. Putting aside all political emotions, professional football showed again this past Sunday why it is the greatest sports league in the history of sports.
So many games went down to the wire that NFL Red Zone commentator Andrew Siciliano may need a lung operation from yelling in excitement. Several games were decided on the final play. The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Giants 27-24 when a rookie kicker drilled a 61-yard field goal. The Atlanta Falcons survived a 30-26 scare over the Detroit Lions when the Detroit receiver was tackled an inch short of the goal line at the gun. Tom Brady led another miracle comeback as the New England Patriots defeated the Houston Texans 36-33. Even some of the worst teams played some thrillers. The previously winless Indianapolis Colts barely held off the winless Cleveland Browns 31-28. The Los Angeles Rams survived a scare from the winless San Francisco 49ers 41-39.
There were also shocking upsets. The winless Chicago Bears shocked the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers 23-17 in overtime. The winless Cincinnati Bengals had the heavily favored Green Bay Packers on the ropes for most of the game until Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers led a stirring 27-24 overtime comeback. The New York Jets were supposed to go 0-16, yet they blasted the Miami Dolphins 20-7. The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders were unbeaten and favored to win again. Instead, Denver ran into a defensive buzzsaw at the Buffalo Bills, losing 26-16. The Raiders got walloped 27-10 by the Washington Redskins.
The NFL concept of “Any Given Sunday” is better than it has ever been. The NFL is the only sport where underdogs knock off heavily favored teams every week. Competitive balance is real.
Rather than boycott the NFL, just ignore the protesters. The protests will soon lose steam. In an odd quirk of fate, the most passionate protesters had the worst games on Sunday anyway. The Baltimore Ravens boycotted the American national anthem but stood for the British anthem. Then the London crowd saw the Ravens fall behind the Jacksonville Jaguars 44-0. The Steelers had a miserable game. So did the normally stout offensive line of the Raiders, who did plenty of protesting but very little blocking. Players can deny it, but focusing on protesting does distract from playing football.
There is always a chance that boycotting the NFL will force it to fire players. It could also backfire and destroy a league that gives us heroes on and off the field every week. Do not think that sticking with high school or college football is an option. The best high school and college players play the game to make it to the NFL. If the NFL is destroyed, high school and college football will soon lack the main reason to exist. Bringing down the NFL will eventually destroy all football.
The protesters are wrong. They have no legal right to protest. The protesters are a divisive force that are hurting the uniting game of football. It is the protesters, not President Trump, who sowed these divisions.
Despite all of that, let them protest. Ignore them. The national anthem antics are sidelined for good once the game starts and the football is kicked off to start the game. The protests are as forgotten as the opening credits.
The protesters are trying to politicize football. Do not let them. Do not boycott the NFL. That would also be politicizing football.
Let football be football. Let the protesters burn themselves out. Leave all politics out of football. When December rolls around, the protesters will be a speck of dust lost under the giant competition that is cold-weather playoff-caliber football.
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