CHARLOTTE, NC, September 25, 2017 – Suddenly the NFL has polarized the country more than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could have ever imagined. Distasteful as it may be, some stories require a response even though they can get lost in a tidal wave of commentary from others.
As is typical of divisive controversies hidden under the guise of social commentary, the media, analysts and celebrities who are pontificating on either side of the NFL issue are missing the point entirely.
Whether or not football players or athletes in other sports stand for the National Anthem is the source of the protests but it has nothing to do with race, freedom of speech, how much money a player banks every two weeks or any number of other false excuses.
To begin with, the NFL should look back on its own history before it begins protesting about social injustices. Back in the 60s when baseball was the king of sports, the conflict in Vietnam was beginning to pull the country apart. By the end of the decade, professional football had blossomed into the country’s new national sport because it was an opportunity for angry Americans to take out their frustrations each Sunday afternoon.
The controlled violence of football as it existed then was a miniature war played out on gridirons across the country in three-hour episodes that released the tensions of an anxious nation.
That was when the NFL was a patriotic force that represented the best of the United States at a time when we questioned our own identity and national spirit.
Fast forward to San Franciso 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick who decided to protest by not standing for the National Anthem. Kaepernick’s decision has set off a firestorm of protests which have affected the NFL’s image and attendance and put sports organizations into divisions that run far deeper than the NFL’s five-team alignments against which they compete.
Former players like Terry Bradshaw and Chris Collingsworth have weighed in as have several team owners and executives from other sports such as NASCAR and the NBA.
Former NFL star Burgess Owens said:
Let me tell you about our responsibility is, and every generation has done this throughout the history of our country, is to give our kids more hope than we had. My parents’ generation, my grandparents’ generation succeeded [in sowing hope]. That’s how they fought racism.
We have the greatest country and the most freedom today, and we have more people, particularly black Americans, who have less hope and that’s because they have very successful men telling them that they can do it but that black Americans can’t do it.
It’s really time for us to stand up as men and say: ‘Listen guys, this country gives us everything we want and if I did it, you can do it too.’ And stop the whole thing … if you wanna have demonstrations, demonstrate someplace else, but not against our flag that gives us the freedom to be the greatest people in the history of mankind.
But the schism does not stop with athletes and sports. It also carries over to the entertainment industry as actors. mucisians and other celebrities feel the necessity to express their opinions.
Sadly, the excuses of “freedom of speech” and First Amendment rights have nothing to do with the argument.
Fans who pay top dollar to watch a football game or see a movie go to be entertained. They couldn’t care less about a celebrity’s political points of view and, as such, when a famous person uses access to a venue that ordinary Americans cannot use themselves, they are infringing upon our rights as citizens who may not choose to listen to those ideas.
If Meryl Streep wants to make her voice heard, let her pay for a press conference AFTER the Academy Awards rather than access a free microphone to display her ignorance and political perspectives.
On Sunday, most of the Pittsburgh Steelers did not come out on the field for the National Anthem choosing instead to remain in the locker room. The message was heard loud and clear, but at least the Steelers did not show their disrespect on the field as so many others have done.
By the same token, many players competing in London on Sunday took a knee for the American National Anthem and then stood for God Save the Queen. Such a display had nothing to do with freedom of speech while at the same time demonstrating historical ignorance of Great Britain’s role in the social injustices of slavery.
Chris Collingsworth reminded his audience that fans should understand the backgrounds and upbringing of many athletes who found their way from the slums to the riches they enjoy today. That may be true, but it is not an excuse.
Perhaps those players should compete in Haiti or India or South Africa rather than London if they want to witness true victims of poverty and social inhumanity.
Professional athletes are paid to entertain. That does not make them entertainers, however. They are athletes blessed with skills that most people do not possess but who will pay to watch those athletes display those skills.
On the other hand, let us watch games without the breast-beating, strutting, end zone dances or sidebar showboating that is now such a familiar part of the NFL and the NBA.
Make a great tackle and throw a quarterback for a loss, then get up and go back to the huddle instead of prancing around like you have single-handedly saved the world. You made a tackle. Perhaps a big tackle, but it was nothing more, nothing less than a tackle.
Perhaps a big tackle, but it was nothing more, nothing less than a tackle.
Take the open venues away from athletes and entertainers and they are lost in a sea of their own ignorance. Give them a stage and they suddenly become poster children for the social ills of the country.
Donald Trump doesn’t help with his brash tweets and his silly responses, but this is not about Trump. It is about respect, dignity and common sense.
Unfortunately, those who call for a boycott of the NFL are spitting in the wind. The game is too big and too popular. Until the league begins to feel the full economic effects of its own ignorance, the divide will continue and the controversies will grow.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people, and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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