AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
Thursday night’s football faceoff between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers marks the first game of the regular NFL season, and while fans already know who the top returning players and purported new stars are, one question has yet to be answered: will the NFL, three days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and only a few days after the deaths of 13 American service members in Afghanistan, honor America and its fallen heroes? The issue of whether the league will pay some tribute to the 13 warriors is also part of a larger question: will the NFL require players to stand for the national anthem this season, or will the league instead spark even more outrage among football fans by continuing to allow players to disrespect our flag?
AMAC Newsline reached out to the NFL for comment multiple times on that very question over the past two days but has not receive a response as of the publication of this piece.
It’s no secret that sports are becoming infected with the same woke ideologies that increasingly pervade every other aspect of American culture. While the NBA has been the main culprit of the politicization of sports, the NFL now seems to be vying for that title as more and more players kneel for the national anthem in an alleged protest against “systemic racism” that supposedly plagues every part of American society. Critics have contended that the protests are disrespectful to U.S. service members and first responders, a charge players and their representatives have denied.
From a financial standpoint, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners – or, more specifically, their pocketbooks – can hardly afford to further exacerbate the kneeling controversy. The league saw sharp declines in viewership throughout the 2016 and 2017 seasons that were linked to kneeling protests. While ratings recovered slightly in 2018 and 2019, a fresh wave of Black Lives Matter protests prior to games throughout the league last year sent ratings tumbling once again. Clearly, fans prefer their football politics-free.
Goodell was already unpopular among players and fans thanks to his botched handling of the so-called “deflategate” controversy involving then-Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in 2015. The commissioner routinely draws boos from fans every time he makes an appearance, even during 2020’s virtual NFL Draft.
As the kneeling controversy swept the league, Goodell further sullied his own reputation by effectively allowing political activists and radical groups to hijack the league to serve their political ends. Indeed, when the flag controversy began, he seemed to implicitly approve of coverage by the left-leaning ESPN and NBC that seemed to favor the protests. He then turned a blind eye to backlash against players like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees who dared to say that not standing for the anthem was “disrespectful.” In doing so, the commissioner became for many just another rich, entitled businessman more concerned with cultivating favor among woke ideologues than caring for the best interests of the players – both on and off the field.
Needless to say, Goodell’s capitulation to leftist activists has not helped resurrect his image, particularly among working class fans who make up the base of the NFL’s viewership. There is no denying that football is, after all, a business, and like many other businesses in recent years, its CEO—with the backing of several powerful owners like John Mara of the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rooney family – has gone woke.
But in light of the recent deaths of 11 Marines, one Army soldier, and one member of the Navy in a suicide attack during Biden’s disastrous surrender in Afghanistan, many are now renewing calls for the NFL to do more to encourage players to honor their sacrifice as well as honor the country they laid down their lives to protect. Many high school teams as well as other professional sports organizations like the Los Angeles Dodgers have paid tribute to those killed in action.
The NFL’s kneeling controversy began in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem of the team’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Although Kaepernick had knelt before the prior two preseason games as well, this was the first time it garnered any media attention. When asked about it, Kaepernick said that he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Over the ensuing weeks and months, Kaepernick’s “protests” became even more pronounced and were not limited to specific instances of supposed police injustice. During several practices, he was spotted wearing socks showing police officers dressed as pigs. Kaepernick also praised former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, despite Castro’s clear brutal treatment of his own people in the very way that Kaepernick claims African Americans are treated by police in the United States.
To many sports fans, Kaepernick’s actions seemed little more than a vain quest for relevancy after his fall from the heights of professional stardom, in addition to being disrespectful to the country, service members, and first responders. After taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, the second-round pick out of Nevada saw a marked decline in production, leading to his eventual replacement with Blaine Gabbert prior to the 2016 season.
More players joined Kaepernick and took a knee, leading to mounting outrage from fans and police officers and military personnel. Prior to the 2018 season, NFL owners ruled that players could remain in the locker room for the anthem but could not kneel on the field, a compromise that seemed to help appease both sides of the disagreement.
However, it wasn’t long before the NFL changed course and shamelessly kowtowed to Kaepernick and his imitators. In June of last year, Goodell issued a statement that read in part “we, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” The league also cut a $250 million check to organizations like Black Lives Matter to combat “systemic racism,” even as some of those groups were organizing riots that destroyed millions of dollars in private property, burned cities to the ground, and left dozens of people dead.
After all that controversy, and with the nation still reeling from its defeat in Afghanistan, Americans are likely finding themselves yearning for the time in decades past when sports were a place for people of all backgrounds to come together in good times and bad, and enjoy cheering on their favorite players and teams. The country is only twenty years removed from the iconic moment when Sammy Sosa circled Wrigley Field carrying the American flag before the Cubs’ first home game following 9/11. There is little doubt that moments like that, rallying around the flag rather than disrespecting it, have done far more to promote true unity in the United States than any self-serving “protest” of the flag.
In this moment, when the country desperately needs it, Americans can only hope that the NFL will once again take pride in the country and its heroes, ignore the small but loud minority demanding adherence to a radical agenda, and ask players to stand and honor the patriots of all races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds who fought and died to give them the freedom to play this great American game.