The NFL Presents Faux Patriotism and the Double Standard
It never ceases to amaze me how some issues outrage certain segments of the population, while those very same people will twist themselves into a moral pretzel to overlook other behaviors which can be classified as downright criminal. Last year I dedicated one of my blogs to a young man by the name of Colin Kaepernick, now former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. (blog.timesunion.com) Kaepernick began a protest movement of sorts in the NFL, where some athletes, although still a small minority, have chosen not to stand for the National Anthem.
As acts of protest go, I would give it a “C.” Kaepernick didn’t do a good enough job in my humble opinion of explaining to the country what or why he was protesting, (Ostensibly, it was to protest police brutality, as well as what some believe are the unwarranted shootings of young African-American males. His act of protest however grabbed the headlines away from the issue he was actually protesting.) but on the other hand, the most important goal of any protest movement is to gain notice, and on that account, Kaepernick scored more touchdowns than the amount of actual touchdowns he has thrown over the past two seasons.
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This is a powerful image. First of all, in the foreground is an African-American sailor in the United States Navy, proudly standing as the National Anthem is played, while another African-American, a teammate of Kaepernick’s is standing dutifully as the anthem plays. Meanwhile, the “afro-sporting” Kaepernick can be seen kneeling in the middle of the picture. The “afro” hairstyle is to acts of protest what deep-fried onions are to cheeseburgers, it adds that extra bit of panache that puts it over the top. (New York Times)
Kaepernick’s act of protest has created a firestorm of backlash against the now unemployed quarterback, despite the fact that Kaepernick is considered a considerable talent when it comes to the quarterback position. Still, he finds himself without a job this season. While Kaepernick’s performance over the past two years has been spotty at best, his potential, as well as his athletic ability makes him markedly better than at least 10 of the quarterbacks presently starting in the NFL, and certainly superior to any of the 32 who are currently backing up at the quarterback position throughout the league.
For some owners, it’s simply a matter of controversy. Nobody needs the negative publicity and media circus that would follow a Kaepenick signing. For some teams, such as the New York Jets, who may have the weakest set of quarterbacks in the entire league, Kaepernick is far too “hot to handle.” New York City, as well as Northern New Jersey suffered terribly during the horrific events on 9/11/01, and one of the side effects of this heinous attack has been an outpouring of patriotism, particularly at metropolitan area professional sporting events. Yankee Stadium began playing God Bless America shortly after 9/11/01 during the 7th inning stretch, and has never stopped. In an atmosphere such as this, signing a man who considers every playing of the Star Spangled Banner an opportunity to score a political point against what he perceives is a nation that has tolerated an unequal and at times abusive justice system, particularly as it pertains to people of color, is quite honestly a potential public relations disaster.
(This rendition by the great Irish tenor Ronan Tynan was performed eight years after the 9/11 attacks. It’s still an event every night at Yankee Stadium, and it still means a lot to many in the “Big Apple,” and its surrounding areas. You Tube)
Any reasonable person knows that freedom of speech, as well as the freedom to protest is not only guaranteed for those who engage in popularly supported causes, but for those who seek to speak out on principles that don’t appeal to the majority. However, whether those who support Kaepernick, as well as the others in the NFL who have borrowed his stance like this or not, the NFL doesn’t have to tolerate Kaepernick’s protest or anybody elses for that matter. As the employer, the NFL or any of the 32 teams can set the parameters for what types of behavior and freedoms their employees can enjoy.
Players may not like this, and they may choose to take stances that continue to be controversial, however, they must also be willing to face the consequences of their actions, which means that they risk their employment with their teams, and as in Kaepernick’s case, the league.
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Kaepernick’s protest movement has begun to catch on with other players and teams throughout the league, putting heat on the NFL to either address or ignore the National Anthem protest issue. (You Tube)
Some owners have made it quite clear that they have no intention of allowing any players to sit or kneel during the playing of the National Anthem. One of the most outspoken critics of this form of protest is the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones. Jones is obviously a man with a tremendous amount of love for his country, and he has proclaimed that any player who doesn’t stand during the National Anthem can find another team to employ him.
The Baltimore Ravens are another team that have made the choice to avoid players who choose to protest the anthem. Many believed that Kaepernick might actually sign on with the Ravens since the team was in need of an experienced back-up quarterback, and the Ravens are coached by the brother of Kaepernick’s ex-coach with the 49ers, John Harbaugh. (Brother of Jim Harbaugh.) The principled stances taken by both the Cowboys, as well as the Ravens have been applauded by many on social media who love to salute all examples of public patriotism. Unfortunately, as it is with any hot-button issue, things may not be as simple as they seem.
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The man on the left is Greg Hardy, a player with a somewhat lengthy history of run-ins with the law. The picture on the upper right is an example of his handiwork, his battered ex-girlfriend who felt the wrath of the massive defensive lineman. “Uber-Patriot” Jerry Jones didn’t seem to have an issue with signing Hardy, who as far as anyone is aware, always stood for the National Anthem. God’s speed Greg! (You Tube)
Player behavior and public relations are of course hardly a new problem for the NFL. In fact, a few years before Kaepernick took his stand by taking a knee, the league found itself dealing with a much dicier issue. Some of the best players in the NFL apparently have been known to struggle with behavior that I believe can best be described as “anti-social.” Players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Ray Rice, the above-mentioned Greg Hardy, and current Cowboys superstar running back Ezekiel Elliot, have all had multiple run-ins with the law, and yet have been given numerous chances by NFL owners who were more than willing to look past their transgressions off the football field, provided they could help their teams win on it.
The Baltimore Ravens, an organization that expects its players to stand respectfully for the National Anthem, has also demonstrated a very special set of patience for their players off the field theatrics. In case you have forgotten, feast your eyes on one of their former superstars, a talented but temperamental running back by the name of Ray Rice.
(The Ravens literally had to be shamed into releasing Rice. You Tube)
The Ravens have been consistently lenient when it comes to the behavior of their top
performers. For example, shortly after the Ravens Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants in January of 2000, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, and his “posse,” were involved in an altercation at a nightclub in Atlanta that left two people stabbed to death. By most accounts Lewis was directly involved in this incident. He testified against his friends in exchange for a plea bargain, paid a fine, and never missed a snap on the football field. The future Hall of Fame linebacker is revered in Baltimore, where he always remembered to stand for the National Anthem.
However, the Ravens can’t hold a candle to “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys roster is a shrine to second chances. The all-forgiving owner, Jerry Jones, a man who loves his country, has always been willing to overlook character flaws in his players, as long as they perform well on Sunday, and stand for the National Anthem. Here’s a “who’s who” of Dallas Cowboy players who have suited up during the Jones era despite a few behavioral irregularities.
Adam “Pac-Man” Jones – Las Vegas strip club shooting
Dwayne Goodrich – Vehicular Manslaughter
Nate Newton – Possession of Mariuana…a lot of pot, 175 pounds!
Michael Irvin – Well, for openers, how about snorting cocaine off of a stripper’s breast?
Alonzo Spellman – Stand-off with a SWAT team
Dez Bryant – Assault Charge
Greg Hardy – Multiple domestic violence charges
Leon Lett – Substance abuse
Randy Gregory – Substance abuse
Ezekiel Elliott – Domestic Violence
Of course none of these players can be accused of being a “bad American,” since they all stood for the National Anthem. As for their other transgressions, look, as Jerry Jones would say, building a championship caliber team isn’t always easy. If you want to make a great omelette, you have to use a few cracked eggs.
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“American hero” Jerry Jones and the rest out in “Cowboy Nation” are hoping that “Zeke” can elude and jump over his legal issues with the ease and grace he does to opposing defenders. (Getty Images)
In reality, we shouldn’t just be picking on the Cowboys or the Ravens, even the sainted New England Patriots have been known to take a player or two with a troubled past. Look at Aaron Hernandez. How could the Patriots have known that Hernandez would have turned out to be a vicious murderer? You know what a sloppy, haphazard organization Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick run. I mean it’s not like Hernandez was in trouble constantly while he was playing in college, although, now that I think of it, he kind of was. Still, how were the Patriots supposed to know this? It’s not like anybody in the organization has the internet. Well I never saw Hernandez sit out the National Anthem, so I suppose he was just misunderstood.
Even the president has weighed in on this issue. The orange “misogynist-in-chief,” has never offered a discouraging word for any player who has been caught hitting or threatening their wives or girlfriends, and he is a man who has an opinion on everything in this world, via Twitter. Just this past weekend, the president let fly a diatribe against Kaepernick and any NFL player who has the gall to exercise his constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech, and peaceful protest. Trump stated, and let me make sure he is quoted correctly here,
“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,”
For what it’s worth, several NFL owners seem to be finding their backbone when it comes to defending their player’s right to protest and speak out. In light of the president’s most recent tweets, as well as the speech he gave the other day where he proclaimed himself to be outraged over the stance that several NFL players are taking, owners like John Mara of the New York Giants, as well as Bob Kraft of the dreaded New England Patriots have spoken up in defense of their players, as well as condemning the president’s remarks on the subject. Who says this president is failing at uniting the country?
If we’re really going to be honest here, the NFL isn’t alone in their double-standard or their hypocrisy. Yes the league has tried to coddle and cover-up for players who are involved in sometimes heinous acts of violence and anti-social behavior, particularly domestic violence, while claiming outrage over players taking a principled, if unpopular stand against what they view as racism in our society.
However, what of the fans? Many are willing to forgive almost anything a player does as long as he helps their favorite team win. Apparently, at this point, we have become so “tribal” in our politics, as well as when it comes to the sports teams that we support, that anything short of not standing for the National Anthem, or killing dogs, is a forgivable offense. Now, if Michael Vick had been standing for the National Anthem while he was torturing dogs, what a moral quandary that would be.
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Despite playing at a pretty poor level since getting out of prison for his role in torturing and killing dogs, Michael Vick has had little problem staying employed in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick, apparently you have chosen the one unforgivable transgression in professional sports. (Getty Images)
Whenever I think of sports fans cheering on their hometown heroes, despite whatever horrific or violent act they may have committed off the field, I always think of Jerry Seinfeld’s joke about rooting for a sports team. Seinfeld pointed out that players move around so much, and do so many things that make it almost impossible to like them, that in reality all we are really doing when we cheer for our team is rooting for the uniform. In essence, we are rooting for the laundry, hoping that the laundry from our team defeats the laundry from the other team. Just don’t forget to stand during the “Rinse Cycle.”