As a conservative Caucasian, you know, one of “us guys” who benefit from that ever-present “white male privilege,” I have often wondered if there was any phrase, or any issue, that would become our version of “the N-word.” Was there any word or gesture that was so verboten, so “off the table,” that no use of it, or mention of it, would ever be accepted as tolerable or even considered as “fair game” in political discussion or debate?
I think we now have the answer, and it is YES:
“There can be no attack, or disrespect, real or imagined, against the American flag, and the symbols connected to it. That would include the National Anthem, and other iconic trademarks of American patriotism.
There is to be no discussion, no debate, no equivocation. It doesn’t matter if you are protesting cancer, communism or child molestation, you are to do it in a way that does not involve disrespect, destruction or ridicule for the symbols of America.”
This topic is so hot right now, ordinarily sensible and rational people are willing to believe just about anything it takes to back up their fervor and attack those who disagree. Sound like a recurring theme lately?
There is no doubt President Donald Trump inspired a firestorm when he called out professional athletes who dare to disrespect the flag and the National Anthem by conducting “protests” at the specific time their respect and solemn attention is in order. Those folks didn’t like being called out by the controversial President, and many of them let their defiance show.
What we saw this past weekend in NFL cities all over America, and yes, even before an NFL game played in London, was a bunch of angry young men taking a huge cleaver to the neck of the goose that lays their golden eggs. While they may have the excuse of youth and immaturity to explain their total lack of common sense in choosing the worst possible forum to voice their concerns, the incredibly well-educated and aged executives that run the National Football League damn well should have known better.
Truth of the matter is that they did. I have no idea when it was written, but one of their own rules, specifically Rule 5, Article 8, bans all “personal messages,” conveyed in any way, while players are performing team duties, unless specifically cleared by the league.
The reason is pretty clear: No one needs, or wants to see, 1,600+ professional athletes spewing individual personal, religious or political views while they are supposed to be doing their jobs.
Failure to enforce that rule when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick made it clear that he was taking a knee in uniform, during the National Anthem, to make a political statement, is what brought us to where we are now.
This is NOT a First Amendment issue; this is a workplace issue. An NFL player has no more “right” to express a controversial political or religious opinion, in uniform, than a mailman, a police officer, or any member of the United States military. The same goes for school teachers (who get in trouble every day all over the country for doing so), McDonald’s cashiers, or Avon ladies.
No company, or professional entity of any description, wants their “on-duty” employees sharing opinions that do not reflect the values of the organization. Since it is impossible to know what the employer’s beliefs would be in all such situations, the rule is pretty simple for most, when it comes to expressing controversial opinions. It is certainly the rule of the NFL, DON’T DO IT!
The League needs to embrace Rule 5, Section 8, and broadcast its newly mandated enforcement as loudly and clearly as they possibly can. If they do not, there is no doubt we will see the NFL’s value and place in American culture diminished to an incredible degree.
On a personal note, as many of you know, I was at the game in Chicago on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers inadvertently became the face of the weekend protest. I will say this as plainly as I possibly can, what the team attempted to do and say, by staying off the field as a unit during the playing of the anthem has been turned about as upside down, and inside out, as any news story I have ever seen disseminated to an international audience. While I believe that making such a bold move without a concise explanation in place beforehand is folly, I completely agree with the sentiment they were attempting to convey.
The myriad “fake news” stories that inaccurately depicted their words and intentions were appalling, and as a media veteran I am ashamed to say I share the same profession as those responsible for the lies.
This is not hearsay, this is not an opinion, this was what I heard with my own ears in the Steelers locker room after the game, from a collection of players: They do not want to be used as political pawns in other people’s arguments. They resented being put on the spot by the entire series of events, and this was their way of saying “we refuse to participate.” They did not boycott the anthem, they boycotted the argument, in the only way they knew how.
Coach Mike Tomlin used a much more coarse but completely appropriate assessment when he said this:
“We’ve got a group of men in there that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, creed, ethnicities and religions, and so forth. That’s football. That’s a lot of team sports. But because of our position, we get drug into bullshit, to be quite honest with you. And so, some have opinions, some don’t. We wanted to protect those that don’t; we wanted to protect those that do. We came here to play a football game today, and that was our intention. Thank you.”
And finally this, from Steelers president Art Rooney ll:
“The intentions of Steelers players were to stay out of the business of making political statements by not taking the field. Unfortunately, that was interpreted as a boycott of the anthem – which was never our players’ intention.”