Commentary: NFL Protests Prove Americans Need To Come Together

Posted at 11:05 AM, Sep 26, 2017

As NFL players have demonstrated in various ways during our national anthem for over a year now I've sat back and watched. And I've listened to the players themselves, to fans, to friends and to the masses on social media all express their views on this protest. 

This weekend I listened as President Donald Trump made off-hand comments about the protest and linked players who kneel during the anthem to "SOB's", then watched as teams responded with a unified front in the largest protest of the national anthem to date. 

What has become clear is that the two sides on this issue are so firmly entrenched they can't even see the other side, let alone engage in civil discourse. To them, everything is black or white, right or wrong. 

I view things differently. Nothing about these protests are 100 percent or absolute. Life involves nuance, and it's time we all see that and start to shuffle through it together and try to make this world a better place. 

So now I'm going to take this moment to share what I believe in the hopes it might spark some constructive dialogue. 

I didn't like the initial protest when Colin Kaepernick took a knee for two reasons. First, I think he did a woeful job of explaining the purpose and mission of his demonstration (he's gotten better as months go on), and his decision to wear socks depicting cops as pigs and a shirt honoring Fidel Castro severely damaged his reputation. Secondly, no matter how important the cause he was protesting for, the decision to demonstrate during the national anthem is a non-starter for many people in this country. I don't know the numbers - is it 25 percent, 30, 40? - are alienated right away. You protest our anthem and our flag and a significant number of people refuse to hear you. 

Now while I believe the protest was poorly constructed and open to criticism, I also firmly believe Kaepernick and all NFL players have the right to protest and, like all of us, speak their mind on issues of importance to them regardless of whether their opinion is a popular one. 

Their free speech is not free from consequences, however. When Kaepernick, a one time Super Bowl quarterback, chose to turn down an option to remain in San Francisco after last season he ran the risk of not being signed by anyone else. Is he one of the best 65-70 quarterbacks in the league? Yes. But he's no longer viewed as a starter and I don't blame any coach, general manager or owner for not signing a backup quarterback, they hope never plays, that will bring baggage that includes national anthem protests, media scrutiny, cop socks and Castro t's. 

The NFL shouldn't have it both ways, though. If it really wanted to avoid the Kaepernick "circus", it should have shut him down from the beginning. The NFL Game Operations Manual suggests: that, "all players must be on the sideline for the national anthem" and that they "should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand and refrain from talking". NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy has said that's just a suggestion for players (though the wording "all players MUST be on the sideline" seems hard to confuse as less than a requirement) and that they will not face disciplinary action from the league. So a league that is so anal about its players conduct that it told the Cowboys they couldn't wear a helmet patch honoring police after the Dallas shooting is now okay with players having the full protection of the first amendment in the workplace? This is the same NFL that told DeAngelo Williams he could only wear pink cleats during October (when the league's push for cancer awareness occurs) despite his desire to always honor his mother who died of breast cancer, and the same league that refused to let Avery Williamson wear specially designed 9/11 cleats. Doesn't that seem hypocritical?

And how do most Americans feel about that double standard? What would happen to you if you walked into work this morning and decided not to follow one of the basic guidelines of your office or did something to cast your employer in a controversial light? For most people the answer falls somewhere between harshly reprimanded and having their job terminated. So why should millionaire professional athletes be different?

That, I think, was what President Trump was trying to say Friday at a rally in Alabama when he said, "wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a (expletive) off the field right now. Out. He's fired. Fired!" He was trying to tell the biggest sport in our country to get it's act together. While the statement lacked any semblance of tact and falls beneath the office of the presidency, that's an opinion shared by 64 percent of Americans according to a study done by Remington Research Group.

But the tone of the message and the President's insistence on becoming part of the story angered many, including myself, and galvanized NFL players, coaches and owners to protest en masse this weekend. It became a Trump protest more than a demonstration aimed at equality. 

Here's the thing, though. The vast majority of Americans, of all colors and creeds, are good people that love this country. I think Kaepernick, though I disagree with his methods, wants to make America better. I think President Trump, inartful as he may be, truly wants to make America great again. And the rest of these NFL players, many of whom I know personally, are volunteering their time and donating their money in ways too numerous to list in this space to do just that. 

America has some problems, it always has. But it remains the greatest country in the world, and I think we all can agree on that. 
So how do we come back out of our fox holes and begin a dialogue about what needs to change?

It's time for the name calling to stop, the protests to end and substantive discussions begin. 

We're long past the point of athletes and media "sticking to sports", so maybe sports can lead the way.