NFL protests only point to need for dialogue

Posted 9/27/17

During my three-day weekend, where i vegetated and tried to deal with allergies, I did note President Trump came to Huntsville to campaign for Luther Strange, while pundits were stirred up about all …

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NFL protests only point to need for dialogue


During my three-day weekend, where i vegetated and tried to deal with allergies, I did note President Trump came to Huntsville to campaign for Luther Strange, while pundits were stirred up about all the political ramifications. But the real dust stirred in Huntsville when the president slammed NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b---- off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said. “You know, some owner is gonna do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

And if that was not enough, the President of the United States then complained the NFL was hurting the game by restricting hard tackles, as the league is trying to cut down on brain damage.

“Because you know today if you hit too hard: Fifteen yards. Throw him out of the game,” Trump said. “That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. It is hurting the game.”

In other words, the president of the United States played the populist card in front of his fans.

I don’t even know where to start about the tackles. President Teddy Roosevelt once threatened to ban football as it had become rather violent at the time. More than a century later, his successor now wants to ignore medical evidence and call for it to be more violent. That’s looking out for people’s interests. (Oh, and I was just reminded by someone Trump probably hates the NFL anyway, because he was involved in the competition USFL years ago.”

But, of course, the big furor has been about the anthem. Frankly, personally, I favor standing at attention for the National Anthem. I think it is the preferred thing to do as an American, showing respect to the nation. However, let’s keep a few things in mind.

One, this is not the big tradition people make it out to be. According to Ken Burns’ “Baseball” series and its companion book, professional baseball by virtue of the National League started in 1871 (although Cincinnati had a professional team in 1869). For nearly a half century, no “Star Spangled Banner” was played. The National Anthem was played at the 1918 World Series, recognizing events in World War I, and got such a favorable response that it became a tradition. However, I read online that some teams over the years have stopped playing it at times for fear it needed to be reserved for special occasions, even using “God Bless America” instead.

And as for protests, one must remember the clinched fist salute during the 1968 Olympics. It is not a new thing. We won’t even get into flag burning.

As for the NFL, Slate indicated the NFL did not stand for the National Anthem until 2009, as the players stayed in the locker room. In fact, much of it had to do with the fact that the Department of Defense and the National Guard have spent millions of dollars to stage on-field patriotic ceremonies. A 2015 congressional report showed the Department of Defense paid $5.4 million to NFL teams between 2011 and 2014, and the Guard handed out $6.7 million between 2013 and 2015.

Meanwhile, we come down to the basic question. Is it proper to protest by taking a knee? At a time when free speech, when it really matters, perhaps is becoming more endangered than ever before, we have to admit that not standing attention is a matter of free speech. We don’t have to like it, but it is free speech, much like flag burning.

As for the players, NFL commentators noted Sunday on television that many of these players are intelligent, law-abiding players who do care about their communities. Many of them come from communities in this nation that have many problems. They feel their communities are not only ignored for improvement, but that its people are being targeted. I assume many of these people are wanting more done to insure trust between law enforcement and the African-American communities.

We must have that dialogue, and what a handful of these protests until now are urging is for a dialogue and solutions, not to disrespect the nation. It is the way they can get the most attention to the problem, much as Tim Tibbow gave the most attention to giving praise to God. All of it is free speech and urgent in their minds.

Until this weekend, it has not been a widespread protest. It was this weekend, because, in his usual form, Donald Trump ignored the fact he is president of the United States and did something decidedly unpresidential, starting with the fact he called certain NFL players “a son of a b----.” His statement and the response from the crowd in Huntsville only encouraged the vulgar discourse of political discussion to get worse, and newspapers are not using the dashes like I am. That is sad enough.

Worse, he disrespected the free speech of the players by urging they not be fined, not suspended, but to be fired. And he said it in a way to indicate he meant it. It gave such an overboard statement that players, coaches and even owners felt backed into a corner and felt they had no choice but to act together. Instead of encouraging a dialogue, he practically started a revolution.

Perhaps it will be a good revolution. Much as sports has had an indirect reflection of the nation and encouraged progress — Jesse Owens overcoming Hitler’s Arian dreams, Jackie Robinson overcoming racism, Lou Gehrig and others bringing attention to their illnesses — the NFL’s stand this weekend may do well to promote efforts at having the long delayed discussions of bridging gaps in our nation when it comes to race relations and profiling, especially in our urban areas but including rural areas, even in Alabama. Many law enforcement officers are not guilty of it. Some are. Many blacks are profiled. Some are actually guilty.

We must find ways of community interactions and community patrolling so that certain unhealthy fears and expectations are overcome between the cop on the beat and the citizen.

If we do not stop our knee-jerk reactions and start listening and communicating, we may have bigger problems than just protesting. We as a nation won’t just be taking a knee — we will be falling on our knees, defeating ourselves in front of our enemies, simply because we failed as a democracy to find a way to talk and cooperate.