A bunch of NFL owners, most of them white men, have decided that the black men who play for them have done enough protesting.
The owners want to impose a rule that players must stand during the national anthem.
Stop “taking a knee” to protest racial injustice and police brutality, these owners are saying. Stop protesting a president who says white supremacists are “very fine people.” Stop offending a president — and all too many others — who have attacked a simple demonstration of peaceful protest, kneeling during the anthem, as an act of betrayal against flag and country.
Enough is enough, say the team owners. Who, as we say, are mostly white men.
More wrong-headed, this could not be.
Just weeks ago, a number of team owners and coaches locked arms with their players during the Star-Spangled Banner. The NFL made a show of unity a few days after Trump, at a rally in Alabama, blasted players who kneel during the anthem before games and said they should be fired. It was a low point, even for Trump. Before a crowd in the South, the president said any player who knelt was a “son of a bitch.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones choreographed a response: Days later, he took a knee in prayer with players and rose before the anthem. “I want everybody to know I ask the players for anything that I suggest we do,” Jones said soon after. “A-S-K. Not tell.”
But Jones has now changed his tune. He’s jumped to the other side, joining angry fans and a pandering president. Jones now says his players must stand or they will not play.
Owners across the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell are feeling heat over the kneeling, but not all are on board with this latest movement in the league to order the players to cease their protest. San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York, for one, continues to say team owners must respect every player’s First Amendment rights.
It doesn’t help that Vice President Mike Pence piled on the players over the weekend, and Trump’s attacks continue on Twitter. Pence staged an early exit from a game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers after some players kneeled during the anthem. Pence’s showmanship wasn’t cheap. His flights alone cost taxpayers close to $250,000.
It appears to be lost on Pence (and certainly Trump) that players are expressing legitimate concerns about the treatment of African-Americans and other minorities in America. Racial and cultural relations aren’t OK in the USA. Maybe that’s where Pence’s indignation should lie.
Next week, owners could decide to require players to stand during the anthem. Currently, the league’s operations manual says all players must be on the sideline and “should” stand during the Star-Spangled Banner.
The owners are hypocrites. They have shunned former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick this season, even though he is good enough to play, for taking a knee during the anthem last season. When it suited them, they borrowed his symbolic gesture and branded it with their own messaging.
Now they’ve decided players need to get with the program, message be damned.
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