Piece by Jim Green-9ers fan, beer fan, hard-tackle fan.
Long time reader (well, he’s been reading a long time ‘cos he’s old-ed), first time contributor here and what better way to start than tackling what was the most controversial issue of last weekend’s NFL action? No, no not the ‘was it wasn’t it a TD’ for Golden Tate. And no, not the penalty incurred by Von Miller for having a laugh on the field.
Nope, let’s talk about how once upon a time a socially conscious quarterback observed something in society that he didn’t like and wanted to raise awareness for it and 13 months later he gets called a son of a bitch by the so called leader of the free world. This is very much a view from someone on the outside looking in as we’re in Britain and whilst similar problems exist here, they’re probably not on the same scale as they do in the US so at times it’s tough to gauge the level of feeling in the US.
So let’s recap. The one time Superbowl competing quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to sit down for the national anthem as a protest for what he viewed as oppression of people of colour in the US. Following consultation (yes, he talked to people) with those that felt strongly that sitting wasn’t a respectful enough stance but appreciated his point, he opted to kneel. He was joined by fellow NFL athletes that had similar views though the furore was starting to die down a bit. Last Friday, at a rally in Alabama, President Trump (still have a tough time writing that) ignited the debate with a can of napalm and called on NFL team owners to “’Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired. He’s fired!'”. Furthermore he called out the NFLs practice of encouraging player safety; “”They are ruining the game, right? They are ruining the game. Look, that’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit.”
It’s probably been a while, certainly longer than I’ve been following the NFL, and it takes something special to unite the NFL, NFL team owners, the NFL Players association, a majority of NFL players, many NFL fans globally (though not all) and a vast majority of the national and international press (again, not all). The President’s speech did just that.
In the first amendment of the US Bill of Rights (the same bill of rights that maintains the legal right for people to own guns) guarantees the people of the US the following:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Now, I’m no constitutional expert but over the years I’ve developed my ability to read and I’m pretty sure that says something along the lines of, it’s ok to speak freely. It’s ok to make your point in a peaceful manner. Providing you’re not breaking the law by doing so, you’re good to have an opinion and to voice that. I’ve witnessed people kneeling and I can categorically say that at no point was another person hurt or injured and that during the event they didn’t break any laws. So for one thing, the President apparently has no appreciation for the law. The first line of the law at that (though expectations he’s read the constitution are about as high as Flacco’s QB rating for last week). What NFL players are doing by kneeling during the anthem is entirely legal and is a form of expressing their opinion on an issue which they feel needs attention. It started as a race issue, it feels as if it’s now moved into something bigger and something that has unified one set of people but poses the distinct possibility of dividing them against another.
How the NFL and the NFL teams handles the situation moving forward will be an interesting development. There is a rule in the NFL that every member of the team must be on the field for the national anthem. This was obviously ignored by three teams on Sunday; though the commissioner would be a very brave man to fine any of them without fear of substantial backlash. I’m not sure if the linking of arms was a designed move by the NFL but if it was then from a PR point of view it was effective. I don’t expect the protest to end. Over 200 players knelt during the US anthem on Sunday and I expect a vast majority of them (if not more when you consider the 49ers and Rams played before the President’s speech on Friday) will continue to do so.
His attack on the NFL in regards to player safety is also an odd one. I grudgingly see his point in terms of football being a contact sport and let them play, they know the risks and all that. But it’s just bad optics, isn’t it? Encouraging an organisation to ignore player safety and the devastating effect that CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) has on players lives and their families lives both during and after their football playing careers are over. Let’s not forget that this is also relevant to players that don’t make it in the NFL. Recent reports have suggested that Aaron Hernandez had one of the worst cases of CTE seen. It would be a brave (and probably stupid) man to suggest that that damage has just been caused in the NFL. College and high school organisations are going to be looking to see the line the NFL take on it (which hasn’t been great to date) and act on this. Encouraging them to ignore such a serious situation is just plain dumb.
Why on earth does President Trump choose this as something to focus on anyway? Many have (Josh Norman as an example) wondered aloud that surely he has bigger fish to fry. North Korea and Iran firing off nukes like they’re fireworks for example. The recovery effort needed in Florida after hurricane season. Various Obama based laws that he wants to undermine to ensure that the rich stay rich and the poor get poorer as another example. Rounding on the NFL as his next organisation to target seems odd. What does he hope to achieve? Presumably it’s to appeal to his very core base of supporters, but what’s the end game? Where does he go after this? How does he not alienate other people who previously supported him – including NFL owners who have supported him and the Republican party financially and presumably with their vote. Let’s not forget that now, the NFL have had a bigger telling off from the President than the “lots of people” that were at Charlottesville. At that point he didn’t call out the obvious racists and Nazi’s that were in the crowd – they just got grouped with everyone else that caused violence.
Lastly, and this in the big scheme of things is a relatively minor issue, is the language he uses. Yes yes it’s all very well to come across as a guy who the general public would like to have a beer with. One of the lads and all that. But I’m sorry Mr President – you’re not just one of the guys anymore. You’re meant to be a leader. I appreciate the need to not confuse some of his core supporters with fancy words and language and I suspect most of that portion of the speech was unscripted but surely, surely surely he can find it in his brain (he apparently has ‘great words’ if you remember) to not sure the term “sons of bitches” in polite (!) company. I wonder if there was a speech writer off stage silently crying and banging his head against a wall.
So that’s my view from the outside looking in. Mr President if you didn’t already know and somehow stumbled on this article then I’m sorry to say you’ve embarrassed yourself and your country. We’re all looking at you again and shaking our heads, not that you care. To most of the rest of America, and particularly the NFL – I think you’ve acted with a bit of class in continuing your demonstration peacefully. Please please please please don’t take it to a different and more unsavoury level as that’s ultimately a win for the President.