The National Football League regular season is right around the corner. I won’t be watching. And it has nothing to do with the National Anthem flap. I’ve never watched much. I attended a Steelers game a few years back in Pittsburgh and I tend to root for regional teams like the Cowboys and Saints but I’m just not that into it.
What I am into, however, is free speech. The “for me, not thee” attitude is stifling — and it is shared, apparently, by people on more than one side of the anthem issue.
In the beginning, the kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” involved one or a handful of guys. Some fans may have been aggravated, but it was a non-issue really. But news organizations stayed focused on the non-issue, hammered on it in news reports and on social media. Coverage of the actual game became secondary. And President Donald Trump chimed in: fire the protesting players.
Even when the 2017 season was over, Trump kept the issue alive when he said the Philadelphia Eagles would not visit the White House to celebrate the team’s Super Bowl win due to the ongoing NFL/National Anthem dispute. Trump, in a statement, said the team was “unable” to attend the ceremony because they don’t agree with his belief that NFL players should “proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.”
But no Eagles players knelt during the playing of the anthem during the 2017 regular season or postseason. Sigh. Now a new season is here and Trump is a twitter on Twitter — and the NFL is allegedly telling folks to shut up. And as of my deadline for this column, no one had knelt — and they may not.
The NFL Players Association released a joint statement last month saying they were in ongoing negotiations over the league’s policy during the anthem and that no rules would be “issued or enforced” during those discussions. The NFL ruled in May that it would fine players who knelt during the anthem to protest racial discrimination and police brutality, though the players could choose remain in the locker room during the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
A couple of weeks ago, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones announced Cowboys players would stand for the anthem and he would not support anyone who chose to stay in the locker room. “No,” Jones said when asked if he would support players staying in the locker room. “Our policy is that you stand at the anthem, toe on the line.”
Following Jones’ comments, Texas news organizations reported that the NFL had ordered Jones to keep quiet about the policy in future interviews. The Star-Telegram reported that some local TV stations were told by Jones to omit any questions regarding the anthem and the Cowboys’ policy because the NFL told him to quit discussing matter.
Jones got praised by the president. Trump tweeted, “Way to go Jerry. This is what the league should do!” along with a link to a Fox Business story that referred to Jones having said that Dallas Cowboys players must stand for the anthem.
Trump managed to avoid responding to Jones comments about his involvement in league matters being a problem: “His interest in what we’re doing is problematic, from my chair, and I would say in general the owners’ chair,” Jones said during a recent Cowboys press conference. “It’s unprecedented, if you really think about it. But like the very game itself, that’s the way it is and we’ll deal with it.”
All of this is unprecedented. Personally, I wish everyone would respect the National Anthem by standing and display the proper etiquette while it is performed or played. I also wish people would respect the flag by displaying it properly and that includes not wearing it plastered to their buttocks as swim wear or other attire.
That said, people have the right to peacefully assemble and protest. Jones has the right to say what he thinks without being shushed by the NFL. And as much as I think Trump’s constant tweets and misstatements about this issue keep the pot stirred, he too has a right to express his opinions.
It’s a game, folks — a past-time. I bet if fans went back to regarding it as such, others would. If you want to watch NFL games, watch the games. What else you choose to view as part of those games is up to you. It’s that simple. Use your remote: watch, mute, or change the channel. You have options.
Shea Wilson is the former managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheawilson7.