Noon on Sunday is one of the best times of the week. After a morning of news talk show agita about politics we get the NFL pregame shows with diverting chat about football. How distressing today to tune into the CBS and FOX pregame shows and get a big dose of talk about … politics.
The gifts of spectacular speed, agility, eye-hand coordination or physical endurance bear no direct correlation with political insight, any more than do the abilities of memorizing a script or emoting on cue. As a rule I generally am not interested in the political views of athletes, actors or other celebrities. Certainly they share the same First Amendment rights as all of us and I have the right not to listen. I will watch a Robert DeNiro movie any chance I get but avoid watching The Emmy or Oscar award shows where he might be speaking without a script.
Standing for the “Star Spangled Banner” at the start of a sporting event has long been a benign civic custom. It was always considered a generic enough expression of patriotism to encompass all political stripes.
Before a preseason game in 2016 San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted to sit during the national anthem. In post-game comments Kaepernick explained “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” In later games Kaepernick started to “take a knee” during the anthem rather than sit. The distinction was somehow to express support for present and former members of the U.S. military while continuing to express a Black Lives Matter view of the oppression of black people by the police.
All of this created some controversy with expressions of both support and disapproval by NFL players and the public. Personally, while I disagree with Kaepernick’s views, my principal objection is to his choice of forum to express them. The First Amendment does not extend to an employee’s expression of political opinions during working hours that might be offensive to a customer. NFL owners with a keen eye on the bottom line generally turned a blind eye to the debate, largely confined to the professional agitators of the extreme left and right. Colin Kaepernick is sitting home today because he’s not that good a quarterback. Had Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers refused to stand for the national anthem, they would still have started this Sunday.
Enter our President. The President at a rally Friday night urged fans to boycott games in protest and said any NFL owner with a player who wouldn’t stand for the anthem should say “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.” Locker rooms and owners united against Trump’s remarks. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a friend of Trump, expressed “disappointment” at Trump’s “tone” and support of his players. Sunday some players – more than before – took a knee during the anthem and others stood with locked arms. But those on the field all stood and knelt together.
Fans stayed in the stadiums and left their TV’s on. Together. And for many, standing and placing a hand or cap over the heart during the “Star Spangled Banner” was elevated to more than a polite gesture.