Is it the beginning of the end of professional football? I don’t know, but Quarterback Donald Trump threw a wild rhetorical pass intercepted by the National Football League that then fumbled the ball. Referees disguised as pundits issued their multiple penalties and here was a game everyone lost, especially the fans.
That weekend’s over, but what we had was 200 of some 1,600 professional football players kneeling during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” They were spurred on by Trump who was himself spurred on by Colin Kaepernick.
Last year, as a second-string quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick openly and clearly said America wasn’t much of a country because it was oppressing blacks. He then underlined his contempt by kneeling instead of standing up during the singing of the national anthem at the opening of games. A number of onlookers, including President Barack Obama, said, hey, that’s his free-speech right.
Free speech was not the issue. While politicizing a sport that doesn’t exist for his playacting, Kaepernick was more egregiously disrespecting not just the flag and the anthem, but what they stand for — perhaps the most extraordinary nation ever, a place whose ideals have conquered and are still conquering its faults.
Should Kaepernick, who, by the way, has climbed to multimillionaire, ultra-privileged status in this land he sees as forlorn, have abandoned his racial concerns? No. He has found other meaningful ways to address such matters and he could have stuck with them without abandoning love of country.
But other players imitated his disrespect, especially after he left the 49ers and nobody else signed him up, maybe thinking his kneeling a minus his skills did not make up for. So you have Trump giving a political speech in Alabama, figuring North Korea, health care and tax reform enough to talk about and diving into this issue. He made good points about giving our heritage a chance but then added:
“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?’”
The NFL, which once would not allow the Dallas Cowboys to wear helmet decals honoring slain policemen, came together in a second. It defied not only Trump with the kneeling, but America. Yes, Trump went way too far — he should have simply said there are more effective and noble ways to make your case. But the NFL should also have stayed cool. Instead, it defied a positive norm that helps define us and got its first try at a sports event during the Civil War, which freed the slaves.
Many fans, it might be noted, are seeking an occasional retreat from politics and other entanglements through the drama of the field that makes hand-holders of people about as diverse as diversity gets. Communities become more solid. Fans of this team or that — I am a Denver Broncos guy myself — could now be banging into each other with large numbers watching ever less football so that this national celebration of ours becomes more nearly a whimper.
What makes that more likely is the horrible concussion issue, something Trump made light of during his speech, and the accusation that you’re racist if you object to the kneeling. When logic fails, try name-calling, the more vicious the better.
It meanwhile does my heart no good that players from other sports are joining in, that a congresswoman did her own kneeling bit on the House floor and that Kaepernick is jolly about Cuba, a country that tolerates free speech to the extent of sometimes not imprisoning you for all that long.
OK, I can understand a one-time reaction to Trump’s trumpeting. But if the disrespect continues, I am going to exercise my rights. I will turn off the TV.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.