With the NFL preseason officially having commenced, I’ve adjusted my weekly “must-see TV” schedule to again accommodate professional football. On Sundays, Mondays and certain Thursdays, I will allot about two minutes of quality couch time whenever the NFL is on TV.
Not to watch games. To watch the National Anthem.
See, I continue to be fascinated by the controversy swirling around NFL players kneeling in protest of social injustice and racism during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” And I keep waffling on the issue because I can see it from any number of perspectives.
There’s the player’s side, for one. The anthem protests began two seasons ago with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
As he explained it: “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.”
While I disagree with Kaepernick’s views on race, law enforcement and cops “getting away with murder,” I do believe players have the right to express their views – though not without facing potential consequence from their employers.
That’s why I also understand the perspective of the NFL and its team owners. With the league’s TV ratings down 10 percent last season and pictures of empty stadiums regularly going viral on social media, it’s clear some people are no longer buying what the NFL is selling.
Nor can it help to have President Trump tweeting things like: “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”
As a business owner, I get how troubling it must be to have employees to whom you pay good money making inflammatory statements on the job, protests that harm your business and receive in-depth coverage on national television.
Most business owners would prefer not to offend potential customers. Nor do they want to offend their employees, human beings whose morale and productivity may suffer when they hate the boss and the place where they work.
Finally, there’s the fan’s side.
“All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Giants owner John Mara told Sports Illustrated last season. “If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game. It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot.”
Not every football fan sees it that way.
At various points in the past two seasons, Colin Kaepernick’s jersey has been near the top in sales among NFL players, despite the fact that he opted out of his 49ers contract in March 2017 and has remained unemployed ever since.
To some NFL lovers and some fellow players, Kaepernick is a noble warrior for social justice in the mold of Muhammad Ali and track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Olympic medalists who raised gloved fists while being honored atop the winners’ podium in 1968.
These fans see athletes who use their jobs as a platform to speak out against wrongs not as brand-killers, but as heroes.
Me? I see a complex issue that can’t be solved without a series of deeply felt discussions about race, civil rights, workplace respect and the relationship between employers and employees.
And I see two minutes each week that’s far more dramatic than anything the Arizona Cardinals will do on the football field during an actual NFL game.
– David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact email@example.com.