Years from now, politicians and NFL executives may look back on the 2017 season and say to themselves, “What were we thinking?”
While plenty of on-field action draws millions of viewers every Sunday, the broader, more political issue of national anthem protests has catapulted the NFL onto a stage ill-suited for its leaders.
Colin Kaepernick made headlines in 2016 for kneeling during the national anthem to shine the spotlight on police brutality against unarmed African Americans. Many believed the protest would soon wither away along with Kaepernick’s career. The 2017 season looked like the end of pre-game protests.
That was until President Donald Trump gave his own unique take on the situation, turning the conversation back towards the anthem. In response, record numbers of players started kneeling during the anthem. Some teams stayed in the locker room, while others stood arm-in-arm in a sign of unity.
The next eccentric character in this social justice nightmare is Jerry Jones, owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. Jones seemed to have found a compromise, kneeling with his team before the anthem and then standing during the actual song.
Cameras zoomed in on Jones, who looked smugly into the camera as he knelt with his players. One look at Jones, famous for shallow publicity stunts, and I knew it was too good to be true.
Sure enough, a week later, Jones told reporters that any Dallas Cowboy seen kneeling during the anthem would spend the game on the bench.
Jones’ despicable remarks are the epitome of irony. Players around the league kneel to protest unfair treatment of African Americans. In response, a white owner unfairly treats said protestors, many of whom are black.
However, Jones is just one of 32 owners. There are decisions to be made with an all-owners meeting set for this week. What does Jed York, owner of the 49ers, have to say on the issue that was birthed on his sideline? Surely, he would have to see reason and should advocate for the rights of players to speak their minds, even when done in silence.
The commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, made his voice heard on the issue recently. Goodell, known for choosing the worst ways to handle the NFL’s image, again offered another head-pounding but not too surprising statement, urging players around the league to put the issue in the past and just start standing already.
Really, Roger? From a man who gave minimal punishments to infamous abuser Ray Rice but created a national conversation on the PSI of footballs, I should have expected nothing more than this tone-deaf, pea-brained stance.
Sadly, it looks like the Goodell’s and Jones’s of the NFL are winning this one. Fewer players are kneeling, and this news story, just like so many others, is falling by the wayside of forgotten debates.
The league needs a star, a serious game-changer, to turn the spotlight back on, someone who gets more air-time that any lesser-known defensive back that takes a knee.
Imagine if Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers decided one Sunday afternoon to take a knee. Imagine if these NFL poster boys, these golden children of the league spoke up for their teammates and let fans and owners alike know where they stand. The sports world just might implode, and an implosion is exactly what is needed in a world where so many voices go unheard.
Brandon Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill