The NFL made headlines across the world as Politics and Sports clashed head-on thanks to comments from the United States’ President, Donald Trump. Ed Green takes a look at the controversy and does anything but stick to sports…
Stirring things up
It seemed like things had at least settled down a bit.
After the initial Colin Kaepernick demonstrations, his subsequent unemployment and related protests from other NFL players I’m sure many of us thought we knew where things stood (accidental pun, sorry). Some players on some teams would carry on what Kap started, some people would approve, some would disapprove.
But then – Donald Trump. Not content with pouring petrol on the bonfire of debate, he opted for napalm instead.
The public statements and displays of ‘unity’ in response to Trump from people such as Roger Goodell and some NFL owners have been disappointingly lukewarm.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan (a Trump donor) linking arms with his players at Wembley is one example – it looks nice but doesn’t really say or mean very much at all. Patriots Chairman Robert Kraft (another Trump donor!) surprisingly came out with one of the few comments that was genuinely critical toward Trump and supportive of players rights to ‘peacefully affect social change’ although it was still very mild.
It’s a shame that it has taken a direct attack on their institution to get any kind of response from the NFL in support of their players.
Around the league this weekend, fan response has been, ahem, varied. For every Twitter comment praising players for representing a cause or exercising their right to free speech, there is a message in mainly capital letters threatening boycott or a blurry phone photo of someone trying to set fire to their Ravens jersey.
You’d have thought it would be easy – man-made fibres are extremely flammable. Although the exorbitant price point of authentic NFL garments might give a few angry fans pause for thought.
What will the Cardinals do?
From a Cardinals perspective, there have been a few things that stand out about the current state of affairs. The main one being Pat Tillman and what he represents.
It’s ironic that people who claim to care so much about respecting the armed forces are so ready to use someone like Tillman as a way to try and score points.
Inevitably, this photo has been doing the rounds on Twitter as an example of why players should stand for the anthem, with the gist being that ‘he would be turning in his grave’ at the thought of players kneeling.
Anyone who wants to learn about Tillman’s character is able to read and watch films about him and his life.
Those who didn’t know the man personally telling other people how he would have reacted to the current situation is using him to further their own agenda which is in terrible taste, to say the least.
Another talking point was made by former Cardinals star Kurt Warner.
He commented that players demonstrating are perhaps representing American values in a better way than Trump’s comments – cue some accusing Warner of being anti-armed forces (sigh… his wife used to be in the marines).
It all goes to show what a polarising topic it is in America.
From a British point of view it’s interesting to see how a strong a reaction even the idea of a person not standing up during the anthem can produce.
I think the closest thing we have had over here is the response from some quarters to James McClean refusing to have a poppy on his football shirt around Remembrance Day – still a contentious issue (which you’ll be glad I not going to get into now) but nowhere near the level furore directed at Colin Kaepernick.
I write this before the Cardinals game against the Cowboys, which is the subject of much speculation.
From my extensive research (source: Twitter) it seems that a large amount of the Arizona fanbase does not like the idea of any of the players kneeling. The Cardinals’ current position is that they don’t have a plan (I’m hoping they mean just for the anthem rather than the rest of the game) but head coach Bruce Arians has already essentially said that the players have a right to do what they feel is appropriate.
If the online comment is to be believed than any kind of demonstration will be greeted by mass walkouts, followed by people giving up their season tickets.
Whether these are empty threats at this stage remains to be seen.
On a side note, I wonder if that guy who said he’d give up his season ticket last year if we didn’t cut Palmer has gone yet?
The reactionary bluster exhibited by the ‘stand, don’t kneel’ side is at the heart of the problem. Every word I’ve read against the demonstrations falls apart when subjected to the slightest bit of critical thinking.
Here’s are of some of the ones I’ve noticed, with responses. I’m sure this isn’t an exhaustive list though…
- They should leave politics out of sport/I watch sport as escapism etc – Does it really affect you that much to have to see some men kneeling on a pitch for a minute or so before 3-4 hours of football? If that’s seriously the case just start watching the game from the kick off and pretend it never happened. Also, the very act of playing a national anthem at a game is bringing politics into sport. As is having Salute to Service games/merchandise, etc etc.
- If they want to do a protest/demonstration they should do it on their own time – You’re right about that, it’s much more effective to raise awareness of important issues in private at home than in front of an audience of thousands/millions. Actually I made the same point the other day to my wife. She wasn’t in the room at the time but I’m sure she got the message.
- If they don’t like America then they should just leave – You mean they should just pack it in rather than try and improve things for people? Wouldn’t you rather they tried to Make America Great Again? (winky face emoji)
- If they hate America so much they should go and live in e.g. North Korea? – You mean a country with an authoritarian leader who demands absolute respect and enforces large coordinated patriotic displays? (another winky face emoji)
- They are disrespecting the armed forces – As far as I’m aware not one player has said anything negative towards the armed forced relating to the current demonstrations. At the same time many players have said that they have respect for servicemen and women and many current forces members and veterans have voiced their support for players right to demonstrate. The armed forces don’t serve a flag or an anthem, they serve the people of the country.
- Why aren’t they protesting e.g. black-on-black crime? – Enough of this whataboutery, these guys can draw awareness to any cause they want and plenty of players do work to strengthen communities and reduce crime. Hang on, I thought this wasn’t about race…
- What have they got to complain about?/they are just crybaby millionaires etc – This is one of the most telling ones of all – people who say it are giving themselves away. It should be clear to anyone that the players who have been kneeling are not doing it because they personally feel hard done by. They are pointing out that there are many other people who are not in their fortunate situation and supporting those who don’t have a voice. That the thought of someone standing up on behalf of other people never even occurs to the critics shows the selfish mindset they are stuck in. There is no comprehension that someone might have motivations beyond their own self-interest.
A long way to go
Strangely now, because of Trump’s attack on the NFL itself, Kaepernick’s original point is in danger of being absorbed or lost.
The current actions of players do show solidarity with him in part but also seem to have a more general message against the insults coming from the White House.
Trump and his minions’ constant insistence that ‘it’s not about race’ plays into that.
As bad of a figurehead for the country the current president is, any problems in society didn’t start with him. It’s good to see NFL teams banding together to speak against Trump but he’s an easy target and a symptom of something much deeper. It’s important to remember that Kap’s original demonstrations started during the Obama presidency. The things he was seeking to address won’t go away after the four (or eight…!) years of Trump being in charge, deeper changes need to be made.
It’s important to remember that Kap’s original demonstrations started during the Obama presidency. The things he was seeking to address won’t go away after the four (or eight…!) years of Trump being in charge, deeper changes need to be made.
The things he was seeking to address won’t go away after the four (or eight…!) years of Trump being in charge, deeper changes need to be made.