Sundays aren’t just for church anymore, they are for getting a political sermon from the National Football League.
Football is a truly American game, and it is more than a little tragic to witness the rapid unraveling of the NFL as a unifying passion.
The response from the league and players after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was a great moment for the United States. But times have changed.
Kneeling for the national anthem before games, which began in 2016 with former San Francisco 49er quarterback and now currently unemployed NFL player Colin Kaepernick, has spread throughout the sport.
Racism and police brutality have been cited as reasons for the protest movement, but its general aims have been vague at best.
The controversy was dialed up when President Donald Trump called out Kaepernick and fellow anthem kneelers at a political rally in Alabama.
Trump said of the protests: “That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
He then said that players who don’t respect the national anthem should be taken off the field, or perhaps fired.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that Trump’s comments demonstrated “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
While the NFL has remained hands off with the kneeling problem and defends its players, it must be noted that this is a league that fines players for celebrating touchdowns, prevents signs of solidarity with the police, and even stops players from wearing cleats that pay tribute to those killed on 9/11.
Yet, the NFL neither said nor did anything when Kaepernick wore socks depicting police as pigs and appears to be encouraging players to continue protests against the anthem unabated.
Free speech and association are some of the most important factors in what makes America great.
These values certainly aren’t practiced in, say, communist Cuba. Perhaps someone should inform Kaepernick, who has worn a shirt positively depicting the now-deceased Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Unsurprisingly, the games following the tussle between Trump and the NFL saw widespread demonstrations.
Numerous incidents occurred throughout the league with individual players kneeling for the anthem or ignoring it to continue warming up as the song played. And numerous teams either kneeled for the anthem or stayed in the locker room.
At a game in London, players from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens kneeled for the “Star-Spangled Banner” while standing in respect for the U.K.’s national anthem, “God Save the Queen.”
“The way we reacted today, and this weekend, made me proud,” Goodell said. “I’m proud of our league.”
Though the resistance to Trump and the general anthem kneeling movement has drawn praise from the media and liberal commentators, there are signs that it isn’t being received as well by the general public.
NFL ratings have been in decline, perhaps for a number of reasons, including boring games and lengthy commercials, but polls have consistently shown that politics has become a significant factor.
People are simply sick of seeing political crusades infect popular pastimes, especially when they are aimed at uniting ideas like patriotism that the national anthem represents.
According to a Reuters poll, 72 percent of Americans said that they believe Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem was unpatriotic, and another 61 percent said they generally don’t approve of his protest.
Players who sat for the anthem were frequently booed, as was the case at a Washington Redskins-Oakland Raiders game, which was the lowest rated Sunday Night Football game since 2006.
Clearly, many fans aren’t pleased with what’s happening to their cherished sport and want to keep the simple demonstrations of patriotism and respect for the national anthem.
While the NFL has every right to handle the anthem situation in the way that it chooses, it is still worrying and tragic that a once universal practice of standing in respect for the flag and our country is now a lightning rod of political controversy.
The unifying elements of America’s favorite game are quickly becoming a thing of the past, and that’s a shame.