After an initial display of league-wide defiance against President Donald Trump, the NFL – and, in particular, Commissioner Roger Goodell – is desperate to move beyond the controversy, which is threatening to send TV ratings and stadium ticket sales plummeting. The flap, born of player protests against the national anthem, has yet to die down, even with some owners – like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys – saying their players would have nothing to do with the kneeling. And the longer the controversy goes on, the more fans are getting turned off of a game that used to be a handy ESCAPE from left/right politics.
In a letter to all 32 NFL teams this week, Goodell said the league had developed a plan to “move past” the debate over the protests.
“Like many of our fans,” Goodell wrote, “we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.
“We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues,” he continued. “The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”
It remains to be seen if Goodell is willing to put his money where his mouth is and actually enforce a uniform code that would punish players for kneeling during the anthem. Because without such a policy, we find it pretty hard to believe that certain players – including the majority of the San Francisco 49ers – will go along with the program. They’ve come to think of themselves as the front line in a new racial culture war, and unless they have to make the choice between their “cause” and their million-dollar job, they’re probably going to keep on kneeling.
What’s really needed right now is for a respected black athlete or two to come out and be a leader for the NFL’s misguided social justice warriors. Someone, preferably, who isn’t aligned with conservative politics, because we all know how those guys are viewed by the left. Someone who actually has a basic understanding of how a protest against the national anthem has nothing to do with police brutality and even less to do with Donald Trump. Someone who can actually separate the issues and make these players realize that, if anything, they are HURTING their own interests with this ongoing, unnecessary protest movement. Until that happens, we don’t see this cooling off anytime soon.