A New Reason to Protest
With yesterday’s release of ESPN’s Fame 100, many Americans likely pondered the preponderance of soccer stars and even swimmers before the first football player appeared in Tom Brady at number 38. After all, over 37% of Americans choose football as their favorite sport.
Many articles have been written about the NFL’s tendency to be behind the other leagues in terms of progressive measures whether it was Kaepernick, concussions, or the double standard for owners versus players. That is part of the reason that Roger Goodell is booed in many, many, cities. To be fair, much of that is his mismanagement of different scandals involving the home teams in those cities. However, the NFL has been the last major sports league to adjust in so many ways. Roger Goodell and the NFL’s decision to fine teams whose players kneel on the field during the anthem may be the most crucial misstep of his career.
Many fans will rejoice that the players will no longer be able to “disrespect the flag” as the current president has described it. Vice President Mike Pence approves of the new measure as well. After all, football is inextricably linked to the military. That has been documented for years and in many different places. It is no surprise as the NFL embraces the military more than any other major sport. It is a point of pride for the league and its fans. On top of that, the league reaffirmed its commitment to social justice with a huge donation.
It can be easy to see why this move will be met with joy in many corners of the countries. However, as Danny Heifetz beautifully wrote for The Ringer, it is not a great compromise but in fact an obstacle to racial and societal justice. This is a league silencing its players because their opinions are beginning to affect their bottom line. Regardless of where any fan falls on the issues, these protests have sought to call attention to major contemporary issues in American society. Ignore the talking heads who dismiss the issue without speaking to its core issues by characterizing these protests as acts meant to disrespect the flag, the military, or the country.
The NFL is cosigning the view that the outrage of fans weighs more heavily than the rights of its players to express their views. Ironically, support for this view is coming from the same conservative commentators who deride athletes for protesting and mercilessly attack “outrage” culture, “social justice warriors (SJW)”, and “snowflakes”. President Trump has helped lead the charge. Trump has been an outspoken critic of the protesting NFL players by saying they deserved to lose their jobs. Tomi Lahren and many Fox commentators have seconded that opinion despite segments bemoaning the population’s descent into snowflakes.
Goerge Orwell said that “if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” The military fights for Americans’ right to free speech. The true disrespect to the American flag and the American military is to wilt in the face of a threat to free speech. Former US President Theodore Roosevelt once asserted the importance of critiquing those in power by saying that one who opposes criticism of a president is not a patriot but in fact “servile” and “morally treasonable”. Fans should express their opinions just as the players should express their own.
The new rule is a draconian step away from the progressive image the NFL seeks to portray. It is yet another indication that the NFL abides by the Gordon Gekko philosophy of business where Goodell and the NFL owners care more about the bottom line than they do about the people in the stands, the players, or the product on the field. This dereliction of duty, commitment greed, and dismissal of free spech is indicative of the NFL’s business model. It is also a great reason to start protesting.