NFL Players Protest

Well, everyone else seems to be sharing their opinions on the matter, so I may as well, also. I am, of course, talking about the NFL players’ protesting by taking a knee or locking arms during the singing of the national anthem. Last Sunday, even two people who sang the national anthem joined in the protest by taking a knee. Perhaps most embarrassing of all were the players on the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars who took a knee during the singing of the national anthem played prior to their game in London, England. For the record, they stood respectfully for the singing of “God Save the Queen.”

Let’s get a few things straight off the bat.

First, there is no contesting the fact that this protest is protected by the U. S. Constitution. This is undeniably a matter of the players’ First Amendment protection of free speech and, one could even argue, the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Let’s also recognize that this is a non-violent protest. No one is calling for the overthrow of the U. S. government, or for violence in the streets.

Second, President Donald Trump was off base, and terribly so, when he recommended that players who take a knee in protest should be fired, and his use of obscene language to make his point was inappropriate and oxymoronic, considering that one of the complaints of so many is that these players are setting a poor example for youth who play sports (indeed, one youth league football team in St. Louis decided to take a knee prior to a recent game). To have the President of the United States recommend that private employees get fired for exercising their First Amendment rights is chilling, to say the least.

Having said all of that, perhaps it’s worthwhile to consider what started all of this. Last season, Colin Kapernick of the San Francisco 49ers decided to engage in a personal protest against what he believed was police brutality and indiscriminate violence by the police around the country against African-Americans. As I understand, he was motivated especially by the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland who was brandishing a toy gun. The police officers shot Tamir within seconds of exiting their police car and without any calls for Tamir to put his hands up or drop his weapon. Even considering that the officers could not have discerned that the gun was a toy, it goes without saying that their actions were indefensible. Incredibly (or, perhaps not, if Kapernick’s point is to be taken), a grand jury decided against prosecuting the police officers. A civil lawsuit by Tamir’s family against the officers and the city of Cleveland was settled for $6 million.

Few at the time joined Kapernick’s protest, and the furor over it seemed to be fading until earlier this week President Trump decided, for whatever reasons, to escalate the controversy with his comments at a rally in Alabama that was held, supposedly, to fire up his base to vote for Luther Strange for Senate against his opponent, Roy Moore. Trump, in fact, had little to say about Strange or the Senate race, but a lot to say about the NFL players who were protesting by taking a knee during the anthem. Almost as if on cue, several NFL owners and Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, made statements condemning Trump’s comments and last Sunday, over 200 players decided for the first time to take a knee. It’s pretty clear that the great majority of those protesting were protesting Trump and not police brutality. If the players in London, in particular, were protesting police brutality, they might have considered that they stood respectfully for the national anthem of a country where the police in Rotherham ignored for 16 years that English girls were being kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery.

In my mind, the protests are legitimate if they are meant to call attention to police brutality. It serves little purpose here to debate whether police brutality and/or police shootings of unarmed African-Americans is epidemic. Statistics convince few people on matters that are so emotional. Suffice it to say that those who are protesting are convinced that it is a matter that demands attention and is receiving far too little. That’s their prerogative. They deem the matter worthy of protest, and they protest. That’s the American way.

It’s also the American way to protest the protesters, and there are plenty who do. There are calls to boycott the NFL. There are accusations of hypocrisy, since few of the protesters seem interested in drawing attention to other matters that seem, by comparison, far more pressing, such as the descent of so many of our inner cities into the lawless rule of drug and human trafficking cartels, where lower class residents, overwhelmingly minority, live in virtual war zones.

There’s also, in my mind, the legitimate complaint that these protesters are protesting on the taxpayer’s dime. The NFL receives massive subsidies from taxpayers. Every stadium is built on the backs of taxpayers, and NFL owners are none too shy about threatening to take their teams elsewhere if the taxpayers of any given city are unable or unwilling to pony up the bucks for a new stadium every twenty years or so. Witness the fact that two NFL teams have left their host cities in the last year (the Rams and the Chargers) and another (the Raiders) are scheduled to move two years from now. Many of these cities are left with huge debts to pay off from the last stadium they built, or from other NFL projects. The U. S. military spends huge amounts of money advertising with the NFL. Oh, and did you know that the NFL is a tax-exempt organization? Yep, you read that right. The NFL is tax-exempt. Which makes me wonder if so many supporters of the protesters, usually on the liberal side of the aisle, would be so supportive if, say, the pastor of a tax-exempt church decided to preach against one of their pet issues.

There is also, in my mind, the legitimate complaint that the NFL is hypocritical when it comes to what they complain about. I mean, Roger Goodell is aghast that Trump blasted his players and called for their firing. But, he has a terrible record of inconsistency in meting out discipline to players guilty of some pretty horrible crimes, suspending Donte Stallworth, guilty of vehicular manslaughter, for a mere four games, the same number of games for which Tom Brady was suspended for inflating footballs with too much air. As well, if Goodell and his players are concerned about police brutality, perhaps they should raise their fists against their own teammates beating up women.

In short, there are lots of reasons for boycotting the NFL.

Finally, there is the concern that these protests are being interpreted as being more against America itself than against any particular matter, such as police brutality. This is of great concern, for if this country is going to continue to survive, much less thrive, than we must be able to unite around a few common themes, at least two of which are love of country and appreciation for our freedoms and for those who have served to protect the freedoms we cherish. There is legitimate concern, in my mind, that these protests call into question those very ideals in the minds of some who are witnessing the protests and respect the players carrying them out. There is legitimate concern, in my mind, that those who have benefited so much from the opportunities given by our freedoms, many of whom have risen from difficult family, social, and economic beginnings, are questioning the very foundations on which this nation is built by choosing to protest the national anthem. The national anthem is supposed to be one of those things that brings us together as a nation. We are a melting pot. Our country is made up of a variety of ethnic, racial, religious, cultural, and political groups. When we choose as the target of our protests the symbols that unite us, are we not contributing to the divisions that are tearing this country at the seams right now? We don’t need divisions. We need unity. The NFL players and owners, as well as President Trump, are letting us down on that.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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