It’s no secret that the NFL has been divided since Colin Kaepernick first began sitting out the national anthem during last year’s preseason. What started off as one man’s silent protest against police brutality and showing support for people of color who have been historically oppressed by the United States, has not only divided the National Football League, but divided the nation.
As the 2017 season began, every week seemed to show more and more players taking a knee while the anthem was performed. Before the week 3 game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions, Rico Lavelle who performed the national anthem, ended his performance with taking a knee and raising one fist in the air. Yes, you read that correctly, the singer of the national anthem took a knee.
From an owners standpoint there is no way to appease everyone, but that didn’t stop them from trying. Teams like the Dallas Cowboys attempted to show unity by locking arms and kneeling, owner Jerry Jones joined them. They took a knee prior to the anthem ceremony then proceeded to all stand together for the anthem. The Pittsburgh Steelers decided to remain in the locker room before their week 3 match up in Chicago, only Army veteran Anthony Villanueva stood outside of the tunnel.
In the weeks following some fans began calling for commissioner Roger Godell to implement a rule that would require all players to stand for the anthem. Even the President stated during a late September rally in Alabama, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!” Although it was unclear what was going on behind the scenes, many team owners came out for the cameras to show that they cared about the issues players were protesting for and speaking out against. At the end of the day though, the NFL is a business and what truly matters to the owners is their bottom line. Fans may look at players as superheroes, but to most owners they are nothing more than employees.
This became very clear in the Houston Texans locker room Friday morning as owner Bob McNair was quoted by ESPN as saying “We can’t have the inmates running the prison” in regards to the anthem protests during the NFL owners’ meetings last week. After being hit with immediate backlash McNair quickly retracted his statement, apologizing for his poor choice of words. He has since released a press statement in response to his critics, “I regret that I used that expression. I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our players or our league that way and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.” Some interpreted this statement as McNair showing his true colors. Including Texans star DeAndre Hopkins who skipped Fridays’ practice. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that “Texans players wanted to walkout today in response to Bob McNair’s comments” and “had to be persuaded to stay.” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien along with GM Rick Smith led a 90-minute team meeting where players were given a platform to speak out. It is yet to be reported whether Hopkins will elect to sit out this Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Hard to believe that one man silently protesting would shift the entire culture of professional football. Our country is already divided by politics, that has now spilled over into what used to be our way to escape those things for a few hours every Sunday. The original message that Kaepernick was trying to bring to light has been lost, it’s turned into a show. Players either stand for the flag which shows they love and support America, or they kneel and are viewed as disrespecting our military and our country. Donald Trump makes racist and sexist remarks, disrespects a war veteran saying “I don’t like my heroes captured,” and they elect him to be President. NFL players silently take a knee during the national anthem at a football game and suddenly they have become public enemy number one, and if they don’t want to stand for our national anthem they should “get out of the country.” The lack of empathy for your fellow man has been lost, people only care about issues that personally effect their lives. They’ll write about this time in history, choose carefully which side you’d like to be remembered on.