The NFL Anthem Protest Ethics Train Wreck, Part One

Ah, the post unwritten!  Just three days ago, I was considering a post about the ethics dilemma I face regarding the NFL. On September 21 I read that four  NFL players ( Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles’ Torrey Smith and former NFL player Anquan Boldin) sent a letter beseeching Commissioner Roger Goodell to make November a month of “social activism,” meaning a month of promoting Black Lives Matters, attacking as police’ and the nation whose public they protect as racist.

“Since 2016, police have shot over 300 men and women in this country. Some of the names and stories are familiar—Jordan Edwards, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, but hundreds of others are not,” the memo says. This is typical of the level of erudition much of the news media, and many voices  on the Left, including President Obama, have been enabling and praising since Colin Kaepernick began his showboating, incoherent  protest against the National Anthem last year. The officer who shot Jordan Edwards was fired and indicted. Trayvon Martin wasn’t shot by police. I can’t imagine how Mike Brown was left off the list, with a reference to “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” Probably a typo.

The next day, we learned that Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots star convicted of murder who hanged himself in prison in April, suffered from a severe case of CTE, “the most severe case” ever seen in a former football player so young.” He was 27. Of course, not a lot of 27 year olds are in a position to have their brains dissected. CTE is the progressive brain disease caused by repeated brain trauma, and there is convincing evidence that the NFL is crippling its players.

My post was going to be about the ethics conflict I face, as one who believes that it is unethical to support the NFL’s profitable mayhem and who also believes that sports should not be made a party to the current progressive indoctrination strategy of making everything in American life a political lecture. The NFL would hasten its own demise, the post would argue, by agreeing to the ridiculous social activism proposal, thus saving brains and lives. Yet this would also exacerbate the divisive and obnoxious trend in the culture wars to politicize aspects of society that should unify us.
What’s a responsible ethicist to do? But it was a busy week, and I thought I could get the piece written over the weekend, which would have been timely if President Trump hadn’t jumped into the issue with both feet. The President ad-libbed an attack on the Kaepernickies during a rally in Alabama, saying,

“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!’” Trump said. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country…But do you know what’s hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.”

This immediately turned the National Anthem protest stunt launched by the correctly-unemployed former 49ers quarterback into a late-developing ethics train wreck, and rendered my planned ethics quiz moot. So before anything else stupid happens, let me get down what I hope will be some clarifying observations.Observations:

  • This one is simple, and paramount: Nobody pays to go to sporting events to see continuations of the political disputes and debates they watch sports to avoid. Sports is entertainment, and entertainment is escapism. The same goes for music concerts, movies, plays and musicals. A football player making me watch his half-baked “protest” on the field is no more welcome than the cast of a musical making me sit still to hear its partisan ranting after the show.

Sporting events and other popular entertainment are crucial because they unite society, even if its members disagree passionately on other matters. It is dangerous and unhealthy to remove this crucial oasis of relief from debate, especially now. This should be obvious. It isn’t obvious only to full-time activists who don’t care about the purpose of entertainment or the needs of their audiences. Their objective is to achieve a political agenda by any means possible, regardless of the damage to civil society.

  • A term being used a lot lately on conservative websites is “normals,” describing the Americans who don’t regard politics as the sole focus of their waking hours, and who resent, as the Wall Street Journal termed it, The Politicization Of Everything.

It’s a useful distinction, and there is no question that the President, as misguided and inappropriate as his remarks were,  wins the argument with the many, many millions who just want to watch their favorite teams without being bombarded by political bombast and grandstanding.

  • The NFL could have and should have stopped this train wreck before it left the station by simply re-stating the same standards it had consistently maintained for decades. Players are welcome to have political views and to take part in demonstrations and other activism, but not while wearing their uniforms, and not on the field. Almost exactly a year ago, a player was told by the NFL that he could not wear cleats commemorating 9/11.

Why then did pro football allow Colin Kaepernick to make a far more divisive and incoherent political statement on the field later in the year? The answer is cowardice and abandonment of integrity in the face of race-based politics, the same reason the University of Missouri capitulated to racialist demands by its football team. Most of the players in the NFL are black, so the mostly white leaders of the NFL decided to avoid a confrontation. In doing so, it aligned itself with groups and positions that a large segment of the NFL’s fan base abhors, resulting in lost ratings and revenues. This was a breach of business ethics. The NFL’s business is football, not picking sides in the culture wars.

  • Yesterday, over a hundred NFL players “took a knee” during the National Anthem to protest…something…as the news media cheered them on. This was predictable, and the big question is whether the President prompted the reaction intentionally. I am certain he did not; we know by now that Trump  just blurts stuff out without considering consequences of any kind. The US doesn’t need any more division now, and Trump’s crude outburst was indefensible. Presidents should not comment negatively on the conduct of citizens when they are acting within their Constitutional rights. Nor should they interfere with the policies and disciplinary decisions of private businesses, which he did, and which President Obama also did when he endorsed and defended Kaepernick’s stunt last year.

Both were equally inappropriate and unethical, and abuses of power, influence and position. Of course, Obama’s statement was more dignified and articulate than Trump’s—whose wouldn’t be?—and everything Obama did was greeted with swooning and cheers from the media, while anything this President does is presumed to be an abomination.  They were still two sides of the same unethical coin.

  • What’s being protested, exactly. and why now? The protesters don’t know, and can’t articulate it themselves. On Sunday’s talking head shows, some apologists for this nonsense claimed it was the Anthem itself, because the third verse that nobody sings or considers part of the anthem contains ambiguous lyrics that race-baiters have claimed endorse slavery. The NFL  is protesting music now? Kaepernick, despite all the articles about how thoughtful he is, never made a case for his own routine beyond saying, as a black man paid millions of dollars a year, that the U.S. “oppresses black people” and that “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”  Wait…The protest is over union members receiving their salaries while unproven charges are pending against them? Does the NFL players union agree with that position, especially since NFL players are charged with more serious felonies than any other pro athletes? Is the protest suddenly one against the President? If so, then why take it out on the National Anthem and the fans?  And if so, isn’t the “protest” just a mass tantrum by a lot of politically ignorant millionaires because someone dared to challenge them? And what won’t the NFL permit on the field now? “Not My President” banners waved by the players as they are introduced?

The original protest was allegedly about “racial injustice.” That’s nice. And? Yes, there are racial inequities in U.S. society. We knew that. We certainly are more aware of that now than ever, since we just finished 8 years of an administration that was willing to undermine  justice, language, reason and racial comity to try to turn the tide.  Has the protest morphed into another smear of the President’s alleged “white supremacy” sympathies, for which the evidence is precisely zero other than Democratic and activist accusations?

“We hate that people are going to see it that we don’t respect the military, the men and women that are braver than us that go and put their life on the line…but we just wanted to send a message of unity and being together, and not standing for the disrespect…all of us want to send a message of unity, not just as a team but a fraternity of NFL players.”

What? You hate it that showing disrespect to the flag and the national anthem and following the example of a man who said that he couldn’t honor a nation that “oppressed” blacks is seen as disrespect for the flag, our institutions, and the soldiers who fought to preserve that nation you have so much contempt for? If you just want to to “send a message of unity and being together,” why not just hold hands and hug? Why is refusing to stand for the anthem appropriate? Isn’t this just “Everybody’s doing it, so it must be good”? If players were picking their noses during the anthem, would you do it too just to show unity?

If spectators and fans have to be subjected to this non-sports spectacle, shouldn’t the message the players are sending be clear and productive? Of course the news media and Democrats support the stunt, because if it just means “We hate the President,” that fine with them. Really? We want our sporting events, broadcast to the world, to feature on-field demonstrations against the Presidency?

That is irresponsible, self-destructive and insane.


That’s Part I; it will have to do for a morning warm-up today. Part II is on the way.

109 thoughts on “The NFL Anthem Protest Ethics Train Wreck, Part One

  1. Jack wrote: “On Sunday’s talking head shows, some apologists for this nonsense claimed it was the Anthem itself, because the third verse that nobody sings or considers part of the anthem contains ambiguous lyrics that race-baiters have claimed endorse slavery.”


    Meaning of Star Spangled Banner Lyrics Verse 3

    ● Francis Scott Key describes the British as arrogant and boastful in the lyrics ‘that band who so vauntingly swore’
    ● He is venting his anger at the British with the “foul footsteps’ pollution” lyrics inferring that the British poisoned the ground on which they walked
    ● But the poison and corruption had been washed away by the blood of the British
    The Star Spangled Banner lyrics “the hireling ” refers to the British use of Mercenaries (German Hessians) in the American War of Independence
    The Star Spangled Banner lyrics “…and slave” is a direct reference to the British practice of Impressment (kidnapping American seamen and forcing them into service on British man-of war ships). This was a Important cause of the War of 1812
    Francis Scott Key then describes the Star Spangled Banner as a symbol of triumph over all adversity

  2. A good portion of those in attendance see any of these actions as just that – a lack of respect. Should the Anthem even be played? As a traveler in Cuba two years ago I occasionally faced situations where I showed restrained respect when I could have simply sat down, walked away or otherwise dissociated myself from my hosts. I did not. I was a guest. As an atheist, I have occasionally been placed in situations where I have even said a mutated blessing. With many years in Boy Scouts I would always conduct myself with respect for the religious component. No avoiding, snickering or turning my back. The reasoning is I am not going to disrespect traditions and institutions that are important to so many. I can express my atheism in many less hurtful modes. There are other options available to players to show distain while on the field.

  3. Things I’ve seen parroted on Facebook recently…

    “If you stand for the national anthem, or supporting those that stand for the anthem, then you’re a fascist.”

    “If you stand for the national anthem then you are supporting police murdering black people; you’re a traitor to the human race.”

    On the other side of the argument…

    “I am a sports fan, but I have more respect more for my country, the flag and the national anthem than any game or sporting event. I think we should make each athlete from all sports serve in the Military. No waivers for any of them, and if they refuse, label them a traitor, and treat them as such.”

    “If you don’t stand for the national anthem you’re a piece of shit and should be thrown in jail.”

    There you have it folks, from one ignorant extreme to another. Pick your tribe or you’ll be branded.

    I wish I was kidding.

    “That’s all I can stands, cuz I can’t stands no more!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.