By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
Make no mistake. The National Football League is a Goliath.
One powerful, wealthy, influential, arrogant, irreverent, inflexible, vindictive, intolerant, ruthless Goliath. Like most in their position NFL owners are unafraid.
The NFL is the quintessential bully.
One of the best players in the league at the time, San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, decided several years ago to be man enough to kneel down to the national anthem in protest of social injustices suffered by African Americans.
Though he is battling it in court, his courage has cost Kaepernick his career.
Instead of supporting players in a league that touts loyalty as one of its key benchmarks; instead of disagreeing with players but defending their right to demonstrate in their way; instead of simply letting it go unchecked, maintaining neutrality – not addressing the situation at all – the NFL clearly got “punked.”
Last fall, President Trump repeatedly lashed out against the NFL on Twitter for not intervening in the ongoing silent protests carried out by players across the country. In September, he told a raucous Alabama crowd at a public rally that the NFL owners should fire players who kneel.
The man called the leader of the free world, referred to these players as ‘sons of bitches’ and called their actions “a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
Agent Orange urged owners to act to shut down the demonstrations – exuding shameless, unprecedented, brazen collusion between the White House and corporations.
In February, in a statement released just hours before Super Bowl LII, 45 again called for football fans to stand during the playing of the national anthem as a sign of support for the nation’s troops.
Forty-five played a game of “double dog dare” with football owners and virtually every one of them folded like chairs at a cookout during a cloudburst. Not only did owners revile player activism, they passed a new league policy that draws the line clearly, in plain-to-see black and white.
The new league policy calls for fines against players on the field who refuse to stand for the national anthem, and restricts them to the locker room to protest racism (well, if that’s the case, then the whole team should be in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem!).
Chris Long remarks, “This is fear of a diminished bottom line. It is about the fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. Don’t get it confused. These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating, and taking real action to prove it.”
Rumors of a player strike are swirling. Additional disgruntled NFL players are speaking out against the new rules with every passing day getting us closer to the season.
Growing ranks of sports fans and concerned citizens are wondering what can be done outside of the game to strengthen player rights. As intimidating a foe as the NFL may seem, there are things you can do. Three possibilities immediately come to mind – specifically, your voices, your choices and old-fashioned litigation.
VOICES require us to keep this issue in the public conversation. The most conspicuous tool is social media. Not a day should pass without some reference to the attempted silencing of the resistance. Talk radio, letters to the editors, letters to the owners, letters to Congress, raising the issue during public gatherings – the voice.
CHOICES hold another form of power, and African Americans teamed with those of all races who find restrictions of constitutionally-guaranteed freedom repugnant, need to boycott the games, the advertisers, NFL sportswear and paraphernalia, companies owned by team owners, rejecting the NFL Sunday ticket – making a choice to shun the game.
Lastly, litigation such as that Kaepernick is currently pursuing is important, not merely in the potential impact of a favorable judgment, but in keeping the owners in a position of defending their real collaboration.
Kudos to the New York Jets for vowing to pay the fines of its players.
Those who are not sports fans may believe that the NFL spat is none of their business. Who is to say that the next attempt to restrict speech won’t hit closer to home, once they have an unchallenged precedent. It is more than just a game. The struggle of these players represents something for all, since no one is free until everyone is.
Yes, the NFL is Goliath. We, the people, are David. We know how that ended.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected]