The past week has been very controversial in the NFL as players tackle social injustice issues, and American citizens may have to put their “American privilege” in check.
Over the past week, the National Football League has found themselves in a political debate over social injustice and the president of the United States. Today marked the second consecutive week where NFL players from every team either took a knee or locked arms in unity and solidarity over many issues in America.
These actions were ignited last week on Friday, Sept. 22, after President Donald Trump spoke out against NFL players who protest during the national anthem before a game. During a rally in Alabama, he called for NFL owners to fire any athlete who protested the anthem, saying: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—h off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s FIRED!’”
Naturally, this created a huge reaction in the NFL. These events led to a series of criticism from players, a response from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and written statements from many NFL team owners who condemned the president’s statements.
One of the most notable statements came from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose team had visited the White House earlier this year after winning the Super Bowl in February.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” Kraft said. “There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal.”
Last Sunday, a political movement occurred in the third week of the NFL season as players and coaches from all teams either protested the anthem, stood together with arms locked to signify unity, and a few teams didn’t even come onto the field for the national anthem at all.
Naturally, this added fuel to the fire of an already sensitive issue – as many NFL fans and Americans in general, who believe that these actions are a total disrespect to the American flag, to the military and the veterans and to the country itself.
Many professional athletes responded back saying that these protests had nothing to do with disrespecting anybody, but rather bring attention to a deeper issue – these protests are either directed towards social injustice and/or towards the president himself.
These issues have ignited the politics inside of sports conversation here at Azusa Pacific as well. Senior public relations major Jeremiah Peck voiced that he has gained a whole new appreciation for the NFL this past week.
“For me, watching all that has happened, I was really, really proud to call myself an NFL fan,” Peck said. “Especially watching teams stand together, that was really important and powerful, and it sent a message of what it looks like to stand together against something you don’t believe in.”
Peck, a passionate Denver Broncos fan, also expressed that the players’ freedom of speech and these forms of peaceful protests is what America is built on.
“When we talk about what America is, the stereotypical or cookie-cutter answer is free, but if a great America is freedom from oppression, then when the president of the United States demands for the NFL to take that freedom away, and the NFL in response chooses to defend and protect their players – those are the ideals that America was built on,” Peck said.
However, not everybody feels this way. Many Americans, even apparent NFL fans, have called for a boycott of the NFL and of teams who protest the national anthem. Many fans can even be seen burning or destroying their favorite NFL team’s apparel on social media – which is very extreme of course.
Not only is this extreme, but these actions are very immature, as no entire organization is protesting the national anthem, but rather, only certain players on the team. What are these organizations going to do about that if they don’t like the protests? Tell their players they can’t protest and eliminate their first amendment rights? Are they going to threaten to fire them, and in turn lose out on the talents and profits that superstar players bring to an organization? No, because that would simply be stupid. Whether NFL owners agree or disagree with the protests, they are smarter than that, are ultimately are thinking about the bigger picture of their organization.
If fans boycott the NFL because of this, that’s fine, but it’s not going to make much of a difference. Professional football is one of the most popular sports in America it will be here to stay for a very long time.
Harrison Morgan is a junior accounting major at APU, who also plays on the Cougars’ football team. Morgan, a New England Patriots fan, knows that there are social issues in America which are important and need to be addressed, but he believes that NFL players could go about it in a different way.
“I thought that a lot of teams that handled the whole issue unprofessionally, while there were a few that handled it in the correct manner. All the people taking a knee, I personally didn’t see them accomplishing much,” Morgan said. “But there were teams like Green Bay [Packers] and Chicago [Bears] on Thursday, who all locked arms in unity while showing respect for the country, while demonstrating their dislike for actions taken in this country. I thought that was much better.”
However, Morgan also explained that the president had no business giving his brash opinion on the issue, as there are more important issues to focus on in America right now, and this may have caused more harm in the country than good.
“I don’t think it was necessary,” Morgan said. “When you’re running for president, you can express opinions that will put people on your side or against you, but when you are the actual leader of the United States, it isn’t necessary for [Trump] to voice his opinions as boldly as he did. That did not do anything to cause unity or bring people together. What he said was not helpful or necessary.”
Morgan also said that if Trump never made those comments in the first place, none of this would be happening now. Players in the NFL would not have had the same reaction if nothing was said. Trump, in a way, ignited a fire for NFL players to speak out; many of whom took it personally when he referred to them as “son’s of b—h’s.”
Another interesting perspective comes from Curtis Constantino Middleton, a senior history major at APU. Middleton is a devoted Indianapolis Colts fan, but more importantly, he served his country. Middleton spent 10 years in the military as a forward observer for the 82nd Airborne unit in the U.S. Army.
“It does bother me when people abuse the flag, but at the same time, it’s their right. Since it is a peaceful protest, I don’t see any wrong being done,” Middleton said. “These athletes and celebrities are stating their stand or position. They are not saying that they hate America – that would be a different story if they were saying that stuff, but they’re not.”
Middleton believes that he fought for people’s rights, including freedom of speech, and that it would hypocritical of him to think otherwise.
“I respect [the protests] because it has to be hard to do something like that when you’re in the spotlight,” Middleton said. “I was in the military for 10 years, I fought for that, and I would be a hypocrite if I said, ‘here’s your freedom of speech, but you can only do it a certain way.’”
In addition to this, Middleton also said that he does not find this political movement disrespectful.
“I don’t feel that this was a disrespect to military at all,” Middleton said. “Even if [the players] didn’t say that they were not disrespecting us, there is nothing that anybody can do to take away from my service, or my buddies, or anyone who has died in combat – there is nothing anyone can do to take away from that.”
Even if taking a knee during the anthem isn’t a disrespect to some military, then does it disrespect the American flag or the country itself? No, I really don’t think so.
Us Americans have gone a little overboard with this flag thing in terms of knowing how to treat it and what is considered disrespectful. As a matter of fact, almost every person in America is guilty of disrespecting the flag, whether they know it or not.
On June 14, 1923, a Federal Code was made with guidelines explaining how to treat the American flag. Here are just a few of those guidelines according to the Flag Code (United States Code Title 36 Chapter 10) which can be found on USflag.org:
First, “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.”
This means that anyone wearing American flag t-shirts, shorts or hats – all disrespectful.
Secondly, “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.”
This means that whenever a giant American flag is laying across a baseball or football field prior to a game, it is disrespectful.
And finally, “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever” and “it should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”
This all means that the Fourth of July celebrations that include the B-B-Q’s and pool parties can be considered disrespectful as well.
What’s the big deal when professional athletes, many of whom have been given the platform as role models, make a political stand according to their beliefs that is technically disrespectful to the flag. If you are an American who has violated the guidelines mentioned above by the Flag Code, then you are just as guilty as these NFL players for disrespecting the American flag. I am guilty of it myself – I was long before I ever knew it.
Who would have thought that a single form of protest that began over a year ago with one man named Colin Kaepernick, the former QB for the San Francisco 49ers, would have led to an on-going national and league-wide movement?
These issues cannot be avoided any longer. The only way for there to be an understanding between the two sides is if they are willing to listen to each other in order to understand where both sides come from – yet that is not an easy task. Something needs to change, because these athletes would not be complaining about these issues if they did not exist.
“We had issues happen over a month ago in Charlottesville, and issues on our own campus happen recently. If that’s not any indication that it’s absolutely acceptable for players to stand up during that national anthem for social change, then I don’t know what it’s going to take for it to be considered acceptable,” Peck said. “I’m fed up with where we’re already at.”
My final point here is that Americans need to see everything for the bigger picture. The fact of the matter is that there are many social issues in America that need to be addressed. Yes, all American veterans deserve the ultimate respect for their service and what they have given to this country. Yet, there are people out there who are still being discriminated against and are suffering from oppression in this country as well. So when some Americans come out and say that they are going to boycott the NFL or that athletes should be fired for taking a political stand, it is hypocrisy at its finest from people who have a problem listening to political views that differ from their own. These are the people who need to check their “American privilege.”