- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2017


Note: This piece contained a quote wrongly attributed to Sean Spicer. Post has been updated accordingly. Writer regrets the error.

Commissioner Roger Goodell emerged from a round of meetings this week with NFL players and owners and announced, indirectly, that it was still A-OK to kneel for the national anthem.

“We did not ask for that,” he said, in answer to a question about whether the league would demand players stand.

Then Wednesday, on the tail of these players-owners-top brass meetings, he held a widely watched news conference to clarify the league’s decision on the no-stand-for-anthem campaign — but really, only ducked and dodged and convoluted.

He called the matter complicated. He described the league as compassionate and earnest in its attempts to soothe all sides. But in the end, these were Goodell’s remarks: “We want our players to stand. We’re going to continue to encourage our players to stand.”

But we’re not going to make our players stand, despite the fact that rule books say they ought.

Well, Goodell, that’s not exactly the message fans wanted to hear.

What a sad and pitiful state of football affairs. Apparently, players’ petty protests take precedence over the will of the fans, at least in the eyes of NFL top brass. Goodell and the players union, on the heels of lengthy discussions earlier this week, missed a golden opportunity to emerge from these chats and heal the division that’s marked and tainted this season from the get-go.

They could’ve ended the misguided on-field politicking, could’ve calmed angry fans’ feelings. Instead, they chose to widen the racial divide, ratchet an ugly tone of race relations that had been fueled by the previous Barack Obama administration — and, more to truth, to continue a campaign of wrongly accusing police of rampant targeting of minorities.

President Donald Trump tweeted out a sharp response to the Monday-Tuesday meetings that went like this: “The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!”

And he’s quite right on that score. Players using their places of business, the football field, for political protesting is not only inappropriately un-American, but also largely unheard of, at least in the world of private market industry. Can you or I take knees at our places of business to protest this or that — to call attention to some perceived matter of social injustice — and do so with the rubber-stamp blessing of our bosses? Try it and see.

Fact is: When the NFL wants to regulate player behavior, it will.

League officials spent considerable time and effort and study to determine what constituted an end zone dance, versus what did not, versus what constituted choreography, versus what did not, versus what manner of celebratory exhibition was overly time-consuming, versus what was not, and so on and so forth. 

The matter was important. But anthem kneeling?

As Goodell said: “We did not ask” for players to stop doing that.

The matter was not that important.

End zone dancing wrecks the game; ‘dissing fans and advertisers, military veterans and the White House, not so much. 

That’s what’s so maddening about this whole kneeling matter. The NFL shakes its heads, feigns inability to act, pretends it can’t stop the kneeling — but all along, this same NFL shows itself as a dictator of player behavior when it behooves. Enough of the deceits, from both kneeling players and NFL top brass.

Fans deserve more than political shows and incompetent league leaders. They deserve what they pay for — a football game. And it won’t be long before the boycotts will have their dramatic effects, the advertisers will abandon in droves and soon enough, the only ones left watching professional football will be the politicians and special interests who use race and social justice for personal gain. But at least there will be dancing in the end zone. There is that.

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