Asked about the new NFL policy on players standing during the national anthem, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer created a noun smoothie, comfort food for those who don’t want to think too deeply about systemic racism in America.
You throw in the troops, the flag and freedom, hit blend, and you sound like you’re taking a patriotic stand.
That’s essentially what NFL owners and Roger Goodell did this week — take a stance that will appease the White House and a segment of fans, at the expense of empathy for black players protesting the killing of unarmed black men by police officers.
Remember? That’s what this was always about, before the story was intentionally muddied. So before we drink another noun smoothie, let’s ground ourselves in facts and history:
• Colin Kaepernick did not insult the military when he knelt. He adopted the advice of former Green Beret Nate Boyer. “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect,” Boyer said.
• The NFL didn’t care about players standing for the anthem until 2009. Around that time, the Department of Defense began paying millions to NFL teams to promote the military with flyovers, enlistment campaigns and anthem performances. In 2015, Arizona senators Jeff Flake and John McCain said that about $5.4 million in taxpayer dollars had been paid to 14 NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 to promote the military. The NFL began celebrating the military when it was paid to do so.
• Even the trailblazing black athletes we now celebrate were treated badly when they were breaking new ground. Jackie Robinson, one of our greatest heroes, said: “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world.”
• No quarterback with Kaepernick’s résumé — healthy, in his prime, with a strong touchdown-to-interception ratio, having come within one completion of winning a Super Bowl — has ever remained unemployed.
• Kaepernick was protesting not the military but the unjustified killings of unarmed black Americans by police officers.
• There are 32 key figures in the NFL’s recent decision to punish players who kneel for the anthem — 31 team owners (49ers owner Jed York abstained) and Commissioner Roger Goodell. With the exception of Jaguars owner Shad Kahn, they are all white.
• Pro Football Talk is reporting that Kaepernick’s collusion suit against the league has shown that multiple teams viewed Kaepernick as a starting-caliber QB.
• NFL teams regularly draft and sign players who have broken the law or been accused of violence against women.
• There was a time when the NFL cared about equality. In the early 1990s, the league pulled the Super Bowl from Arizona because the state refused to make Martin Luther King Day a paid holiday.
• The Super Bowl champion Eagles had several players protest last season, without losing games or revenues.
This week, Philadelphia defensive lineman Chris Long said: “This is fear of a diminished bottom line. It’s also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. … These owners don’t love America more than the players demonstrating and taking action to improve it.”
The NFL’s attempt to dictate the behavior of its black players is typical of our country’s treatment of minorities. We treat them badly, then order them not to inconvenience us.
Long is right. Goodell and his known associates are hiding their greed and cowardice behind faux patriotism.