Vikings Hall of Famer Ron Yary has turned his back on the NFL, stopped watching games a year ago and is encouraging others to do the same until players stop protesting during the national anthem.
He said he doesn't object to players speaking out on any issue on their own time, but disagrees "vehemently" with them using the football field, the national anthem and an audience of paying football customers as their backdrop.
"There's only one place in America where you cannot take your grievances with you and put them on display, and that's at the job site," Yary said. "You can do it in front of your government, you can do it in your church, you can do it any other place. But the one place in this country that is sacrosanct from presenting your personal dislikes and grievances is the job site."
As a Hall of Famer and 1968 No. 1 overall draft pick, Yary is a high-profile example in the quandary the NFL has been mired in for three years as players have taken a knee or sat during the national anthem to protest abuse of blacks by police. On the one hand, the league is trying to be sympathetic to the cause. But, on the other hand are an awful lot of consumers who share Yary's feelings.
During a recent phone call with the Star Tribune for another story, Yary was asked what he thinks of this year's Vikings team. He spent the next 12 minutes passionately explaining why he's done with the NFL until players stop protesting during the anthem. And, no, he wasn't satisfied with the new policy — since put on hold — that would allow players to stay in the locker room if they wouldn't stand during the anthem.
Yary compared the anthem protests to a shoe store losing customers because of a protesting employee.
"You want to destroy this country and all that it stands for? Take away that power from the owner to stop that, because when I'm a customer and I go into your business, I'm there for a specific purpose, which is to purchase what you're selling," Yary said. "I don't want your guys coming up to me putting their grievance in my face as a customer.
"That's disrespectful to the customer. It's disrespectful to the owner. It's disrespectful to this nation because you are there being paid not to present social justice, you're being paid to play a simple game that I played, which is football. They're wrong, they'll always be wrong, and they crossed the line."
Yary said the flag and the anthem represent people's freedom to protest. Just not on the job site.
"For two minutes, you respect the flag because it protects everything you're arguing for," Yary said. "If not, you're spitting on the flag, you're spitting on the national anthem and this country. And I'm going to stand on that the rest of my life. And my friends are as well. And we're not going to waver. The line has been drawn."
And, Yary said, they're prepared to strike a financial blow against the league and the protesting players.
"The best way to do it is to cut their attendance in half, cut the viewership in half," he said. "I watch college football. Keep walking away from these [NFL] guys until they get paid what they get paid in a warehouse. These guys make so much money that they feel they have more right to express themselves. They're the last person you want to ask for advice."
Yary raised his voice several times during his argument.
"I'm riled up about it, as you can tell," he said. "And all my friends are, too. Everybody I know privately agrees with me. And if you want to disagree with me, go to hell. Stay out of my way."