Thanks Roger, but we Won't "Take a Knee" on Protesting

 

Long before the current battle lines lines which are shaping the opinion on the NFL were drawn, there was one thing everybody could agree upon- hating Roger Goodell.

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The commissioner of the NFL had been the most polarizing part of the NFL landscape before Colin Kaepernick let him off the hook. Since then, though, he has done a remarkable job of staying out of the frying pan by keeping his opinion regarding the persona non-grata quarterback, and the accompanying powder keg of social opinion, completely to himself.

But with the intensification of the social issues surrounding the league eclipsing both the on-field product and the existing stack of controversies it was already dealing with (remember the good old days of serious brain damage ramifications, cheating and domestic violence cases defining the NFL’s stack of issues?), Goodell has finally been forced back into the spotlight of addressing the philosophical and racial divide in the game. And oh boy did he do so in his signature overbearing and inept style.

On Tuesday, Goodell released a statement urging players to end the protests which have fueled the ire of the President, as well as mobilized certain influential owners to show their true colors in a vivid fashion (we see you doubling back, Jerry Jones). It is a letter that wreaks of collective statement of the 32 white business owners who are fed up with their mostly minority employees - many of whom have rebelled in their refusal to be quietly subservient to simply making the owners more money. And Goodell, who is nothing more than the well-paid operations hammer of their collective will, has been sent forward to deliver the message: get back to your jobs and business as usual.

Within the statement, the NFL’s highest-ranking messenger boy delivered an awe-inspiringly inept decree - even by his own standards. Goodell urged players to ‘move past’ the protests, while also imploring them to stand during the national anthem. However, within the context of the letter, Goodell conveniently skipped over the reasoning for the protests in the first place. Instead he focused on the optics of the situation. The same optics which have brought the league under fire from Donald Trump (who predictably misunderstood the alleged pretense of Goodell’s words) and thousands of Twitter eggs. With the league stuck in the middle of a tug-o'-war of criticism from (alleged) patriotic, flag-first followers, as well as continuing to endure the backlash of protest from a portion of the fanbase, which has turned its back on the product and league employee players who continue to defy them to their face, Goodell decided to take a dual-conservative approach by playing pacifist in a situation where there can be no appeasing.

Meanwhile, discussions on the NFL potentially seeking to deploy policy to force players to stand during the national anthem further wedged the divide and intensified the stance of those against the authoritarian take on the Constitutionally-allowed protests.

The about-face from Goodell has been stunning - especially since just a few weeks ago he applauded the retaliatory stance of players against the initial comments from Trump. Not to say that anyone should have believed it to be a show of solidarity on behalf of Goodell or his office as Commissioner, because again, he was simply in line with the showings of support from select owners at the time. They saw it as a great PR opportunity but have since reversed course and returned to their financial caverns. 

Goodell’s letter both symbolizes the aloofness of approach and indifference to recognize the point which the protests present. So let’s take some time to review the Commissioner’s statement and decode what’s REALLY being said here, why don’t we?

Below is the full text of Goodell’s statement with my commentary:

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“We live in a country that can feel very divided. Sports, and especially the NFL, can bring people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours. The current dispute over the National Anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans around the country.”

The best interest of football should be served, first and foremost, over the voice of its participants and consumers. The fame and fortune of athletes has long made some feel uneasy, but was deemed an acceptable for African-Americans to live and succeed within. When wearing the logo, colors and helmet of their respective team, the players were deemed as being welcomed and acceptable. However, this was done by arrogantly believing they had laid down their individuality and awareness of the world by doing so, which is where the ‘stick to sports’ peanut gallery draws their ideals from.

Let’s get this cleared up right now: the idea of requesting your sports without politics involved is unreasonable and unacceptable. These are individual people with a right to use their platform as highly paid entertainers how they see fit. The days of not knowing your favorite athlete’s political and social leanings (which became overwhelmingly popular in the false cultural comfort of the 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s) is over. Learn to accept this or learn to deal with the consequences.

“I’m very proud of our players and owners who have done hard work over the last year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities. At our September committee meetings, we heard directly from several players about why these issues are so important to them and how we can support their work. And last week, we met the leadership of the NFLPA and more players to advance the dialogue.”

It is one thing to hear and another to listen. It is impossible not to acknowledge what is going on, simply because it has been made unavoidable. But nothing has been addressed besides making phony statements of support, all while continuing to act with the same indifference to action. This is where Kaepernick supporters draw much of their ire. The only tangible action has been to turn a shoulder towards making realistic strides to narrow the gap.

Also, if this the owners were really working to understand, why in the same 24-hour time span as this statement is released, one of the most influential owners in the game, Jerry Jones, stated his players will have no room for deviating from his demands of paying homage to the flag and be subject to disciplinary action? This is wildly inconsistent and a case of outright false flagging in the spirit of his message.

“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.”

Stop; here is the direct problem. ‘We’ want to honor our flag and our country’ is a one sided issue which drives back to the root of the problem: the flag stands for more than just the advertised rhetoric of what is good about the so-called ‘American way’. The flag stands for everything within the nation; as much for democracy as it does the systematic oppression, profiling and sentencing inequities which sparked the protests in the first place. Again, YOU’RE NOT LISTENING. The American experience is not the same for everybody, thus honoring a flag which symbolizes and enables the masking of these negative issues is not something everyone wants –or must— participate in. 

Kagan McLeod

Kagan McLeod

“We also care deeply for our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

Should read as: “Look, this is really annoying, so knock it off. Although I cannot tell you exactly how the professional sports league that I oversee could ever offer the type of legal and social peace needed in this country, we really don’t want you using our league as a platform to draw attention to it, and dollars away from us. So again, we see you, so stop.”

“Building on many discussions with clubs and players, we have worked to develop a plan that we will reveal to you at next week’s League meeting. This would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help promote positive change in our country. We want to ensure that any work done at the League level is consistent with the work that each club is doing in its own community, and that we can dedicate a platform that can enable these initiatives to succeed. Additionally, we will continue the unprecedented dialogue with our players.”

This part is particularly hilarious, due to the seeming inability to actually say what the actual issues are. Also, offering an ‘in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues’ is another way of saying ‘Please don’t use our most widely viewed, sought-after and sponsored outlet (also known as, ‘your games’) to draw attention to your cause. 

Also of equal importance, if you’re having ‘unprecedented dialogue’ with the players, then clearly they have informed you of what the protests are for, so why can’t you put the words together to recognize that? Would it lend too much credibility to the cause to acknowledge it is about far more than just protesting the President’s assessment of the NFL?

“I expect and look forward to a full and open discussion of these issues when we meet next week in New York. Everyone involved in the game needs to come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game, and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country. The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified. In that spirit, let’s resolve that next week we will meet this challenge in a unified and positive way.”

“Protect the game” = stop using the league to rock the social boat.

“Preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country” = stop pissing off sponsors, the boycotters who used to spend money and provide ratings and most of all, stop making Trump angry tweet at us.

The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified = The NFL is at its best when making us much money and as little negative press as possible. So get back on script.

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Call me crazy, but I don’t expect the NFL to magically be a more hospitable environment to minority causes by the time November rolls around. This struggle will continue to plague the league. for as long as it continues to fight against its member players and fanbase who see inequities in the game’s passive (and at times outright) aggressive nature towards social matters.

There will be no cooperation which takes place under the pretense of corporate, systematic or ‘best for business’ tactics. A simple protest by a handful of players has turned into a national epidemic just 14 months later. As long as the NFL, and its foremost advocate, continue to try to hush the cries of its people, the louder and more widespread they will grow. And rightfully so.

 

 

The American experience is not the same for everybody