The Definition of Patriotism: Anthem Demonstrations and Protests in The NFL

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There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the NFL demonstrations during pre-game ceremonies this year. A few readers asked if I had an opinion on them, so I’ll weigh in.

– On Claims that Protests will Damage NFL Viewership:

Be they for anthem kneeling or anti-demonstration, anyone who claims they’ll stop watching the NFL was a fringe fan to begin with. Ratings across digital platforms have never been higher.

If anything more viewers are tuning in to NFL games just to see what all the fuss is about.

It’s just like the ratings for The O’Reilly Factor (while Bill was still on Fox News). Half of the people hate him, half love him, but everyone is there to see what he’s going to say next.

Controversy will always sell.

How many Americans actually paid attention to the anthem before these protests started last season? Have you ever stood in your living room while the stadium singer belted out The Star Spangled Banner? Most viewers turned the channel knowing they had a few minutes to spare before kickoff.

Americans tune in to watch football, not commercials and political discourse. The game takes center stage—nothing else. As long as that experience remains intact, the league has nothing to fear.

The NFL is so popular that an entire cottage industry has sprung up to cover winter workouts of kids who aren’t even in the league yet.

More Americans can name a top draft prospect than one of their state’s senators. #Facts

The National Football League is a religion in America. It’s not going anywhere.

– On Fan Reactions, “Patriotism”, and Hypocrisy:

There’s been a lot of condemnation of the players. Calls for them to be sanctioned, fired even, for not saluting the flag during the anthem.

“Firing” an NFL player, even if it were possible, makes no sense for owners. Not for something as inconsequential as a silent protest during pre-game activities. You can’t just walk out on the street and find 220-lb guys who can tackle and run like these guys do.

The skills of a professional athlete are among the rarest and most valuable in our society. There’s a reason they’re paid so handsomely.

And before you mention “loss of sponsorship” as a reason to discard a kneeling player, remember that NFL games are routinely the most popular television program every week. If one company pulls its sponsorship in response to a vocal minority, there are ten other companies ready to slide in to that slot yesterday.

How else can you convince world-renowned performers to PAY the NFL for the right to perform during the Super Bowl? The audience for marquee NFL events is unparalleled.

The First Amendment grants them the right to kneel, just as it gives you the right to disparage them for doing so.

Of course, we all bear costs for what we do. If you engage in controversial activity, expect to deal with the fallout. Americans who jump on protest bandwagons may find that out the hard way.

A common response to players doing something fans don’t like is to burn the “offending” player’s jersey. Send a message to both the player and the team.

It’s an irrational act, really, from fan(atic)s too wrapped up in their own self-importance.

Burning jerseys doesn’t harm the team. They’ve already got your money from the sale; you’re just slashing your nose to spite your face.

You may hurt the feelings of the player, but aren’t you better than that? Did he personally do anything to harm you? Let hiim live his life—he doesn’t owe you anything beyond a full effort on the field and being a decent human being off of it.

Your pyrotechnics are hypocritical as well. You’re running with your First Amendment privileges to burn a player’s uniform in effigy because he exercised his rights. Yet, you’d turn around and deny someone else that same accommodation because it doesn’t jibe with your beliefs.

Euphemisms like “safe spaces” have been shoehorned into 21st Century lexicons to impose policial correctness and suppress free expression of ideas.That’s a growing problem in America—we support free speech: as long as we agree with what you have to say.

Should you be fired from your job because your boss discovers you watch MSNBC or Fox News after hours? If you can do the job, you can do the job. To the extent that your views do not cost your organization money, you should be free to live your life outside the office as you see fit.

– On Trump Commenting on NFL Players and Demonstrations:

It’s beneath the office of president to comment on these matters with such fervor. Calling for player finings, bucking long-standing tradition by disinviting championship teams expressing conflicting opinions; it’s undignified.

Like many hypocrites—on both sides of the aisle—he’s castigating demonstrators for availing themselves of the same rights he so freely enjoys himself.

Histrionics aside, Trump remains the favorite to win the 2020 election.

And that’s not because of any landmark accomplishments in his first year in office; The other team still hasn’t learned its lesson.

Besides the natural advantages of being an incumbent—united party resources behind you, no primary competition, national inertia—the same factors that kept Hillary Clinton from winning last year remain unaddressed.

Democrats are still blaming Russian boogeymen and a flawed political system for the 2016 loss instead of looking in the mirror. Finger pointing, unfounded claims of racism, and a seemingly-never ending chorus of complaining turned American voters off. The average white bread American voter doesn’t want to be branded a racist or sexist without cause.

In an environment with a swelling tide of disenfranchised, disatisfied voters,
a candidate free from the stains of “go-along-get-along” establishment politics had a real chance to win. Paired with the kind of name recognition he brought to the table, Donald Trump’s campaign platform was one poised to upset the apple cart.

Believing she had enough electoral votes wrapped up, Clinton didn’t even bother to visit some of the swing states. Her arrogance gave Trump the opening he needed to seize the oval office and he didn’t waste the opportunity.

– On The Efficacy of NFL Demonstrations: Are We Making Any Progress?:

Like many protest movements, this one is long on ceremonial acts and short on plausible solutions.

The only way to wound the NFL is to stop buying tickets and merchandise, tuning in to games, and watching highlights on Youtube. That’s how they make their money.

Sports betting brings in the dollars as well, an open secret the NFL prefers to shove under the rug.

The farce that is “amateurism” is also a major contributor. It’s a low-cost feeder system for professional sports leagues and lines the pockets of many in and around the NFL.

If you want to break the NFL, these are the pillars you have to attack.

Good luck with that.

Let’s explore the ethos behind this particular protest movement…

Shouldn’t more people be asking whether boycotting the NFL because of racial iniquities or Colin Kaepernick not having a job is even a reasonable response? Will that actually strike a blow for civil rights or are people fooling themselves?

NFL rosters are nearly seventy percent black, most of whom epitomize the work ethic and dedication to excellence we tell our children to look up to. The rank-and-file is closer in stature to blue collar guys hustling in a 9-to-5 than those mythical 1%-ers people love to hate. Wouldn’t boycotting league activities hurt them, too? Are those the wallets we want to lighten?

Too much demagoguery, not enough critical thinking.

The problem with this anthem movement, like most demonstrations, is that the players have no specific stated goal. “Awareness” is not precise enough, nor is “starting a conversation”. Only the most dyed-in-the-wool bigots deny racism exists. Awareness is overrated. Problems don’t get solved without actionable solutions and the first step to meeting a goal is defining the target.

Open discourse helps. Shaming people in to silence does not. Activists are too quick to dismiss detractors as racists, instead of encouraging an exchange of ideas. All intellectual-dishonesty does is stunt progress. We will not get anywhere if people are afraid to speak up.

If the goal of the anthem movement is to “eliminate racism completely”, well, we can stop right there. 

As long as we live in an imperfect world, we will have imperfect people. We can chip away at the iniquities, enlightening the uninformed and ushering in a continous wave of understanding and accountability. The civil rights heroes of the pasts set an example of what can be accomplished with dedication, personal accountability, and a well-executed plan of action. Substantial progress was achieved and we no longer live in a country with government-sanctioned  discrimination and overt violent racial hostility.

Alas, the cognitive biases that lead people to lie, cheat, and steal beget sin against one’s fellow man. Racism, sexism, ageism… can’t legislate behavior. Humans are flawed and absent everyone deciding to drop their prejudices and be born anew, those behaviors aren’t going away.


“We just want to start a dialogue.”

Ok. And then what? We’ve been talking about racism since we landed a man on the moon.Talk is cheap.

Here are three steps to designing a protest movement that can stick….

1) You’ve got to identify specific problems, point out specific instances of wrongs. 

And don’t selectively edit evidence to fit a narrative. Lay out all appropriate information and allow reasonable minds to come to a conclusion.

2) Then, out the bad actors. All of them, not just the ones who fit certain stereotypes.

Political correctness has to be checked at the door.

3) Parcel out blame. 

Who did what? Why? What could have been done by everyone involved to prevent this?

Learn more about designing effective protest movements here:

Complaints of police brutality? I covered that here

When you’re in the crosshairs, the best course of action is to be polite, yet firm. Know your rights and comply with lawful orders. You don’t have to kiss the ring—as a civilian, the cops work for you, not other way around—but that’s no reason to act up. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Many cops are decent enough, just wanting to do their jobs and go home. Minimize the hassle and you might catch a break.

It’s not a rite of passage to square off with a cop, impugning his authority every step of the way, no matter how many selectively-edited videos you see on the news. What we see and hear renders lasting impact on how we think, instilling normative cues that determine how we interact with the world around us.

This is another reason why consuming too much of the wrong media is a real threat to our society, much more than NFL players kneeling during the anthem or the contents of some politician’s email server.

That’s a cause we can all get behind. 

Too many knuckleheads double-down on idiocy, turning what would have been a minor infraction into a life-altering “this-could-get-me-fired” encounter.

If I learned anything from Road Rash, it’s to make sure you can get away if you flee a traffic stop.

Treat police interactions like a flu shot: Hold still while the needle is in; endure the temporary pinch of pain; move on. Wriggling your arm during the injection can inflict serious damage.

Too many people antagonize the police, mouthing off to officers or flaunting their authority, as though their auditioning for internet fame. They think they can say and do whatever they want with no repercussions, as though free speech grants license to be a jerk.

All these political issues….we’d be better off spending time working on our own lives rather than fighting about some issue of middling importance. How much does some dude sitting on a sideline actually affect your daily life? Or what some politician says about [insert your favorite controversial hot potato] to rile up his fan base? Is publishing another angry comment on the internet going to solve the problem?

We fill the emptiness in our lives with television, or music, or fretting over the latest news to hit our feed. When we turn our attention inward, the silence can be deafening. Many of us struggle being alone with our thoughts, so we fill that space with media, controlled by entities who are all too ready to control that real estate.

Free Parking - Monopoly

This is what a mind without boundaries and direction looks like.

You can make a ton of headway if you behave rationally in a world increasingly-designed to distract, addict, and disorient. Know when to expend effort on issues that really matter and when to hit the “off” button.

Need help with a problem or goal?  Click here to learn more.

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