Where baseball may be America's national pastime, football is America's national obsession. Except that the borderline addiction to the entertainment schedule offered by its professional version may have many people creating NFL Anonymous groups.
Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, recently decided - after what seemed like 5 years when it is actually just over 2 years - on the issue of their players kneeling during the national anthem. The Shield
Never mind that a Black NFL player should have every right to kneel in public protest to draw attention to the countless atrocities carried out every day in America on the African-American community. The fact that his First Amendment rights are being violated by the NFL in this move smacks as something more serious than an insult. Yes, I know that "Congress shall make no law" against the right to "assemble peaceably", but that doesn't excuse or prohibit from making their own law those individuals who are clearly ignorant (or unsympathetic, apathetic, or vehemently opposed) to the plight of the Black NFL player, past and present.
Never mind that the issue was ramping down and not much of a driving sentiment. Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid - former teammates on the San Francisco 49ers and the Batman-and-Robin-like duo who spearheaded the push to protest during each pre-game anthem - made it known that they will stand for the anthem if a team happens to be willing to utilize their above-average talents...which still has not occurred. The NFL in their decision has re-awakened the beast with several players, who had no designs to protest during the upcoming season, seriously considering some method of peaceful assembly.
This creates a conundrum for the players who feel so strongly about what is still happening in communities they were raised or represent with their teams. And with the increase of frivolous phone calls by Caucasian citizens to the police on phantom or nonexistent infractions by African-Americans, this is becoming even more tenuous of a situation for all involved...more importantly for the ones hurt the most: African-Americans.
And since no Black person is safe, including professional athletes such as Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks, someone needs to jump behind the wheel and continue driving home this caravan of an issue. Except we don't know where "home" for this issue is and what it looks like if/when we get there.
Meanwhile, the conundrum is further exacerbated by this "stay in the locker room" rule. It's far worse than "Shut up and play". Matter of fact, it's the worst of Catch-22s one can devise for athletes of color. Stand on the field to "respect" the flag, and the issue is easily forgotten by everyone not even indirectly impacted, and the conscience of Black NFL players is unbelievably troubled. Stay in the locker room, and the questions will arise: Is he in the bathroom? Is he at the snack bar? Or is he "disrespecting" the flag, veterans, police, and anyone or anything else that can be considered fair game?
It's a no-win situation for Black (and, in a similar vein, Latino) NFL players. It can't be fun to take a stand against a wave of inherent entitlement and selective patriotism by Caucasian fans, NFL owners, coaches, and sports commentators, suggesting that systematic subjugation and forced patriotism - stand on the field or else - is some productive or successful way of working through the issue. It surely makes those wrap-around hugs that Goodell pines for at the NFL draft appear a little less ingenuous. I mean, if you can hug somebody, why would you honestly cause them to feel less deserving of one? Or is the hug simply the formal welcome to yet another form of societal control? We pay your multi-million dollar salary, so...stand on the field, or else...
Those watching the games in person or on the preferred cable package also face a choice that could affect the trajectory of their autumn Sundays. The choice: watch games filled with conflicted, socially at-risk Black NFL players or not watch at all and fill time with car washes, shopping with the wife/girlfriend, or transferring "church" membership from one with PSLs (personal seat licenses) to one with B-I-B-L-Es.
Here is the reality we face with this new decision. However, I would like to offer a potential reality that makes more sense than the one we see now. This reality can potentially shift the balance of power from the conglomerate to the common-sense consensus. This new reality can be summed up in this one not-intended-to-be-catchy phrase:
Money talks and activism walks.
What the American public at large must accept is the fact that the NFL is a business...a corporation no different than United Airlines, Denny's, and Abercrombie & Fitch. (These were chosen for an obvious reason.) No wonder the 32 teams that make up the NFL are referred to as "franchises". When I hear that word, my mind gravitates to McDonald's, the franchise-making titan. Very little differentiation between the outposts in what they offer, independent only in the internal makeup of the staff, and usually mostly holding to the corporate company line...no matter how nonsensical, illogical, or on-the-wrong-side-of-history the line may be.
What we do know about corporations is that it only takes the worst of scandals to shake it to its core, similar to Enron, Bernie Madoff, and, more recently, Uber. And the NFL is flirting dangerously with a similar fate...if it realizes how the new "stay-in-the-locker-room-then-shut-up-and-play" rule is going to possibly blow up in their faces like opening a Pepsi can agitated in a Maytag washer.
If domestic violence (Ray Rice), CTE and player safety (Will Smith in Concussion), and ethnically offensive team names (Washington Redskins) were not enough to force sensible action, squashing players' 1st Amendment rights to protest police brutality against African-Americans should qualify as a constitutional crisis - and I'm speaking about the NFL Constitution - that would be bad for business. And whenever race impacts business to the point of swaying public opinion and standing legislation, race usually gets the upper hand. Just ask Sambo's.
So what gets a corporation's attention in these situations? The O'Jays don't call it The Almighty Dollar for nothing. And that is where the players have an opportunity to impact that bottom line to help the Commissioner and the 32 team owners (his bosses) to rue the day that they unofficially-yet-officially decided to sidestep a more effective approach to the matter, be unduly influenced by the U.S. President, and leave the players out of the process altogether yet leave them chafing under it.
And what is the opportunity for the players? To do one thing, and one thing only when the flag is being held by servicemen at midfield, and the soloist prepares to sound the first note in the first stanza of Francis Scott Key's ode to America:
The players should stand* for the anthem. (Note the asterisk.)
My suggestion is more symbolic and hopefully disarming to all who choose to stand on the negative side of the issue, transmogrify the narrative, and redefine the intent of the protest in the social stratosphere from police brutality to disrespecting law enforcement and the military.
My recommendation is to stand* for the anthem...with the right hand over the heart, the left hand held high in a fist, a blindfold inside of the fist, and a silent prayer on the lips.
- The right hand symbolizes love of country and respect for those men and women who sacrificed their lives for the rights - as well as the security - we enjoy as American citizens.
- The left hand in a fist symbolizes power and value not yet fully realized, being the proverbial "awkward" or "weaker" hand.
- The blindfold inside of the fist represents the ideals of justice and equal protection under the law (per the 14th Amendment) to which people of color desperate cling and hold fast. If justice is blind, then it is that justice being sought.
- The lips - similar to Hannah, the mother of the great Biblical prophet and judge, Samuel - are in motion, verbalizing an inaudible prayer for not only the soul of the country, or the integrity and the heart of the NFL, but for the safety of every athlete of color on a professional football field that week.
The reality of the matter is that, for the athletes of color, it could very well be their last game - not due to what will happen on the gridiron that afternoon, but on account of what might happen on the streets that evening. There is no guarantee that they won't be the next victim of blatant and discriminate roguery by an alleged "peace" officer. Celebrity status, affluence, or game-saving catch matters nothing. Standing* matters...
So this stand* will serve as a referendum on the true meaning of patriotism. When folks who stood in line to buy a $10 beer during the "rocket's red glare" walk back to the seat only to hear about a Pro Bowl player who didn't walk through the line of cheerleaders and tunnel of smoke, the question is not who is the bigger patriot, but whose stand is going to qualitatively help our country from Pennsylvania Avenue to Crenshaw Avenue in the long run.
So all athletes should stand* proudly for the country, their communities, and everybody in between. And what can someone say in protest to this stand*? That they disrespected the flag? Their hands were over their hearts honoring it. That they picked the wrong time to protest? They picked that time to pray sincerely for a peaceful resolution to this issue...just as their protest was peaceful. That they were race-baiting? They simply appealed to the law of the land in their quest for justice. In effect, this stand addresses and nullifies any argument against it. Just as the flag is a lasting symbol of what our country represents, this stand* is a rising symbol of what these athletes' communities need.
As apropros as this can get, I'll end with some choice lyrics written and sung by Sly Stone and his Family Stone back in 1969...from the title track of the album, Stand!, a record that directly addressed racial tensions in our country almost 50 years ago:
For the things you know are right
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight
You've been sitting much too long
There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong
There's a midget standing tall
And the giant beside him about to fall
And 49 years later, the need to stand still exists, even in every NFL stadium. But the stand just needs to be punctuated on the field, in the stands, and across our land...with countless asterisks.