KRAVITZ: NFL’s absurd anthem decision rates as the dumbest move in Goodell’s checkered NFL career

In this May 23, 2017, file photo, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to the media after an NFL owners meeting in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)
Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL has done some terrifyingly stupid things, especially during Roger Goodell’s comically inept reign as league commissioner, but this decision to quiet dissent and insist upon proper anthem etiquette stands as the most inept and tin-eared decision of our modern times.

What the NFL has said, without any input from the NFL Players Association, is that if you want to kneel, stay in the locker room. If you want to fight the power, want to come on the field and do something that every American has a constitutional right to do, you can be fined by Goodell and your team. All because these clowns – that would be the NFL owners – are invertebrate dolts who are scared silly by A) President Donald Trump, who many supported during his campaign, and B) the prospect of scaring away fans.

Don’t misunderstand: The NFL has a right to demand a certain type of comportment, just as the NBA had every right to establish a dress code for bench players after the Malice at the Palace. This is their business, and if they determine that their business is being diminished by the actions of employees, it’s within their purview to take action.

And it’s my right to call them out as fools.

Has anybody else noticed that these moves almost uniformly impact people of color?

Has anybody else noticed that the league is largely made up of people of color?

None of these men – or women; WNBA players, including those with the Fever, kneeled – are protesting the flag or the military or any of those things that critics conveniently affix to the national anthem. They are protesting inequality. They are protesting police brutality. They are protesting issues that largely impact black people in this country.

I can remember a very interesting conversation I had with Jerry Harkness, the former Pacer and member of the champion 1963 Loyola Ramblers basketball team. He made the point that for African-Americans, who stand on the big stage of entertainment and sports, these are the only areas available to them to state their claims on equality and other issues of social justice. That’s not to say there aren’t African-Americans in other areas of American life, but the general public is most familiar with people who are near the top of the food chain with respect to entertainment and sports.

If LeBron James makes a call for social justice, people listen.

If Chadwick Boseman makes a call for social justice, people listen.

Just the way they listened to Muhammad Ali, and Jim Brown, and John Carlos and Tommie Smith, and more recently, LeBron James and other NBA stars.

Instead, we hear, “Just shut up and dribble.’’

The NFL has made it clear: Money trumps all. The league sensed that it was losing some fans to the silent protests and responded with a mindless overreaction – again, without talking to players, without consulting the NFLPA. This is the same commissioner who, months ago, spoke of the rights of players to speak their minds, even if their approach rubbed some fans the wrong way. Now, he’s caving, caving to Trump, caving to the rabid right, caving to the NFL owners who are scared witless that their bottom lines are being impacted.

The truth is, after the early protests led by Colin Kaepernick, the hue and cry were dying down. And then the President and Vice President Mike Pence decided to turn it into political theater. Trump called protesting players "sons of bitches." Then Pence, who came to the Colts-Niners game on the day designed to celebrate Peyton Manning, theatrically walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium when some of the Niners kneeled in protest. Of course it was political: Everybody knows the Niners, whose former quarterback, Kaepernick, started this whole movement, has more kneeling players than any other team in the league. Either Pence has the worst advance team in political history or this was a giant set-up designed to rouse the base. I’ll take the latter.

The way it is supposed to work now is, players will be asked to stay in the locker room if they plan to kneel. If they take the field and knee, the offending club will be fined by the league. Then each team is free to handle kneeling players as they see fit, whether that means fines or whatever punitive action they can consider.

The NFL, in lockstep with the Buffoon-In-Chief, wants to stifle all dissent.

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence,’’ Albert Einstein said.

“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority,’’ Benjamin Franklin said.

Dissent is one of the highest forms of patriotism.

Personally, I stand. But I have no issue, none, with those who respectfully kneel for the anthem. In truth, I admire the protestors because they are fighting for what’s right, and in the end, they will be found on the right side of history while the NFL will be on the wrong side. I have my reasons for standing, they have their reasons for kneeling, and I respect them and I would hope they’d respect me.

This is America, a land that is a crazy-quilt of ethnicities and races and diversity of thought. It’s nothing short of incredible to me that we can’t possibly make room for different strains of thought, however much we disagree with them. But this is the America we live in now, an America where a president can suggest that those who don’t stand for the anthem can get up and move to another country.

Never, in the recent history of this country, have we needed loud dissent more desperately.

The ball is in the players’ court now. This is a matter of principle. I’d be shocked if the players took this laying down; or standing up, to be more accurate.

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