When NFL owners voted Wednesday to implement a policy regarding protests during the playing of the national anthem, the proposal was approved by a show of hands. There were no “nay” votes, although San Francisco’s Jed York and Oakland’s Mark Davis say they abstained. Others might come forward with the same claim later.
That was as formal as it got. There was no roll call that would have put individual owners on the spot, separating them from the security of the herd. Deciding that protesters were acceptable as long as they remained unseen in the locker room was just that easy.
York later said he abstained because the players hadn’t been part of the discussion. New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson voted for the new policy, but said that any fines incurred by players who did protest in the open would be paid by the team.
Since that isn’t how it will work – the league has the right to fine the individual organizations and teams can then choose to fine the players – it isn’t clear if Johnson fully understood what he voted for, or if that’s just the way things are around the Jets.
Late in the day, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie issued an eagerly awaited statement that would certainly shed light on where his organization stood on the new policy and how it would be handled.
“I have always believed it is the responsibility of sports teams to be very proactive in our communities. In this great country of ours, there are so many people who are hurting and marginalized, which is why I am proud of our players for continuously working to influence positive change,” the statement began.
Yeah, of course. But get to the protest thing. Lurie was reportedly an advocate for the players during a New York meeting among owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell last year when all hell was breaking loose. He has said he is dedicated to the players’ constitutional rights, and, yet, he voted to help confine the First Amendment to the locker room.
“Their words and actions have demonstrated not only that they have a great deal of respect for our country,” the statement continued, “but also that they are committed to finding productive ways to fight social injustice, poverty and other societal issues that are important to all of us. We must continue to work together in creative and dynamic ways to make our communities stronger and better with equal opportunities for all.”
And? And? And nothing. That’s what it said. Lurie came out strongly in favor of good things and very powerfully against bad things. Hey, it was a tough stand, but someone had to take it.
There was no context regarding the league’s role in all that, however, on the very day its owners voted to creatively and dynamically hide all signs of protest. There was the predictable grumbling from some of the players after the new policy was approved, but most were the same players who took an $89 million payoff from the league to cool it last season. The money is earmarked for various social programs, all of which have the potential to do good, but the NFL’s motivation was solely to get the players off their knees and get theirs fists out of the air. The mission was mostly accomplished except for a few stragglers (Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins ended his protests immediately after the deal was brokered), and Wednesday’s vote merely locked the door.
Well, what of it? Did the players sell out former player Colin Kaepernick’s attempt to raise awareness that equal treatment under the law in this country is a joke? Did the owners, including well-meaning ones such as Lurie, sell out their own principles in the pursuit of keeping advertisers, sponsors, broadcast partners and fans happy? It depends on your point of view.
It was ironic that the protests were effectively muzzled on the day the film from a Milwaukee police body cam was released showing Bucks guard Sterling Brown being thrown to the ground and tased for little more than a poor parking job.
It was also the day a convicted felon was arrested in Linden, N.J. at 3:30 a.m. for allegedly threatening to kill his Uber driver and for being in possession of cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana. The guy was booked and released on his own recognizance. Because who would be more trustworthy to come back and do the right thing than Lenny Dykstra? You might feel differently, but if that incident had involved a black man in this country, his butt would not have seen the streets of Linden, N.J. that night, and I’ll book that bet every time.
There are walls of distrust that separate us, and we’ve got some people in charge who are all about building more walls. What we need are bridges instead where we can meet in the middle, or at least edge uncertainly up the on-ramps and see what happens.
What we need is our good people, on all sides, to speak up and give the dialogue more than just easy platitudes about fighting social injustice, and to finally say there is something more important than mere commerce at stake. The vacuum will be filled only with added distrust; of the guys who can’t park without being tased, of the police officers trying to do their jobs well, of the politicians who gerrymander their morals, and of the men who raise their hands in a closed room and sweep the dirt under the rug without a single “nay.”