It is axiomatic that National Football League players should stand respectfully as the national anthem is played before their games. I say this not as a political or moral judgment on their actions but as a simple observation about their self-interest.
If the players continue their protests, it will not be long before they find themselves plying other trades at severely reduced wages.
That may already be inevitable, given the destruction the concussion problem has already inflicted on the game, but there’s no need to rush into it. The NFL protests are the economic equivalent of throwing into double coverage.
NFL players certainly have the legal right to protest in their abundant free time or even during games if they want to offend their audiences.
That is not in dispute. It is also indisputable that the United States is and has always been imperfect. Whether the national anthem at football games is the proper forum at which to address the nation’s problems is the question here. To ask the question is to answer it, given the blatant absurdity of the notion.
The TV networks and sports reporters drummed up this issue. Immediately after second-string quarterback Colin Kaepernick first kneeled during the national anthem last year in protest of police shootings of civilians, the press disgorged a flood of chatter suffused with praise for Kaepernick’s “courage.” The prospect of adulation from the communists and other assorted weirdos who constitute the nation’s mainstream press became catnip for other players.
There is news value in conflict, and sportswriters crave attention and approbation for their work as a serious pursuit, which of course it is not. Not for nothing do other journalists refer to the sports desk as the toy department.
As hundreds of other players joined the protest, the NFL’s customers — ticket holders and TV audiences — expressed increasing dismay and displeasure.
President Donald Trump went to the heart of the matter by stressing that the players were showing a lack of respect for the nation’s flag.
That concentrated the public’s attention on the protests as a display of contempt for the nation itself, for which the flag is a universally acknowledged symbol.
Regardless of whether they intended it or even realized it, the players were broadcasting the opinion that the United States does not merit their respect.
Thus the public was not mollified when the players and their media puppeteers argued that the protests were intended only to call attention to legitimate grievances.
The NFL’s TV ratings for the first five weeks of the season were more than 7 percent below last year’s numbers and 18 percent below 2015 figures.
Fans in the stadiums have been booing the protesters during the anthem and even during prayers. Reports of thousands of stadium seats remaining empty at kickoff time have become common.
Having drummed up the protests in the first place, the networks recently stopped showing them, hoping to reverse the audience erosion and consequent dissipation of their profit margins.
In a letter to all 32 teams, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated, “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem.”
In addition, the league’s rules require it. The NFL policy manual specifies the option of fines, suspensions, and the forfeiture of draft choices for violations of the policy that “players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag,” and show respect during the anthem. Despite Goodell’s entreaties, several players have continued the protests and many have linked arms as a half-measure.
Should the gestures end soon, the league’s customers will forgive and forget this contretemps. The players have a right to continue or end their protest — which they likely will do when they encounter the prospect of significantly lower-paying labor in other economic sectors.
S.T. Karnick is a research fellow and the publications director for The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank in Arlington Heights, Ill. Readers may write him at Heartland, 3939 N. Wilke Road, Arlington Heights, Ill., 60004, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.