SuperBowl 51: Falcons vs. Patriots
By Luz Gonzalez
Is it that simple, having to choose between respecting the national anthem of the United States or watching NFL football? This is a long piece, written at an appropriate time, and while the face might be the NFL, it is a topic which is relevant to all sectors of American society. Conversation: NFL.
Yes, it is time for Americans to have a conversation about social justice, a topic that most often gets conflated with a liberal agenda, or an opportunity for someone to be called a “snowflake” or to be told to “buckle-up buttercup”. It is not. Justice reform is a nonpartisan issue and affects all groups of Americans – owners, players, fans, sponsors, advertisers, residents – as well as international audiences, immigrants, and future generations. Assuredly the topic is one of impact across all.
Colin Kaepernick is the undisputed face of the 2016-2017 NFL player protest to the national anthem. His rally cry is the oft mentioned theme – in the deep corridors of university sociology departments all over the country – social justice. Certainly, it is not a new phenomenon or complaint in society. Intentional starvation genocide, water crises that affect 2.8 billion people a year, extreme and hypocritical nationalism, the complexities of demanding religious liberty while practicing religious persecution, methodical widespread homegrown and immigrated violence, and an exploitive systemic and divisive ideology, as well as physical segregation between races and ethnicities, beats at the borders of all countries. Hefty topics which seem light years away from the entertainment venue of the NFL. Not in year 2016.
The Players Protest. The Owners Remain Largely Silent. The Coaches Are Concerned About Team Divisiveness. The League Demonstrates Inconsistency.
The NFL national anthem controversy might be caused by a lack of foresight by the NFL (after all they instituted a “new and revised” Personal Player Conduct Policy in 2014, why wasn’t it included), a lack of priorities by the owners (Dallas Owner Jerry Jones implemented strict rules for Dez Bryant, why is a team rule for the anthem less important), an overabundance of rules and regulations impacting players to the suffocating point (Drew Brees has zero trust in the NFL rules violation review procedures), a misunderstanding of the connection between the national anthem and social injustice (it seems like punishing the anthem is exactly the complaint the protesting players are offended by, being targeted for something they did not do), a hypocritical childishness by some fans (so many are currently saying supporting the NFL or Lady Gaga is tantamount to criticizing Trump), or a combination of some or all.
In part, the NFL Personal Conduct Policy states:
“It is a privilege to be part of the National Football League. Anyone that is part of the league must refrain from conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL. This includes owners, coaches, players, other team employees, game officials, and employees of the league office, NFL Films, NFL Network or any other NFL business. Conduct by anyone in the league that is illegal, violent, dangerous, or irresponsible puts innocent victims at risk, damages the reputation of others in the game, and undercuts public respect and support for the NFL. We must endeavor always to be people of high character; we must show respect for others inside and outside our workplace; and we must strive to conduct ourselves in ways that favorable reflect on ourselves, our teams, the communities we represent, and the NFL. . . .”
For many fans, the policy clearly encompasses, albeit loosely (the NBA has a strict rule about appropriate player conduct during the anthem), a need to respect the anthem. We can argue ad infinitum whether something as absolute as respect for the anthem needs to be “codified” or that the players need to be forced to stand by threats vice standing as a token of pride in country, but the fact is the vast majority of NFL players and all coaches stand for the national anthem. These are the players who have sat, taken a knee, or raised a fist this NFL season.
Al Woods (DT Titans 3-yr contract $10.5M) – Fist; Antoine Bethea (SS 49ers 4-yr contract $21M) – Knee/Fist; Antonio Cromartie (CB Colts, 1-yr $2M, released on October 4 after playing just 4 games) – Knee/Fist; Arian Foster (WR Dolphins 1-yr contract $1.5M, retired on October 24, 2016) – Knee; Brandon Marshall (ILB Broncos 4-yr contract $32M) – Knee; Bruce Irvin (OLB Raiders 4-yr contract $37M) – Fist; Chris Hairston (LT Chargers 2-yr contract $2.9M) – Fist; Colin Kaepernick (QB 49ers 6-yr contract $114M) – Knee; Dante Fowler Jr. (OLB Jaguars 4-yr contract $23.4M) – Fist; Daquan Jones (DE Titans 4-yr contract $2.6M) – Fist; Denard Robinson (RB Jaguars 4-yr contract $2.3M) – Fist; DeSean Jackson (WR Redskins 4-yr contract $24M) – Fist; Devin McCourty (S Patriots 5-yr contract $47.5M) – Fist; D.J. Fluker (G Chargers 4-yr contract $11.4M) – Fist; Duane Brown (LT Texans 6-yr contract $53.4M) – Fist; Eli Harold (L 49ers 4-yr contract $3M) – Knee/Fist; Eric Reid (FS 49ers 4-yr contract $8.4M) – Knee; Greg Toler (CB Redskins 1-yr contract $885,000) – Fist; Hayes Pullard (ILB Jagurars 4-yr contract $2.28M) – Fist; Jaquiski Tartt (FS 49ers 4 yr contract $5M) – Knee/Fist; Jared Odrick (DE Jaguars 5-yr contract $42.5M) – Fist; Jason McCourty (CB Titans 6-yr contract $43M) – Fist; Jeremy Lane (CB Seahawks 4-yr contract $23M) – Sat during preseason; Joe Barksdale (RT Chargers 4-yr contract $22.2M – Fist; Joshua Perry (LB Chargers 4-yr contract $2.9 M) – Fist; Jurrell Casey (DE Titans 4-yr contract $36M) – Fist; Keith Reaser (CB 49ers 4-yr contract $2.3M) – Fist; Kenny Britt (WR Rams 2-yr contract $9.1M) – First; Kenny Stills (WR Dolphins 4-yr contract $2.35M) – Knee; King Dunlap (LT Chargers 4-yr contract $28M) – First; Malcolm Jenkins (FS Eagles 4-yr contract $35M) – Fist; Marcus Ball (FS Panthers 1-yr $510,000, now with 49ers) – Fist; Marcus Peters (CB Chiefs 4-yr $510,000, now with 49ers) – Fist; Marcus Smith (OLB Eagles 4-yr contract $7.79M) – Fist; Martellus Bennett (TE Patriots 4-yr contract $20.4M) – Fist; Michael Thomas (FS Dolphins 1-yr contract $675,000) – Knee; Mike Davis (RB 49ers 4-yr contract $2.7M) – Fist; Mike Evans (WR Buccaneers 2-yr contract $3.3M) – Knee; Nate Palmer (ILB Titans 4-yr contract $2.2M) – Fist; Niles Paul (TE Redskins 3-yr contract $6M) – Fist; Perrish Cox (CB Titans 3-yr contract $15M) – Fist; Rashard Robinson (CB 49ers 4-yr contract $2.7M) – Knee/Fist; Rashad Ross (WR Redskins 2-yr contract $960,000) – Fist; Robert Quinn (CE Rams 4-yr contract $57M) – Fist; Ron Brooks (CB Eagles 3-yr contract $5.5M) – Fist; Steven Means (DE Eagles 3-yr contract $1.8M) – Fist; T.J. Ward (SS Broncos 4-yr contract $22.5M) – Fist; Telvin Smith (OLB Jaguars 4-yr contract $2.4M) – Fist; Tyreek Burwell (T Chargers 3-yr contract $1.57M) – Fist; Wesley Woodyard (ILB Titans 4-yr contract $15.7M) – Fist; Williams Hayes (DE Rams 3-yr contract $17.5M) – Fist
Some of the protesting players have chosen to let their actions speak for them. Others have given a more detailed explanation as to why they have taken a knee or raised a fist during or after the playing of the national anthem at the NFL game, and others have spoken out as to why they find such an action unacceptable.
As the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles this is what Doug Pederson had to say:
“If they want to do something teamwide [protest], I’d definitely be for that. I think it just shows unity and there’s no division that way. I think it sends a great message, from our stand point. We love this country and what it represents and the flag and the national anthem and everything. Listen, we’re not perfect, obviously, and for us to stand sort of united that way, I’d be OK for that.”
As a player of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Michael Evans voiced his concerns clearly:
“I don’t want to, you, disrespect the veterans or anything. The men and women who serve this country, I’m forever indebted to them. But the things that’s been going on in America lately, I’m not going to stand for that. When Ashton Kutcher comes out and says we’ve been punked, then I’ll stand again.
“If this happens [Trump election], then America’s not right, right now. I said this a long time ago. When [Trump] ran, I thought it was a joke, and the joke continues. I’m not a political person that much, but I got common sense. And I know when something’s not right.”
As a player of the Baltimore Ravens perhaps Ben Watson’s voice represents many in the NFL:
“Before competition, as I stand in shoulder pads and cleats, my helmet in my left hand, adrenaline flowing and my heart raging under my right, I never forget the ills of America but for a moment I envision its potential, remember its prosperity and give thanks to God for the land He has place me in and the people I love who live in it.
“I stand, because this mixed bag of evil and good is MY home. And because it’s MY home my standing is a pledge to continue the fight against all injustice and preserve the greatest attributes of the country, including Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel.”
As the face of the protests for many, these are the words of Broncos Brandon Marshall:
“I’m not against the police. I’m not against the military. I’m not against America. I’m against social injustice. This movement is something special. People are going to bash me on social media but at the end of the day I’m going to go home and sleep peacefully knowing what I did was right. I will not lose any sleep.
“On Thursday, Sept. 8, I took a knee for the National Anthem to take a stand against social injustice. My intent was not to offend anyone but rather to simply raise awareness and create some dialogue toward affecting positive change in our communities. In the last week, I’ve had a lot of productive conversations with people I respect, including Chief White of the Denver Police Department. I really appreciate all of them taking the time to listen to me and offer some insight and feedback on ways we can all make a difference. I’ve also had a lot to time to personally reflect on important issues such as race and gender equality, the treatment of our military veterans, our relationship with law enforcement, educational opportunities for our youth, and many more. I recognize and applaud the significant progress that has been made in these areas made possible only through the hard work of so many dedicated leaders. But, it’s clear there is so much more work to be done by all of us. Together, we all need to Stand Up for change. This starts with me. My work with the Rose Andom Center to stop domestic violence is fulfilling and close to my heart. But I need to do more. I plan to be involved with several other organizations that benefit the Denver community and others through the services, awareness and funds they provide for these critical social issues. And I will donate $300 for every tackle I make this season to those programs. You can track these contributions on social media through #TackleChange. I’m truly grateful for the support I’ve received from so many people, especially my teammates. I look forward to preparing with them and focusing on an important game Sunday against the Colts.”
[when talking about an incident that occurred in Miami’s Bayside Marketplace when shots were fired] “I start walking to the exit I know. And there’s a lady in street clothes telling me to go a certain way, but I went my way. She starts yelling, stop him! I’m walking and the police come, and I turn around and about five of them rush me. They grab me and they’re trying to wrestle me and take me to the ground. I’m standing my ground because I didn’t do anything; not fighting, but not laying down.
“A cop pulls his Taser out, they push me up against the wall and they handcuff me and they were going to take me in for resisting arrest but they eventually let me go. So they’re looking for a suspect, and some lady yells at me, and that’s enough to tackle me?”
[after ending his protest] “For the 1st half of the season, I’ve been taking a knee for the National Anthem to raise awareness for social injustice and to start conversation about what all of us can do to make positive change. I’m encouraged with the many productive discussions and progress that has taken place as the Denver Police department has decided to review its use of force policy. I’m proud to have joined so many of my peers throughout sports who’ve also made their own statements.
“Going forward, I will be standing for the National Anthem – not because everything is perfect, or because I’m changing my stance on things. But because of my hope for what we can become. Just because I am standing doesn’t mean the work will end. There’s much work to be done. I’ll continue to recognize and support organizations that are stepping up as leaders and making a real difference in our community, and I will do my part to be there for those in need.”
As a player for the Green Bay Packers, these are the feelings of Aaron Rodgers about the flag and when he hears the national anthem being played:
“To me, the flag represents the greatest ideals of the United States of America, not the worst. But different people look at different things and have different feelings about it. That’s what freedom of expression is all about.
“It provides me a moment where I like to reflect and give thanks for the opportunity to do what I’m doing, to be out on the field. I think about the men and women who served proudly and died in wars for that flag to be flown. I think about the men and women in uniform right now who are out there protecting our freedom. I’m filled with a lot of thanks and pride in those people.”
As a retired Admiral and former head of U.S. Special Operations Command, and now Chancellor of the University of Texas system, this is what Bill McRaven said in response to the protests:
“While no one should be compelled to stand, they should recognize that by sitting in protest to the flag they are disrespecting everyone who sacrificed to make this country what it is today – as imperfect as it might be.
“Those that believe the flag represents oppression should remember all the Americans who fought to eliminate bigotry, racism, sexism, imperialism, communism and terrorism.
[Further] “I spent 37 years defending freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Nothing is more important to this democracy. Nothing! However, while no one should be compelled to stand, they should recognize that by sitting in protest to the flag they are disrespecting everyone who sacrificed to make this country what it is today – – as imperfect as it might be.”
He also said that honoring the flag “is our collective commitment that we will constantly attempt to get better as a nation, to improve as a people, and to use the freedoms we have been given to make the earth a better place.”
Understanding NFL Policy
Natalie Perez-Smith a 20-year Buffalo police office, detective in the department’s Sex Offense Squad specializing in domestic violence, and married to former NFL player for the Buffalo Bills Leonard Smith, believes the NFL conduct policy is all over the place.
“Smoking weed or treating your wife like a slave should not be handled in the same way.”
In the past 9 years, since Goodell became Commission in 2006, there have been approximately 1,673 suspensions or fines as a result of on-the-field actions, team rules violations, substance violations (use of performance enhancing drugs and other), or personal conduct violations.
There are give or take 1,856 players in the NFL. At the rate of the offenses, even though some players are repeat offenders, it is estimated 9.6% of the NFL population is involved. A Wall Street Journal report of 2015 stipulated that on average 30% of Americans have a police record. Consequently, by that standard the NFL has a better reputation than the general public.
For players protesting the national anthem as a means to bring light on a topic, which has largely been miscommunicated to the public as an anti-police issue but is more a criminal justice issue, statistics are on their side.
11 million people cycle through American jails each year. Blacks make up roughly 13% of the U.S. population but 40% of the prison population. Blacks are 5-7 times more likely to be incarcerated for the same crime as a white person. FACT.
Meanwhile, police experience the deaths of over 135 police, with 40-50 killed by being shot, strangled or beaten to death, each year. The Dallas attack this year was the deadliest on police officers since 9/11.
Police everyday have to answer calls about drunk boyfriends, daughters that are 4 hours late from school, businesses that have been robbed, a drunk driver that has killed someone, a child that has been abducted, someone that has been stabbed, a child that was accidently locked in a car by their parent, a child that fell into an unguarded swimming pool, someone who has had their tire slashed, someone who needs help with a disabled car, or the dreaded domestic violence home call, as well as many other. There are approximately 240 million emergency calls made to 9-1-1 each year, to the approximately 18,000 police departments that employ an estimated 1.1 million patrol officers. What they do isn’t play, and it’s not once a week, for a few months. FACT.
Protests and the Effect on the League
The league has seen its lowest ratings in seven years and Colin Kaepernick and the national anthem protests are suspected of being the reason why.
Meanwhile, before the protests the NFL was projected to make over $13.3 billion, yes billion, in revenue this year. That is up more than 50% from 2010, all under NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s tenure. The majority of the revenue, approximately 66%, comes almost exclusively from television rights and deals, and is split evenly between the 32 teams. The other third comes from sponsors.
Also adding complexity to the conversation, is the knowledge that the average man or woman serving in the U.S. armed forces makes an approximate $32,665 (not including benefits); the average American worker makes an approx. $48,098; the average police officer $53,029; the average NFL player $1.9M; the average NFL coach $7M; and the average NFL owner has a net worth of $3.3B.
Perhaps Ed Morrissey of HotAir.com might have summarized national sentiment regarding the protests best when he said:
“When sports become another politicized arena for multi-millionaires to lecture the fans that provide their celebrity lifestyle, it comes as no surprise that fans will get turned off – and turn the channel.”
Understanding Social Justice
Merriam Webster defines social justice as “a state or doctrine of egalitarianism” [all humans are equal and deserving of equal in fundamental worth or social status]. For the Oxford Dictionary it is defined as “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society”. For dictionary.com it is defined as “the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society.” In the business dictionary it is defined as “the fair and proper administration of laws conforming to the natural law that all persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc., are to be treated equally and without prejudice.” Meanwhile, in the medical dictionary it is defined as “an interactive process whereby members of a community are concerned for the equality and rights of all.” For the religion dictionary social justice is defined as “a modern development of the idea of justice which gives individuals specific rights such as the right to education or health as opposed to older concepts of justice which simply guaranteed equality before the law.” Finally, the urban dictionary defines social justice as “promoting tolerance, freedom, and equality of all people regardless of race, sex, orientation with the added ‘In the name of social justice, check your privilege’”
Obviously, there has been an evolution in the meaning of social justice, with it still remaining varied in comprehension and understanding. Perhaps there is where the conversation must first begin – What does social justice mean? And, will we ever be able to agree on its meaning?
How to achieve social justice is surely a life-long, through the centuries, endeavor. No society will ever be perfect, no family will ever be perfect, no situation will ever be perfect. Seeking perfection is not the answer, but working on being the best one can be is a noble and worthwhile mission.
Let’s be frank. There are many that believe we don’t need social justice, that it’s largely a psycho-socio word in a world gone gaga for pretentiousness of purpose rather than the hard work of action. More times than not members of certain groups refer to it as being “hipster speak” or “hippie speak” or “feel sorry for myself speak” or “kumbaya speak” or “occupy Wall Street speak”.
When did the term evolve from social teaching (learning behaviors to being a better person) to social justice (demanding behaviors of better people)? In society, civilization requires a combination of both.
Celebrating the Positive
It’s almost time for SuperBowl #51. Let’s do it. Let’s come together as Americans, as charitable organizations, as civic minded public servants, as giving and caring individuals, to do better. In the meantime, leave the flag and the national anthem out of the negativity of purpose. For America, they represent the best of what we hope and claim to be.
I’ll be watching. I’ll also be calling on all the players to stand for the national anthem. But, mostly, I’ll be engaged in the ongoing conversation. That’s the choice. Be part of the conversation and solution or not.