For anyone who thought NFL players creating awareness by protesting a specific situation– the killing of young black men by police officers that seemed almost epidemic in 2016– in this country could be ‘fixed’ by executive fiat and fines, there’s going to be a long period of trepidation before the first pre-season game.
For starters, there’s that First Amendment (freedom of speech) thing, and if the Founding Fathers decided to put it atop the amendment list ahead of possessing firearms, it probably deserves real consideration. The chances all 53 members of every team will 100-percent agree on a choice between staying in the locker room OR standing at attention during the anthem is slim, and slapping that on the table without any input from NFLPA was a move that’s unlikely to produce lock-step acceptance. Many factors can cause regular people to hide their feelings, *demanding* they do it OR ELSE is another thing.
As recently acquired wide receiver Torrey Smith of the Panthers put it:
“The whole reason guys were protesting was to draw awareness to something. To take that away and be, ‘Hey, don’t do that anymore,’ like you’re anti-American or something like people try to paint – it is very frustrating to continue to see that false narrative.”
That the opportunity to play professional sports is a fairly limited one is obvious, and every player who has taken a knee to protest like Colin Kaepernick did knows they were doing something that would certainly be unpopular or have negative effects. Especially for players with ‘short resumes’, the choice between possibly sticking somewhere or putting it on the line and going back to a less glorious job seemed a no-brainer.
The Panthers brought Torrey Smith to Carolina because he is a fast, experienced receiver and while they might not have known his outlook before, he has both abilities and rights. Don’t count on Coach Ron Rivera – who has a very strong military background in his family – to put Smith back on the market for being outspoken. Communication, probably privately, produces understanding the vast majority of the time, and Rivera has a reputation for being a ‘players coach’.
For the record, veteran defensive end, Julius Peppers, was the only Carolina Panthers player to remain in the locker room during the national anthem last year.
What they’re NOT doing is disrespecting the flag or U.S. military, and Smith isn’t only one who is frustrated about how that false narrative has eclipsed the original intention of personal, *silent* protesting. Even Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villaneuva, admitted he was embarrassed about not being with his teammates in the locker room. Many felt he was standing tall because of his service as a Ranger in Afghanistan, but the Steelers understood he missed the boat on staying in locker room, not that he was trying to show anyone up.
President Trump recently dis-invited the NFL champion Eagles– of which Smith was a part last year– to the White House because many players publicly stated intentions not to attend. Several teams have stated similar feelings about the trip to White House situation – including the 2017 NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Protesting via civil disobedience is going to happen – in Charlotte and elsewhere – not just as a knee jerk response, but with a strengthening of resolve: “This was mostly over, but…” in Smith’s words. How new Panthers owner David Tepper reacts to any protesting – as both he and the Panthers organization are strongly involved in community service – will probably involve a meeting of the minds. New York Jets co-owner Christopher Johnson seems to have the best grip on protesting, stating he will pay any fines for players who kneel, because the prohibition was instituted without NFLPA coordination.
For fans throughout the NFL, its doubtful booing those who stand, stay in locker rooms, or kneel will affect them, and Kaepernick might well win a ton of money on the alleged collusion of owners to keep him unemployed, when someone like a (retired) Jay Cutler became the Dolphins quarterback at $10M for a sub-par effort.
If President Trump continues to amp the protesting situation, or somehow counts on owners to bench/cut players based on a specious factor that infringes on their team’s ability to win football games, that will show just how far anyone, including Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is willing to go to– well, KNEEL— to his interpretation of events.