I’m sure they are mightily proud of themselves, these athletes choosing to vent their frustrations through derision of the nation and its symbols.
For the record, all pampered millionaires are free to register whatever distaste they wish for America or any president of their choosing, on their own time. But every pipe-fitter, office clerk and burger-flipper knows that they are not free to spout off when they are on the clock.
The NFL sideline protests of some players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem are in no way a free speech issue. Players are free to sling political and cultural venom in a variety of ways — through media interviews, Twitter posts or any method that meets the approval of the profession that has made them rich.
That means the NFL and its various teams are indeed free to permit employees to insult millions of Americans by showing intentional disrespect to the nation’s flag and anthem. So what we have here is not a matter of constitutional rights, but a battle over what is right.
A smattering of NFL malcontents has seen fit to register concerns about racial disparities in policing by displaying contempt for the patriotic displays that unify fans of every type even amid challenging times, if only for one minute.
When President Donald Trump called them out for this outrageous overstep, NFL culture revealed itself in a convulsion of self-absorbed disapproval. Large numbers of athletes dropped to one knee on Sunday, joined by the occasional owner and a commissioner who scolded the president for daring to take issue with the players’ decision to protest in a manner discordant with the majority of fans.
So, for those keeping track, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will tarry at length in cases of players beating women, but reacts with lightning reflexes if a president suggests he needs to restrain players from maligning America.
So that we can have clarity on who is engaged in “divisiveness,” it is players who have chosen to denigrate a national ritual, not the voices objecting when they do. The dividers are the NBA athletes who refused an invitation to the White House because they hate the president, not the president who suggests they stay home.
If the concept of dividing is being misdefined, so is the concept of unifying. Sunday’s widespread kneeling was referred to as “unity,” when a majority of players did not participate. The kneelers surely unified with the like-minded, but one presumes there were players who were embarrassed by the entire spectacle. I would like to announce my unity with them, and with one player in particular.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers idiotically chose to remain in the locker room for the anthem before their game in Chicago, lineman Alejandro Villanueva emerged from the tunnel. This former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan did not visibly take a position on the sideline, but stood where he could at least see the flag he fought for and salute it. One wonders if any of his teammates felt stripped of their right to show respect for America because their team had chosen to cave to agitators.
Fans across America are choosing to ignore an NFL that does not care to compel a mere 60 seconds of respect from players. Not just respect for the flag; how about respect for the fans who are mortified by this insolence? How about fellow players like Villanueva, whose service they spit on with every knee taken?
But the protesting players care not one bit about things like that, as long as everyone knows how twisted off they are about Trump and policing issues.
The sad irony is that the vast majority of fans would be more than tolerant of the players’ views on both of those subjects if their method of expression did not involve gestures that disparage the nation they should thank for their blessings.
Mark Davis is a radio host and frequent contributor to The Dallas Morning News.