Another season, another 65,184 people standing, two people are kneeling, and another series of presidential tweets are chirping. Just hours before the first kickoffs on the first Sunday of the NFL’s regular season, President Donald Trump again called for players to stand for the national anthem.
“Wow, NFL first game ratings are way down over an already really bad last year comparison,” he tweeted. “Viewership declined 13%, the lowest in over a decade. If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back? Otherwise worse!”
Kenny Stills and Albert Wilsons, NFL players from the Miami Dolphins, were the only two to kneel during the national anthem carrying on what Colin Kaepernick started a year ago. A year in which the NFL has become an expanding front in the Republicans culture war to thwart their Democratic opponents, put a pin in that.
Let’s go back in time a year, when Kaepernick first kneeled in a peaceful protest against police brutality toward African Americans. He expressed his American right to do so based on of the first amendment, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” an excerpt from the US constitution. Trump in turn transformed Kaepernick’s protest into a political scheme hiding the initial issue at hand and yelling his presidential decrees in under 250 characters from the White House.
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect….,” this was Trump’s first tweet after the protest, turning the tables toward “respect” rather than the issue being protested.
Those living outside the US might not realize the full extent of the turmoil this caused because, when players first started to kneel people acted like the sanctity of the NFL had been blasphemed. To the country football is a national identity it’s been ingrained into every concept that is American. So, comparing NFL Sundays to the church isn’t as far off as it might seem. NFL Sunday’s coincide on the holy day. Families debate across the country whether to go to church or miss the first kickoff. In my household Sunday’s meant football. We didn’t go to church we went to our living room and watched the ball get snapped for hours in our pajamas. As a child if I dared to go near the remote my mother would’ve chewed my head off.
When people outside peer in at the spectacle that is the US, they might justify the debacle as Kaepernick simply disrespecting the flag – it’s not. It punctured a hole into the root of American patriotism and there the Republicans were to capitalize on it because hitting the NFL is like hitting a nerve in the whole country.
The NFL was no longer safe – safe from being thrown around at podiums to coax voters.
Remember the pin? Here’s where you take it out:Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic in Texas, told an audience last month that there is nothing more American than football players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. A video of his remarks quickly went viral. Progressives and celebrities clapped their hands. However, his opponent Republican Senator Ted Cruz used similar words in a web video – featuring a veteran who lost both his legs and the ability to stand in the Vietnam war – suggesting O’Rourke was unpatriotic.
The NFL is being used as a new toy by the Republicans against the Democrats who are trying to make cultural inroads into a now conservative electorate. There’s nothing worse to a political campaign to be coined unpatriotic.
So, now here we are: In addition to immigration, gun laws, and women’s rights, you can now add the NFL, one of the strongest nationalist symbols in the US, to the American political arena.
Author description: I wrote this article while studying abroad in Oslo, Norway through my sports journalism course.