I love sports.
That’s the reason I’m in this business.
The relationships I hold most dear in this world — my father, my grandfather, my friends — they all revolve around sports.
Even after my career evolved beyond simply being a sportswriter, sports provided me with an escape from what was going on in the world.
In the wake of 9/11, I was proud the United States Formula One Grand Prix went on as scheduled, and to stand with drivers and fans from around the world in solidarity against the evil that had transpired on our soil.
I prided myself on the fact that I got out of sportswriting early enough that I did not despise sports as so many colleagues had.
And yet, this weekend, all the joy has been sucked out of the room.
Not by what’s on the field, mind you. I watched an electrifying three minutes of the Penn State-Iowa game. The Eagles beat the hated New York Giants. The Phillies, hard as this year has been, have begun showing promise for the future. The Flyers and Sixers (trust the process!), too.
No, it was politics.
As I spent the minutes before kickoff Sunday morning trying to decide which of my below-average receivers were going to get the call for my fantasy squad this week, I hopped on to Facebook to see what the sages had to say, and instead was treated to a running commentary as to who did what when and where during the national anthem, as players, owners and the president of the United States got into a political brouhaha.
Annnnnd, there’s my refuge from everyday politics breached.
As with anything, the origin of this particular round could have been many things. But the flashpoint was a tweet from the president, perhaps smarting from a decline of a White House invite by the NBA’s Stephen Curry. There is no doubt, however, that it is the latest result of the continuing Colin Kaepernick saga:
“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 our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” the president tweeted.
The president knows he is on safe ground. Kaepernick has been a pariah since choosing to protest the anthem last season, and frankly, his handling of the incident at many stages has been ham handed, clouding his message.
Social media’s reaction was divided. Some argue for free speech, others for the right of the employer to fire employees who bring disrepute to the organization. Ironic, how we take issue with celebrities and athletes spouting unsolicited political opinions, yet we are so ready to do so ourselves.
Reaction around the leagues were mixed. The NBA, which seems to do a better job at handling these things, rallied around Curry. The NFL, on the other hand, having played the patriot game fairly heavily over the last few years, came out a bit flat footed, as teams did different things to accommodate players on both sides.
Many, the president included, have called for mass firings. After all, that’s what would happen to the rest of us, right? Those of us who don’t benefit from multi-million dollar contracts? True. But, in this case, many of those employers appear to have come out in support of their players.
It’s enough for many fans on social media to call for an NFL boycott.
And, if you feel strongly enough about it, I’m all for it. I firmly believe the market should dictate what is tolerable. If now, after the beatings, rapes, cases of animal abuse, ignoring of head trauma and the like you have reached your line in the sand, I encourage you to have the courage of your convictions.
But I’m going to hold you to your word. I don’t want to see one post from you about a game this season. Give up your fantasy team(s). No Super Bowl parties. Show me you mean it. After the 1994 baseball strike, I swore off baseball for several years before I caved in 1998, let me tell you, it isn’t easy.
Forgive me if I’m playing a hard line. I’m disappointed that politics have to enter the playing field, and for selfish reasons. It was one place I could escape from the polarization of our political landscape. Sure, you might hate Trump, and you might hate Obama, but we all hate the Cowboys. One more area of common ground has been taken from us.
These protests strike a disruptive chord. I, like many, bristle at the thought of disrespecting the flag. I think Rick Monday stepped up the right way, saving the flag from being set on fire by protesters in 1976. But I’m also conflicted, because I feel the founders believed in the people, not symbols. We must uphold ideals, not idols.
Let’s not let patriotism blind us completely to the concerns of those who have chosen to make a statement, even if we don’t necessarily agree. After all, throwing the tea into Boston Harbor was an offense that employers might frown upon, but that did not make the cause any less just.
Chris Six is managing editor of the Fauquier Times, Prince William Times and Gainesville Times.