It is axiomatic that all active players in the National Football League should stand respectfully as the national anthem is played before their games.
I say this not as a political or moral judgment on their actions but as a simple observation about their self-interest. If the players continue their protests, it will not be long before they find themselves doing other things for a living, at severely reduced wages. That may already be inevitable, in fact, given the destruction the concussion problem and off-field misbehavior and crimes by players have already inflicted on the game. The NFL protests are the economic equivalent of throwing into triple coverage.
NFL players certainly have the legal right to protest, in their abundant free time and taking advantage of their public position and admiration. That is not in dispute. It is also indisputable that the United States is and has always been imperfect.
The insight to be gained from this controversy is how deeply the anti-American messages conveyed in recent years in schools and the media have penetrated the national soul. That is the real source of the great political and cultural divide that has manifested with increasing intensity in the United States in the past dozen years.
Most famously, or infamously, then-Senator Barack Obama said that he wanted to “fundamentally transform” the United States, on his way to becoming the nation’s first black president, the obvious implication being that the nation is fundamentally corrupt in some way. The base of the corruption, of course, was posited as racism, which Obama and a horde of like-minded people in academia, K-12 education, government, high culture and popular culture, and the media played up as the reason for unfortunate instances of lagging achievement among certain ethnic groups.
These radicalizers ignore the appalling ineffectiveness of government schools in less-wealthy neighborhoods and rural areas, a much more likely cause of these gaps, especially in concert with the temptations proffered by the welfare state and the likelihood of undereducated people ending up in the criminal justice system. As Thomas Sowell and others have pointed out, these gaps tend to disappear over time, absent government interference. Bad schools and a welfare state constitute enormous interference.
As Obama placed an imprimatur of approval on anti-Americanism (intentionally on his part or otherwise, it does not matter), other groups piled on with complaints of their own and rose to condemn the United States as fundamentally corrupt simply because many of its astounding positive accomplishments were initiated by Caucasian males. The nation’s true history had to be suppressed, in order to prevent some people from possibly feeling inferior because their ancestors may have led less illustrious lives. The fact that these claims of ancestry might very well be imaginary, as in the cases of Elizabeth Warren and Rachel Dolezal, only makes the complaints even more absurd.
Radicals intent on forcibly changing the nation’s political makeup cast aside the notion that the accomplishments of our national forebears are our common legacy, regardless of color or creed, and that all of us benefit from and can be proud of the great things our nation has accomplished over the years. This is the truth that was taught in the nation’s schools and culture until the 1950s, when the false and disgustingly perverted “people’s” (as opposed to “true” and “accurate”) history of America codified a quarter-century later in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States began to take hold in government schools across the nation.
Zinn’s odious mythology has been assigned in high schools and colleges across the nation in the decades since its first publication in 1980. It depicts the United States as fundamentally corrupted by, in Zinn’s words, “men who have no respect for human rights or constitutional liberties[,] . . . corporate robber barons and war makers,” formed through genocide and enslavement and sustained by widespread oppression and imperialism. The entirely ludicrous nature of this critique failed to prevent millions of people from assimilating its lessons.
This intense hatred of the history of the United States exploded into view during the Obama years and has intensified with the defeat of former senator Hillary Clinton in her 2016 run for the presidency. Radicals who had slavered at the prospect of Clinton cementing and furthering Obama’s legacy of centralization of power in Washington, D.C., erupted into fury at the disruption of their plans.
Meanwhile, race—Zinn’s and the radical left’s weapon of choice—became a central issue, pressed by statist media lapdogs of the left, with intensive coverage of any tragic shootings of blacks by police. Similar shootings of whites were left out of the equation, in order to make the story about race instead of the awful performance of governments, which is the real story behind such shootings.
Clearly radicalized by this ideology, San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick began a ritual of kneeling during the national anthem before games, in protest against what he characterized as rampant prejudice against blacks in the United States.
This was particularly ironic in that Kaepernick’s mother was white, his black father left her before the boy was born, and Kaepernick was adopted by a white couple who raised him just as if he were one of their own. A further irony is that Kaepernick had been demoted to the backup position because of inherent weaknesses in his game which were increasingly exposed when 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh left for another job. Prejudice had nothing to do with it. In addition, one should hardly have to mention that the president of the nation when Kaepernick began his protests was of half African ancestry, and there were black mayors and police commissioners in many of the towns were dubious police actions occurred.
Despite the absurdity and vanity of Kaepernick’s repeated gesture, numerous other players joined the protest action.
The TV networks and sports reporters made this into an issue. In prior years, TV coverage of NFL games did not show the “Star-Spangled Banner” except before special games such as the Super Bowl. Immediately after Kaepernick first kneeled during the national anthem, the press disgorged a frenzy of coverage suffused with praise for his “courage” in making a political gesture during a part of the game seldom seen on television and which any fool knew would receive a strong endorsement from the communists and other miscellaneous weirdos that constitute the nation’s mainstream press. There is news value in conflict, and sportswriters also crave attention and approbation for their work as a serious pursuit, which of course it is not.
As other players joined the fun, the NFL’s paying customers—ticket-holders and TV audiences—expressed their dismay and displeasure. President Donald Trump went to the heart of the issue by repeatedly stating that the players were showing a lack of respect for the nation’s flag. The president concentrated the public’s attention on the showing of contempt for the nation itself, for which the flag is a universally acknowledged symbol. In fact, the players themselves affirmed the flag as a symbol by directing their actions toward it. Thus no one was fooled by the claim of the players and their media puppeteers that the protests were intended only to call attention to legitimate grievances.
Regardless of whether they intended it or even realized it, the players broadcast their opinion that the United States does not merit their respect. The public’s reaction should have been predictable. The NFL’s TV ratings for the first five weeks of the season fell more than 7 percent below last year’s numbers and 18 percent below the 2015 ratings. Fans in the stadium booed the protesting players during the anthem. Reports of thousands of stadium seats remaining empty at kickoff time became common.
Watching their ratings slide, the networks stopped showing the anthem.
The NFL tried to assuage fans’ unhappiness with the injection of politics into what had been, for decades, an entertainment form which had provided an escape from their daily cares. In a letter to all 32 teams , NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated, “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.”
In addition, the league’s rules require it. The NFL Policy Manual says “players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking.” The notion that the use of the word should makes the rule optional is absurd. The fact that the players “may” hope to escape “fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations,” as the Policy Manual words it, means only that Goodell, as commissioner, has discretion in how to use that authority. The fact that his consistent response has been to shrug his shoulders and feign powerlessness shows you the terror the left-wing mainstream media can strike in the hearts of even the most powerful.
The protest fiasco serves as a reminder that people turn to football and other such entertainment as an escape from everyday life and controversy, and that much of the controversy in the United States today is a result of incursions of radical thought into the nation’s education system and media culture.
To ask players to stand and show respect for the nation that makes it possible for them to pursue their dreams is a minuscule request. The fact that some players feel justified in repeatedly displaying contempt for their nation shows how deeply ingrained hatred of America has become.
S. T. Karnick is a research fellow and the publications director for The Heartland Institute. A shorter version of this article was published in many newspapers through the USA Today news service.