Football, Protests and Politicization
Honestly, I used to love football. Today, there is a small spark that remains. This is a function of a single player that is on the field for each season – Tom Brady. I’m not sure what I’ll do after Tom Brady retires, but what I do know is that any inclination I have for watching the NFL has decreased considerably. and after Brady retires I may not be watching at all.Now, I won’t blame this on the players at all. I think all athletes, no matter what professional sport, got out there a put on their best. I blame the politicization of the player protest on one person: I’ll let you fill in this blank (it’s not a plyer). There are many more important things that should require the attention of the leader of the free world. Football is a game of inches. It can also be exhilarating and heart breaking – sometimes all in one game!
Sometimes it’s spectacular!
And sometimes it’s not.
Sports are a form of entertainment. That’s all. There are economic implications, but at the end of the day it is a sport for entertainment. There are real skills that athletes possess. I can’t do what they do. And I am certain they can’t do what I do. That being said, football has great traditions – and may even be considered America’s national sport. Some will argue that baseball is better. And others will say soccer is even greater. Our society places a great deal of emphasis on entertainment – perhaps because we demand it. I guess it is economics stupid! (Slap my forehead because I’m stupid!) Honestly, I’m preparing myself for the lack of football that there will be as a direct result of the actions taken by the NFL Owners.
My Intro To and Love of Football
Okay, on to the main topic – the NFL. My first exposure to the NFL came on a family gathering in NYC where I witnessed Joe Montana throw a long pass to Jerry Rice for a touchdown. I did not understand the sport, but I enjoyed it. There was real strategy behind the game. So I began to teach myself about football. I also played. In playing football, I learned even more about numbers and what they mean with respect to each play. I learned about the subtleties of the offensive line, gaps, pulls, pushes, trick plays and disguising schemes to move the ball forward. I also learned the rush of hitting and getting hit, and the real camaraderie that forms between team-mates that depend on each other. I played football in high school, and intramural flag football in undergrad and graduate school. I enjoyed the competition aspect of the sport, as well, as the sport itself. Along the way, I discovered college football – and was hooked even more. Those years were some great years: Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Randall Cunningham, Emmitt Smith, John Elway, Mike Singletary, William Perry, Bo Jackson and Barry Sanders! I could go on and on! Football was like chess. I truly enjoyed the strategy of ball movement and how a team can mask its intent either on offense or defense.
My “Beef” With Football
I guess I’m also preparing myself for the reality that is to come when the collective bargaining agreement ends in 2020 – at which point the NFL Players’ Association, and perhaps the players themselves, will likely strike. The recent action by the NFL Owners to require players to stand and show respect for the anthem and the flag is antithetical to the rights afforded individuals under the First Amendment. But this issue is so much more complex than that. I’ll touch on the level of complexity briefly here: (1) the NFL has had segregation policies from beginning, (2) sports stadiums are partially subsidized by US Tax payer dollars, (3) the Military gives a lot of money to the NFL (4) the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that results from repeated concussions, (5) the right of players to protest (at least to me this does not take away from the game). I’m preparing myself for a football strike – which I whole heartedly support. But now, I feel that the luster is gone. Teams have no loyalty to players and vice versa. This happened with baseball too. But that is not the topic. The topic is the NFL.
The President Stokes the Fire
The President of the United States (who is supposed to protect and defend the Constitution) suggests that US citizens should not be in the US if they protest by taking a knee?!? That’s right, the President has suggested that US Citizens who protest (the flag and the anthem) – which is protected by the Constitution – need to leave. I’ll get to this in a bit, but I’ll simply say that the Supreme Court (a legitimate branch of government in the US and according to the US constitution) ruled that Desecrating the flag is a protected right as it IS considered free speech. Some may not like that, but that IS the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court. I won’t touch the anthem – except to say that it is a highly successful bar song that caught fire when Francis Scott Key composed the lyrics and attached the lyrics to that tune. I think more attention is needed in the classroom when it comes to history by all of us. I think the real think we should cherish is the Constitution.
A Brief History of Oppression in the US, The Real Issue and Colin Kaepernick
I’ll digress a bit here, but it’s all related. This great country was founded by systemic oppression of native people – who really have a right to be here as they were here first. All you need is a flag, a few guns, and a few people, and you can “discover” something. I won’t even go into the genocide of native people through colonization. And then there was slavery. I won’t go too much into this because this country was also built on the backs of slaves – who apparently also “chose” to be slaves?!? Seriously, our society is not post-racial at all. Then there were the Asian Americans (who were either Chinese [who were thought of as criminals while they worked in the mines and rails and the Massacre in Rock Springs, Wyoming], or the Japanese [who were interned during the great wars] and their negative experiences helped to shape this country. And then there are the Latino/Hispanic Americans who were treated in similar fashion, and in Orange County, California, were forced to attend segregated schools. There are some real reparations that have yet to be made. To claim that everything is solved is ignorant of the past and current state of our nation. And honestly, I don’t think reparations could ever be made. People of color (at the beginnings of this country and for a greater part of the 20th century) were tortured, raped, burned, killed, mistreated, lacked equal rights (including the right to vote – women (in 1920) and African Americans (1965)). That was not that long ago. Then we arrive at the issue of police brutality and racial profiling and injustice – things that actually happen in large part to people of color. This is was the subject matter Colin Kaepernick was protesting and trying to bring attention to through his efforts. This, of course, became conflated with other matters, which frankly, anyone that understands the nature of protests, and the constitution, would understand. Flags and anthems are symbols and nothing more. Patriotism and protest go hand in hand in American history. You can see a previous post on the taxation rules that led a nation to fight for independence! But the expectation that this is understood is too high to have at this point in time.
The Definition of Protest
Merriam Webster’s Definition of Protest is multi-parted
1 : a solemn declaration of opinion and usually of dissent: such as
a : a sworn declaration that payment of a note or bill has been refused and that all responsible signers or debtors are
liable for resulting loss or damage
b : a declaration made especially before or while paying that a tax is illegal and that payment is not voluntary
2 : the act of objecting or a gesture of disapproval resigned in protest ; especially : a usually organized public demonstration of disapproval
3 : a complaint, objection, or display of unwillingness usually to an idea or a course of action went under protest
4 : an objection made to an official or a governing body of a sport
The Nuances of the First Amendment, Protest and Private Entities
Alright, this is where it gets tricky. The government can’t prohibit players from exercising their right to protest, but the NFL, as a private entity, can. The constitution does not really mention anything about players’ rights to protest on the football field – which is effectively work. However, a recent article, in Vox and The Hill, by a Harvard Law Professor suggests otherwise – that banning the protest could be considered illegal according to current labor laws and the fact that the labor union was not consulted with the generation and implementation of the new rules. Protests and sports are not separate entities. This is especially true for sports when it comes to social issues. I’m sure the “new policies” developed by the NFL owners will not be beneficial to the sport. But this is something that is pure conjecture on my part.
Some Historical Examples Protests and Sports: and the New “Rules” in the NFL
Like I said, protests and sports are intertwined. Besides, protests are at the root of American history and tradition. Do I need to mention the “Tea Party” due to unfair taxation? Protests for women’s suffrage rights? Segregation policies that led to voting rights protests for African Americans? Colin Kaepernick was protesting, and trying to raise awareness for racial injustice and the perceived excessive use of force by police against people of color. In particular for the excessive force by police against people of color.
The NFL owners have developed new rules. Players must now find new and creative ways to protest – I suggest a pin or a special color sock. This seems to be okay for other reasons like say breast cancer awareness! This begs the question why doesn’t the NFL have pins for prostate cancer or testicular cancer as it affects men? Hmmmmm……I wonder…..I mean November is dedicated to this cause. Why doesn’t the NFL have pins for Mo-Vember and Prostate Cancer? Makes you wonder why?
1. John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising fists at the podium in 1968 Olympics in Mexico City protesting injustice against
2. Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier in baseball wrote: “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute
the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”
3. Billie Jean-King bringing attention to equal pay/equal rights for women in sports! She even beat a man to prove that
she was as good – but in reality better than a man.
4. LeBron James – after the shooting of Trayvon Martin (a profiled black young man that was killed) in 2012
5. Players in the St. Louis Rams walked into the stadium with their hands up as a reminder of the young black man
(Michael Brown) that was shot by police
6. The boycott of the 1980 Olympics after the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. The boycott included 65
other countries! Quite the tantrum huh?!?
7. In 1940-41 “NYU students protesting the practice of holding black athletes out of games at opponents’ requests”
And I’ll assure you that there are MANY more examples of social justice issues and
Other Issues in the NFL: Use of Tax Dollars, The Military and Concussions
I’ve addressed the first at length with some examples. Now, let’s address the other issues I brought up earlier.
Use of Tax Dollars to Subsidize Stadiums
Now, I love Tom Brady and the Pats! However, according to Watchdog.org, Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, cost taxpayers $72 million! Why? (This is a rhetorical question.) The Colts stadium cost taxpayers $619 million in subsidies! Part of the reason for this is: “Tax-exempt municipal bonds are typically reserved for public-use projects such as bridges, water systems, and other infrastructure,” Sargent wrote for The Daily Signal. “Yet because of a loophole in the tax code, private-use stadiums can take advantage of this tax break, and have done so prolifically.” Over all Tax payers have covered a whopping $7 billion ($7, 000, 000, 000, 000)! Think of the schools and other programs that could benefit from this!?!
According to a report made by The Honorable Senator John McCain and The Honorable Senator Jeff Flake, “the Pentagon spent $53 million on marketing and promotions such as ad campaigns and social media mentions. But at least $6.8 million went toward what the report deemed “inappropriate” “paid patriotism,” including color guard displays, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, and the singing of the National Anthem—with no disclosure that it was all being funded by taxpayers.” The Oversight report can be found here.
“Overall, the Defense Department spent at least $10.4 million on “marketing and advertising contracts with professional sports teams” across the board between 2012 and 2015, although, the report noted, the department “[could not] accurately account” for the full number of contracts and payouts it had awarded. “It only reported 62 percent (76 of 122) of its contracts and 70 percent ($7.3 million) of its spending in its response to our inquiry,” the senators wrote.”
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and Concussions
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is associated with repetitive head trauma (JAMA). Repeated head trauma is thought to increase the buildup and a protein called “tau.” Tau can have adverse impacts on nerve cells in the brain, as well as, blood vessels (JAMA). The clinical presentation of CTE includes changes in mood and the onset of dementia (or Alzheimer’s disease) (NEJM). The findings of the JAMA study in 2017 revealed that “CTE was neuropathologically diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play (87%), including 110 of 111 former National Football League players (99%).” Further analysis of the resulting data is below:
0 of 2 pre–high school players
3 of 14 high school (21%) players
9 of 14 semiprofessional (64%) players
7 of 8 Canadian Football League (88%) players
110 of 111 National Football League (99%) players
According to SI, the NFL has acknowledged that there is a link between football and CTE. But at the same time, the NFL is just now doing something. But it is not enough. Having studied Neuroscience, I can’t ignore this reality. And if my son wants to play, I don’t know what I will say. But my wife and I have had discussion on the subject.
In all, there are so many factors that are making football less attractive as a sport. The protests is clearly, at least for me, not the issue. I think the message by the protesting players is positive and needs real attention. However, I think groups are trying to distort the message with invective. I’m sure this is not what the owners want to talk about.
With sincere hope for change for the better, I thank you for taking the time to read.
I know this was a long one. Until next time. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Channel. Live long and prosper.
References Used for This Piece
The New York Times
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)
McCain and Flake Oversight Report