Homer J. On the NFL Protests
Image via Slate.com
As promised, here are Homer’s remarks on the protests, which he kindly amplified for separate publication…Ed.
So the Steelers stayed united by not coming out onto the field for the National Anthem. They showed no disrespect to the flag. Not disrespect to those who would protest or to those who would respond to the President’s comments. Mike Tomlin said they were in Chicago to play football, not to play politics. Unfortunately they didn’t play football very well.
By the way, there is quite the backstory here. Donald Trump has a history with the NFL, and it’s not good at all. He tried twice to become an owner, and failed both times. The first was back in the 1980s, when he became owner of the New Jersey Generals in the rival USFL. He turned a losing team in a failing league into a solid team, but then convinced his fellow USFL owners to embark on an anti-trust suit against the NFL, engineered by his lawyer Harvey Myerson.
Trump and the USFL won the lawsuit, all right, but the damages awarded were one dollar—tripled because it was an anti-trust suit. The NFL gave the USFL a check for $3.67 (67 cents of interest) and the check is still uncashed. (Photo below.)
(This was the best image I could find, and the video it obviously comes from was inactive.)
Trump’s hope was that a big settlement could be negotiated into some new NFL Franchises, but you can’t buy even one for $3.67, so the USFL folded. He ended up a loser, and if there’s one thing Donald Trump hates, it’s losing. In trying to force and then bid his way into the NFL, he’s a two-time loser.
Three years ago, Trump bid a billion dollars for the Buffalo Bills, but was outbid by the owner of the Buffalo Sabres. Even had Trump submitted the highest bid, (which he did not,) there’s no guarantee it would have been accepted by the NFL owners, who have a long memory.
There’s also the matter of Roger Goodell, who was born in Jamestown, New York, just south of Buffalo. His dad was a Republican congressman and senator, who opposed the Vietnam War on principle, became a pariah to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, and lost his re-election bid to third party conservative candidate James Buckley. Charlie Goodell knew something about principle, and was willing to sacrifice his seat in the U.S. Senate to stand up for what he believed. Some of that had to rub off on young Roger.
Goodell and Trump isn’t exactly a match made in heaven. Do ya think Jametown’s Goodell might not have trusted Trump’s promise to keep his “hometown” team in Buffalo? Was Trump really interest in paying one billion dollars for a franchise in Buffalo, or did he plan to move it to somewhere in the greater New York area? Did the Jets’ and Giants’ owners—and others—worry about a third team moving into the number one market? Do you think the Maras would have stood for that? They already had one Al Davis, and, to them, Trump was Al Davis on steroids, lawyered up at all times.
Even so, the current battle over the anthem is a win-win-win for the President. First, it’s payback to the league that wouldn’t have him. Like the owners, Trump has a long memory and he loves to settle scores. He’s putting the owners in a most uncomfortable position.
Second, if you are one of those who buys into the idea that he likes to divert attention away from defeat, this could be a long week, with the last-minute effort to kill Obamacare still lacking the votes to pass, and his candidate in the Alabama Senatorial Primary, Luther Strange, trailing in the polls with time running out. The NFL tweets certainly change the subject.
Third, and most importantly, Trump is not only appealing to his base on this issue, but widening it. Respect for the country, the flag, and the National Anthem. is a winning issue across most of America. While the issue may be nuanced with the rights of free speech and protest coming into play, for many people it is binary. To them, either you respect the flag, the country, and the National Anthem by standing at attention, or you don’t.
To a vast number of Americans, this is like the old union organizing song, “Which Side Are You On?” Donald Trump has placed himself on the side of flag, nation, and Star Spangled Banner. And that is how he has framed the issue. The many millions who oppose him see the issue as the right to free speech and protest. But millions more—using the same right of free speech—stand with Trump and call out those who protest during the anthem.
The owners, who are almost all Republicans and quite conservative, are caught in the crossfire. And Donald Trump, who twice tried to become an owner and twice failed, is squeezing them, doubling down, serving payback, and serving it cold. (And there’s not much worse than being served cold payback while being squeezed while your server is doubling down. Pass the Tums!)
It was Teddy Roosevelt who called the Presidency a “bully pulpit.” And Donald J. Trump is showing just how that works.
First, here is Dale Lolley’s transcription of Mike Tomlin’s remarks:
On whether or not it was his decision to come out for the national anthem: “No, it wasn’t my decision. Like most teams in the National Football League, we did not ask for this. This was placed upon us by circumstance. I heard rumblings of guys talking during the course of the day yesterday and my contention was that we not allow politics to divide us. We are football players and a football team. If any of them felt like something needed to be done, I asked those guys to discuss it and whatever discussed, we have 100% participation or we do nothing. They discussed it for an appropriate length of time, they couldn’t come to an understanding, so they chose to remove themselves from it. They were not going to be disrespectful during the anthem so they chose not to participate during the anthem but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the President. So, we decided to sit it out and not take the field, to remove ourselves from it, so we could focus on playing football. Those were our intentions.”
Ben Roethlisberger, in his post-game conference, clarified that a players-only meeting was held and this decision was taken. Dale Lolley also noted that because of his situation the other players exempted Alejandro Villanueva from their decision. Here is a transcript of some of Ben’s remarks:
By no means, in no way, shape or form is this intended to disrespect our troops, those who serve our country. We all have nothing but the utmost respect for them, obviously. They give us the freedom to play this game.
Ben later added:
I appreciate the unique diversity in my team and throughout the league and completely support the call for social change and the pursuit of true equality. Moving forward, I hope standing for the anthem shows solidarity as a nation, that we stand united in respect for the people on the front lines protecting our freedom and keeping us safe. God bless those men and women.
The most interesting, though, was the media session with a clearly unhappy Alejandro Villanueva. You can view it here. He was unhappy for a couple of reasons. First, he doesn’t like attention, and admitted to speaking in clichés to the media so that they would leave him alone, which elicited a few chuckles from the reporters.
But the main reason for his unhappiness was the fuss the pictures of him alone at the end of the tunnel had precipitated. He blamed himself for making Coach Tomlin, his teammates and the Rooneys look bad.
As he explained it, after the team meeting, in which the decision was taken to absent themselves from the field during the National Anthem, he found himself with a dilemma. It was almost 11 pm when the meeting was over, so rather than try to get everyone back together he asked Ben and other “leadership” (presumably meaning the captains) if there was some way he could just stand in the tunnel where he could see the flag. He talked about what it means to a serviceman out on a mission to see the flag on the shoulders of the men he serves with, how it reminds them they have to lay down their lives if necessary.
Ben not only said yes, but that the captains would stand right behind him. This didn’t in fact happen because there was a bunch of comings and goings immediately before the anthem began from some of the on-field ceremonies and the rest of the team was trapped until the anthem began. Ben thought it would be viewed as disrespectful if they walked up during the anthem. When Villanueva realized they couldn’t get to him, he had the decision of whether to try to get back to them just as the anthem was about to start or to stay put. That would have presumably created an even bigger fuss. Thus he was left at the mouth of the tunnel by himself, and created the very situation Coach Tomlin was trying to avoid.
He is also upset that the majority of the players knew nothing about this because he only talked to the leadership. He said that had they known they would have all been out there, even the ones who wanted to take a knee. He also noted that players from other teams around the league have gone out of their way to thank him for his service, including those from the “arch-rivals”, as he termed them, Ravens such Terrell Suggs and John Harbaugh.
He said that there is no reason to think anyone taking a knee is disrespectful of the flag or the military, and that conversely those who choose to stand don’t recognize the social injustices in this country. He noted that as a veteran he took no offense when Colin Kaepernick started this process, as he put it. He doesn’t think other veterans would either—as he said, they actually signed up and fought so that somebody could take a knee and peacefully protest.
So let’s talk about the actual issue for a moment. It is one I find very difficult. I have a son-in-law who is ex-military and a police officer. He was working the streets in a nearby borough during the riots after one of the many shooting cases in the past several years. He is an excellent officer with multiple commendations, one who treats everyone with respect. As a result my default bias is on the side of the police in the cases which have created this groundswell.
But not everyone in the police forces would fit the description I gave for my son-in-law. We could hardly expect otherwise. Is everyone you work with an exemplary employee? Is every doctor a good doctor? Somebody once pointed out that a great many doctors necessarily graduated at the bottom of their class. This may mean nothing, or everything, when your life is dependent upon their knowledge and tenacity in seeking a solution.
Someone I know was very upset by the protest, and framed the argument as either supporting the NFL or supporting local law enforcement. But surely it is not that cut-and-dried. Would we support a police officer who broke the law repeatedly? The reason my son-in-law works where he does is that the county in which the borough resides went in and replaced the independent police department with their own officers. This is because the local department was caught in a scam in which they were applying for grants to run DUI checkpoints, not actually doing it, writing up fake reports, and pocketing the money. It makes the good officers furious, because it taints all officers by association.
This is of less consequence in the larger view than whether a young man’s life is wrongly taken because of an inappropriate response by an officer or officers (which is almost certainly true in some of the cases.) Or, for that matter, whether a police officer’s career is ruined and life derailed, even though he is acquitted of wrong-doing on good evidence (as is almost certainly true in at least one case.)
But to return to the NFL protests, if the cases which spurred the initial protest are perhaps more multi-faceted and nuanced than a simple slogan can express, the issue of whether those who are troubled by it have a right to protest is not. As long as the protests are peaceful, they are expressly protected under our Constitution. And I believe the League has, for once, gotten it right in supporting their right to do so.
And the “mostly Republican and and quite conservative” owners, as Homer expressed it, also appear to be coming down on the side of the players. I noted that several of them were out on the field with their teams yesterday. And like me, who could also be described as “mostly Republican and quite conservative,” I suspect that while the owners are divided on exactly where they stand with the issues, they fully support the players’ rights to their own views, and their right to peacefully express them.
Nothing will change in this country unless we can somehow, some way, find a path to restoring a culture of mutual respect in this country. Which is a way bigger pipe dream than the Steelers winning a Lombardi every year, and far more important.
The End. While this had to be addressed, we will hopefully return to our regularly-scheduled, non-political, respectful-to-all programming.