People do a lot of things at football games: In the hours before kickoff, players suit up, officials and broadcast crews set up and go over their game day plans, stadium personnel help arriving fans to their seats, and the fans swill beer.
When the game is about ready to start, some players pray, the teams gather for the national anthem, and the fans swill beer. When the game is going full-steam, the players do what they’re paid to do, and the fans … they swill beer.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the bacchanalia of smoked meats, shoulder pads and, yes, beer. It is, after all, as American as apple pie, NASCAR and salsa. But to suggest that National Football League games rise to the level of Athenian-style democracy and Roman-like patriotism is to engage in the absurd. To then criticize players when they sincerely try to enlighten the populace through various forms of quiet protest during the national anthem is to cynically exploit blind patriotism for political gain.
I emphasize the cynical, because guess what some fans are doing during the national anthem, when President Donald Trump would have Americans believe otherwise: If they’re not swilling beer, they’re in line in the concourses waiting to buy it. (It was Trump who, the night before, canceled the planned June 5 visit of the Philadelphia Eagles to the White House because, he tweeted, players refuse to stand “hand on heart” for the Star-Spangled Banner.)
This whole brouhaha, which was set in motion two years ago by then-San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the anthem to protest the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, has never really been about the national anthem or the American flag, despite Trump’s protestations to the contrary or his attempt to recast it. (In place of the canceled Eagles meeting, he called for a Marine Band concert featuring the national anthem.)
If it was about anything other than raw politics, the White House would be calling for concessionaires to stop selling during the anthem and demanding that anyone in a stadium refusing to stand “hand on heart” during it be summarily booted out of the stands.
The president, of course, is free to invite and disinvite whomever he pleases, but it’s amazingly hypocritical for the same man who criticized ABC for canceling Roseanne in the wake of its host’s tweeting a racist comment to see nothing ironic in keeping football players out of the White House because some of their teammates are protesting American racism.
While Trump has cast the latest salvo in the anthem war as a defense of patriotism, it seems more likely that, faced with the prospect of the Eagles contingent being comparatively small, he preemptively canceled the meeting to save face. The White House even accused the Eagles on June 5 of deciding “to abandon their fans.”
I’m guessing that the strategy doesn’t work, at least in Philadelphia. Ours is not a fan body that considers ourselves abandoned by the Eagles — unless, G-d forbid, they’ve gone 7-9 for the season. And I doubt many would seriously contend that the Eagles are anything but community-minded and proud to call the United States their home. For a brief moment, the crew over at Fox News thought otherwise, broadcasting a photo of tight end Zach Ertz and other players kneeling on the field during anthem
The only problem was Ertz and the others were engaging in a very American act: praying, and well before the anthem at that. Not a single Eagle kneeled during the anthem all last season and postseason. Safety Malcolm Jenkins has been working off the field to make the criminal justice system better for everyone. Defensive lineman Chris Long gave every single regular season game check to charity.
In my humble opinion, many Eagles players are the epitome of class and sportsmanship, as well as dedication to this city and country. They’re not the ones who lost out by not standing in the Oval Office.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]jewishexponent.com.