Play Ball, Not Politics!

This is a guest post by Silvio Laccetti. Silvio is a retired Professor of History from Stevens Tech. in Hoboken,NJ USA and a national columnist.

The commemoration of the 15th anniversary of 9/11 was remarkable for the unexpected outpouring of collective emotion, remembrance and of unity. In jarring contrast to this collective Katharsis was the behavior of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a few other NFL players who decided to dishonor the commemorations and their meaning by refusing to stand for the National Anthem.

No, not even for this period of America’s mourning could these aggrieved multi-millionaire children of
sport bring themselves to join the greater community. They were protesting the oppression of people of color by the “American system”.

These actions during the 15th anniversary period were disrespectful,
insensitive, divisive, abrasive and inappropriate.

As Shakespeare wisely and wryly said, all of life is a stage. But some of us have bigger stages than others. Does the circumstance of celebrity in sport or entertainment endow you with special or more rights than any other citizen?

When I wrote about and participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement, I was always amazed that sports and entertainment figures, with their hugely porcine salaries and other incomes were never considered as part of the 1%! To identify them and criticize them as such seemed to be out of bounds. They got a pass.

But there should be no pass for the actions of these protesting athletes’ behavior during the 15th anniversary period.

I am flabbergasted that the NFL through commissioner Roger Goodell has openly supported the athletes’ “rights to speak out”, though none actually speak. He makes it seem like the NFL can be the arbiter of America’s moral conscience. However, he is considering fining some players who wear playing shoes with markings honoring victims of terrorism. Why can’t they speak out?

The NFL regulates uniforms, sneakers, etc. They creep into the domestic lives and quarrels of their athletes and set rules and penalties concerning off-field behavior without reference to referees, judges or courts. Its judgment, for example covering up the concussion problem, seems to be quite arbitrary.

On the nationally televised Monday night game, Kaepernick and a few others again refused to stand to honor a flag as large as anyone might ever see- it covered the entire football field. Sports media folks are generally flummoxed by having to deal with a real issue. They mumble, stumble and fumble as they fail to find firm footing on the issue. Meanwhile, when Kaepernick made a late game appearance, fans booed and chanted, USA-USA.

Goodell, do your job! Remedy this situation, or get someone who can. The dead cannot speak for themselves. But on 9/11, every year, those who gave their lives in terror attacks, and in other wars and conflicts, are represented by symbols, associations and actions of community and communion. Is it not a desecration of that day to dishonor the anthem and flag that represent sacrifice?

Much of America strongly disapproves of the player’s disrespect of the flag and anthem. Feelings run high in all quarters: Team USA and NHL hockey coach at Columbus, Ohio, John Tortorella, has gone on record (twice) stating he would bench any player who refused to stand for the national anthem. The owner of one of my favorite pizza shops in Jersey declared that fans should boycott services and products of corporations who sponsor NFL games. Many other negative reactions can be culled from media reports.

More poignant was the writing on the wall which I observed while fishing at Clinton (NJ) a few days ago. Children come to this wall-at-the-falls using chalk to write, draw and create. Two inscriptions stood out, safe in their own space, untouched by other linework: God Bless America, in the perfect penmanship of someone proud of her work, and We Shall Never Forget. Enough said.

I could never object to Colin Kaepernick protesting social injustice – real or perceived. But do so as a private citizen, in a proper setting. Your timing and execution are way off the mark. Use your fame to begin the conversation you want. Call a press conference;they will come. Endow a foundation as so many athletes do. Sponsor special events in communities. Why stay apart?

Protest? Yes, but not at this solemn time. Protest? Yes, but on your own time and with your own dime. In an NFL uniform, Play Ball, not Politics!

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