No matter how much we might want to appreciate something like sports as a respite from the burdens of everyday life, including the political sphere, the simple basic fact of the matter is that, as citizens, politics pervades every aspect of our lives. Football is played by active citizens, and they tend to have opinions about politics.
This has been an increased focus over the course of the past couple of years, and really drew to a head last season when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick announced that he would be kneeling during pre-game ceremonies singing the national anthem.
The decision by Kaepernick, while joined by many others around the league, made him a lightning rod of attention, both positive and negative, but on the eve of the regular season, he remains without a job in the NFL.
But this is not a political post, nor is it a Kaepernick post. I’m not a political commentator and don’t aim to be. Still, the notion of player acts of protests is one that everybody in the football world is now being forced to address, and that is exactly what Roger Goodell did recently.
Speaking earlier this week to a group of ticket-holders for the Cardinals, he was asked about player protests—I believe Arizona’s coach, Bruce Arians, is on record in essentially demanding that his players stand, although that is not technically possible on legal grounds—and he gave the following response.
“It’s one of those things where I think we have to understand that there are people that have different viewpoints”, the Commissioner conceded. “The national anthem is a special moment to me. It’s a point of pride. But we also have to understand the other side, that people do have rights and we want to respect those”.
I will refrain from indulging in giving my own opinion on the matter, but the NFL does understand that Kaepernick is not the only player who has in some form or fashion offered signs of protest for political reasons, and Michael Bennett became the latest high-profile player to do so.
“‘Protest to progress’ is what I call it”, Goodell said, “and we all have to recognize that if we want to see change, let’s go out and try to make that change happen in a peaceful and important way”. I imagine it would be difficult for him to say much else without drawing fire from one side or another.
As far as the Pittsburgh Steelers goes, I have not gotten the sense that there is any intention among players to participate in any sort of pre-game protest. Some of this may have to do with the deference and respect paid to their recently-made millionaire left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, who as a decorated war veteran offered his own thoughts on Kaepernick’s protest last year.