COMMENTARY: Whether you agree or disagree with NFL players and their political stance of taking a knee to promote awareness of social injustices in this country, one thing is clear: It is a polarizing topic.
There is a simple solution to the situation, but before I go there let me explore why we are here.
NFL leadership has proven itself to be about as gutless as they come when dealing with controversial subjects.
This is an organization that refused for decades to admit that there was a link between football and neurodegenerative diseases, despite overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary. It was all about money and how much the league would have to pay out. They dragged their feet until a settlement was reached in 2013, and even then it took three more years to finally adjudicate it. How many former players died of causes related to injury or committed suicide in that time period?
Next was the hemming and hawing over a domestic violence policy that took years to develop, and only came about because of Ray Rice knocking his girlfriend unconscious and dragging her off an elevator. Even after revising the policy, which calls for a six-game suspension on the first offense and a lifetime suspension on the second offense, no player has yet to be forced to serve the six-game suspension, much less be banned.
The NFL has a clause that says regardless of what law enforcement finds, the league will conduct an independent investigation and take into consideration mitigating factors (nod nod, wink wink).
Now the NFL calls taking a knee during the national anthem “freedom of speech.” Let that same player engage in excessive celebration in the end zone, and he gets fined several thousand dollars. Wait a minute, what happened to freedom of speech? The NFL also refused to allow the Cowboys to wear a small commemorative emblem on their uniforms in remembrance of the five Dallas officers slain in the line of duty on July 7, 2016.
The players say that taking a knee is done to bring about social awareness to the injustices that occur in this country, particularly between persons of color and law enforcement. They say there is no disrespect intended to veterans, or those who have fought and died for this country in a time of war.
Take it from a guy who served in the Marines and grew up in a family of World War II veterans (my father and all my uncles): The players can put any kind of a spin on it that they want, but in my opinion refusing to stand for the national anthem is disrespectful. It disrespects veterans, people who served and died, and people who went off to war and came home maimed for life.
That’s just my opinion, and I know from reading posts by other veterans that opinions vary. Some have come out and said that service to their country was to preserve the rights of an individual to freedom of speech, and while they may or may not have issues with what NFL players are doing, they won’t denounce it.
I support freedom of speech. What I do not support are players using the game as a platform to promote their personal political beliefs. People come to a stadium or turn on the tube to watch football. Period.
When I think of my time in the Marines, and later the police department, had I utilized my on-duty time while wearing that uniform to express my personal political beliefs, no matter how righteous, I would have been hammered with severe discipline. It isn’t tolerated, and there’s a very good reason for it: neutrality. We must always appear to be fair and impartial. Of course, leaders in the military and police departments nationwide have got something that NFL leadership lacks: spine.
My solution to the issue is simple. Rather than keeping the nation divided week after week, and having it expand into other sports, as it already has, and making a bad situation worse, I say just quit playing the anthem. It’s not necessary, it takes up time, and as any parent can tell you, when children become difficult and won’t play nice with others, you simply take away the toy causing the problem and the matter is resolved.
J.R. Lonsway is a retired deputy chief of police with the City of Las Cruces and the author of two books. He blogs at jrlonsway.com. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.