OPED: Dissing anthem hurts sports, insults most fans
The writer is addressing the question, “Have the national anthem protests carried out by athletes been good for democracy?”
For a long time, Americans of all economic classes, backgrounds and political persuasions have been able to briefly escape life's stresses by communally watching sports.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, however, may change all that.
He's not the first to infuse politics into sports. At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, for example, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the 200-meter race gold and bronze winners, were expelled after holding up black-gloved fists at their award presentation during the playing of the national anthem.
Nor has Kaepernick been the only one to make a political statement at a sporting event this year. In July, Minnesota Lynx players, part of the Women's National Basketball Association, wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts during warm-ups before a game with the Dallas Wings. Four off-duty officers providing security for the event walked off the job, expressing their own type of protest.
But Kaepernick's high-profile visibility ignited the protest echo chamber, from high schools to professional athletes.
While some have voiced their support for the protests, the general public may have a different view.
Early reports indicate that NFL viewership is down this fall. And ESPN recently reported on a poll finding Kaepernick the most disliked player in the NFL.
It's common in protest movements for some to try and push things to the next level.
If athletes can kneel during the playing of the national anthem, can they turn their back? Can they stand on a U.S. flag or even burn it?
At some point, school administrators, coaches, sports associations, team owners, sports reporters and even fans should ask themselves how far is too far?
While I don't question someone's First Amendment right to express their views, I do question the wisdom of the venue these athletes have chosen — and more importantly, their target. By protesting the national anthem, they're protesting America.
It's true that America has at times failed to live up to its ideals, but it has also been striving "to form a more perfect union" for decades — and it has made a lot of progress.
There have been some tragic events lately involving black men and the police. While the jury is still out on some of those incidents, some appear to have been real travesties of justice.
But America didn't cause these tragedies. They occurred in Charlotte, N.C., Tulsa, Okla., New York City and other places. They are local incidents with local actors, even if they have national ramifications.
Some police officers — and perhaps their departments and elected officials — may have failed the African-American community, but most Americans are outraged when injustices occur and want those proven to have overreacted or committed illegal acts to be held accountable.
If high-profile athletes want to make a difference, there are better and more meaningful responses than dissing the national anthem and turning a sporting event into a national soapbox.
If some want to express their concerns about current events, they should tell their publicists they are open for speaking engagements — off the field or court. They will have lots of opportunities — and media coverage.
In addition, if those whose athletic talents have made them wealthy want to have an impact, they should set up a nonprofit foundation or program that actually addresses specific problems. Put their money where their knee is.
Both Kaepernick and the 49ers recently announced they will be donating to charities focusing on racial issues. But shouldn't that have been their initial response?
If some athletes continue to kneel during the playing of the national anthem, that should encourage those of us who still take pride in America to stand a littler taller.
Playing the national anthem at a sporting event is a time for patriotism, not politics.
— Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in metropolitan Dallas.