The National Football League is an economic behemoth that has dominated the country’s sports landscape for years.
A reason it has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams is the league’s ability to transcend political and social ideologies to become an international game with the power to bring joy and excitement to millions of fans.
For the NFL, the bottom line, not ideology, matters more. And the NFL, as any fan will tell you, keeps a tight grip on its brand.
Owners have become involved on both sides of the national anthem debate, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been one of the most vocal.
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Earlier this season he orchestrated a grand display of unity during a nationally televised Cowboys game against Arizona on Monday Night Football. His team linked arms and then took a knee, before standing for the anthem.
We all saw the photos. Most of us had something to say about it — good or bad. And then, just this weekend, Jones switches sides?
He declared that any of his team’s players will be benched if they kneel during the national anthem.
It was a tough stance — one that many critics of the kneeling protest wanted from NFL owners. Vice President Mike Pence might be able to stay and enjoy a game if more owners go down the same road that Jones has.
Though the team’s longtime owner initially made a strong statement against kneeling in a confusing turn of events, this decision is meant to ensure loyal fans stick with the Cowboys.
If Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott were to kneel — would Jones bench his star players? We don’t think so.
But in the bold, albeit slightly hollow, declaration on how the Cowboys “will not disrespect the flag” it furthered the wrong protest narrative.
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stood, by kneeling, last year against police brutality — not against patriotism, the flag or the anthem.
It was a personal moment of protest that had a large audience. That moment is slowly being lost in an anti-patriotism narrative.
Many have passionate beliefs about the national anthem and the American flag, and people have the right to be upset. The flag is a personal and powerful symbol in the United States, and it means many different things to many different people.
And we have all been there, giving side eye to the guy who would rather get a beer or the couple who chat as if nothing important isn’t going on around them during the anthem.
The national anthem is important and it shouldn’t be considered with anything but respect. Now, how we respect that flag means different things to different people.
And that’s why we need to understand why Kaepernick kneeled and why people followed suit.
It matters because some kids look up to NFL players and see them as heroes, idols and/or role models. These kids need to understand why their hero is kneeling or why their classmates are kneeling at high school football games. And those kids kneeling need to fully understand what their actions mean to them.
If their parents asked, would they clearly articulate why they are kneeling? We hope so.
Kaepernick’s symbolic gesture must not become something other than what he intended it to be.
The kneeling protest isn’t going away any time soon. In the NFL, it will be up to the NFL and the NFL Players Association to hash out what to do. Owners, like Jones, should strive for consistency in messaging.
Until then, we must continue with a thoughtful conversation, ensuring the original message doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.