by Dillon Meehan
“Stick to Sports”
It is a phrased used ad nauseam by (usually) conservative fans on social media, whenever an athlete, sports writer or broadcaster makes a comment about politics that (usually) is negative about Donald Trump.
A certain sect of fans dislike the idea of politics and sports mixing together. But that all changed this weekend when Trump propositioned to a group of supporters at a rally in Alabama, how much he would “love to see” and owner release one of his “son of a bitch” players for kneeling during the anthem and “disrespect the flag.”
Most players and fans were shocked. The President used stronger language to condemn peaceful protestors, compared to what he said about Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists in Charlottesville.
For some, professional sports was purely a form of escapism. It was where they went each and every night, or weekend in the case of football, to not have to think about the outside world. They didn’t like when an athlete, a sports reporter or broadcaster wasn’t a mindless android whose only function was to talk about sports on their personal social media handle. Since Trump’s statement, the idea of sports being escapism is over for the foreseeable future.
So imagine what went through the mind of fan when they saw a professional athlete use his platform to not only protest racial injustices and police brutality during the national anthem, but to also protest the President of the United States.
For some of those fans, they refused to watch. They boycotted the NFL this past Sunday as a form of protest, because these fans disliked seeing professional athletes protest. Putting how painfully ironic and hypocritical those actions are, they view kneeling during the national anthem as a protest of the anthem itself. They fail to conceptualize the message behind these players protests. Rosa Parks was not protesting public transportation as a whole, Jessie Owens was not protesting the national anthems at the Olympics, they were protesting injustice and the systematic oppression.
However, when you look at the actual US Flag Code, you will see that not only players, but teams and colleges blatantly violate these codes each and every week.
First, “the flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.” In case you’ve never watched an NFL game before, the flag is always carried horizontally throughout the entire duration of the national anthem.
Second, “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.” Until 2009, NFL teams never even stood on the sidelines during the nation anthem. Instead, they stood in the locker room and then came out onto the field after. An article published by Vice Sports, pointed out that a 2015 congressional report showed that the NFL made this change because the Department of Defense and the National Guard actually paid the NFL 5.4 million and 6.7 million respectively to put the players on the field. According to the Vice Sports story, it was so that the NFL and military could have on-field patriotic ceremonies that could serve as a form of military recruitment. In short, the flag is being used for advertising.
Third, “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.” While this doesn’t pertain to the NFL, it is pretty common to see plenty of college teams have uniforms, helmets and cleats with the American flag designed on them.
Now I’m not calling for fans to be outraged by these violations, but they should understand that there are plenty of actual violations going on.
Fans have the right to look at the kneeling during the anthem as disrespect towards the flag, but they also have to respect the right of the players that the protest isn’t directed at the flag. Players also have to respect the right of the fans to be upset. Regardless, this issue has shown that politically the nation is more polarized than it has been in a long time.