First things first: NFL players who protest during the national anthem are not protesting The Anthem anymore than Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation. They are demonstrating against racial injustice in policing and in the criminal justice system. (Their grievances have the benefit of being borne out by the facts.) They are using the patriotic rituals before football games-a time for celebrating American Greatness, and when they know they will have the broader public's attention-as an opportunity to bring attention to the fact that America is not all great, all the time, for everyone.
Still, critics of the protest insist that it is unpatriotic to suggest ways the country could improve-or at least to do so while others are celebrating how great it is. This is bizarre, but it is our reality: When the NFL owners voted to essentially ban the protests this week-though it now appears they may not have formally voted at all-commissioner Roger Goodell cited concerns that the protests brought questions about the players' patriotism and whether they were disrespecting The Anthem, or The Flag, or our armed forces.
(In this formulation, the troops are defending The Flag, not the First Amendment, the Constitution more broadly, and more broadly still, our rights as citizens to express ourselves freely in the public square.)
One ex-pro, Marvin Washington, followed this logic to ask a very good question: If it's disrespectful for NFL employees to kneel during the anthem, surely it's disrespectful to continue selling beer and chili dogs during the ceremony?
"If they want compliance from the players ... They're not shutting down the concessions ... Shut down the concessions"- Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) May 25, 2018
Former NFL star Marvin Washington @mwash52 joins @NicolleDWallace to discuss the NFL's new policy pic.twitter.com/pJvWeVemV4
After all, this is about Respecting the Anthem. Both the players and the various concession vendors are employees and representatives-directly or indirectly-of the National Football League as an enterprise. Shouldn't they all be held to the same standard? Shouldn't everyone have to stop what they're doing, stand, take off their hats, and put their hands over their hearts? Maybe the stadium employees who work the gates should stop swiping fans' tickets and allowing them into the stadium while the anthem ceremony is underway. You have to arrive before or after the anthem, you can't come in during. Show some respect.
Or maybe none of this is about the anthem, but about fans being reminded-for less than two minutes-about how maybe the country isn't all great before they get to watch The Big Game. Maybe it has something to do with the complexion of most of those protesting, and the fact they've made many millions of dollars more than most of those watching will in their lifetimes-and they're still not "grateful." And maybe the owners are worried that embracing the social consciousness of their employees might cost them some money. So, after all, would closing the concession stands. The most important freedom in America is the free flow of dollar bills.
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