The NFL is under siege.
Conservatives have been boycotting over the protests, and injection of politics into the game over the last few years. In addition, progressives are boycotting because of the appearance of a “blacklist” of Colin Kaepernick. Then, on top of all of that, you have the concussion and brain CTE issues, with fewer parents allowing their children to play football due to worry regarding injuries. The game is also struggling due to new rule implementation. Players can’t hit as hard, they can’t celebrate as much, and the game stops every two seconds for a review, replay, or penalty. Rivalries used to be hotly contested and vitriolic games that fans anticipated, now everyone is each other’s best friend on the other team. One could easily argue that the “soul” of the game has been compromised, and it isn’t as great as it used to be.
This season is off to an inglorious start. Before even the first game was played, we had an escalating war on the NFL from all sides. Now, it’s elevated several notches due to President Trump’s incendiary assault at his rally on the 22nd. In the speech, he called for the firing of those “sons of bitches” that kneel for the anthem. Personally, I can see why this is such a big issue. The disrespect shown to the anthem and the flag, and the sacrifices made by those who fought for it, is to me completely offensive. American football is a game created in America, played almost exclusively by Americans, that players are compensated millions of dollars to play, even on the low end. American Football, and the NFL, would not exist at all were it not for the veterans and those who have fought for this country. Personally, even if I disagreed with every single thing the country was doing, I’d still stand for the anthem to pay homage to those who died fighting for the ideals we aspire to.
Now, I also acknowledge the other side of that argument. If you are black in America, you constantly see in the media a black person being shot by law enforcement, so if you perceive law enforcement becoming judge, jury, and executioner, I can see why you’d protest. This is where we saw the initial reason for all these protests. Keep in mind, these players are not protesting for themselves, they are protesting the perceived racial injustice they see in their communities. If you are the average black person in America, you see virtually every shooting or death of a black person by law enforcement played over and over ad nauseam on every news show. Studies show, such as this Harvard study, that black people are no more likely to be subject to lethal force. However, if you see it from their point of view, all they see are the news reports that yet another black person is dead, and there is rarely punishment for the cop that did the shooting. The media does the country no favors here as they rarely show any white people getting shot, so it gives the appearance that black people are regularly being executed in the streets.
Then we have the assault on the game itself. I personally believe that radical progressives hate football, and I’ll tell you why. Football is violent. There is no equality of outcome. It is the ultimate meritocracy. Survival of the fittest, where only the biggest, strongest, toughest, and fastest survive. It is overwhelmingly masculine, or as a radical feminist might put it, it has a lot of “toxic masculinity”. In addition, it shows that no, gender is not a social construct, it is pure biology. No one cares that the NFL isn’t diverse, as Asians are wildly underrepresented. I believe that if radical progressives had their way, the NFL would be gone tomorrow. Every ridiculous narrative they try to push, from gender to diversity, the very existence of the NFL flies right in the face of it. They might be able force a company to up it’s diversity quota, but they can’t do anything to make the NFL sign more Asian players. Not that progressives don’t hate Asian people, since they discriminate against them in academia and the tech sector every chance they get.
I said the NFL has lost some of it’s soul. The same applies to virtually every sport, especially the NBA. These are two sports I loved and watched incessantly growing up, and I’ve watched them become sterile and soulless. Every incremental policy put into place has degraded the emotion and pace of the game. No, you can’t celebrate too much, you might hurt someone’s feelings. No, you can’t hit too hard, or play too aggressive defense. Yes, the game has to be far longer with an arduous pace so we can review and make sure every call is fair. Yes, you should totally switch teams every season to try to get a ring or more money. And yes, you should assemble these super teams comprised of insane talent, thus rendering the rest of the league at a massive competitive disadvantage. The combination of all these things and more, has crushed the souls of these leagues. Gone are the days of Lakers vs. Celtics, or Bulls vs. Pistons. 49ers vs. Cowboys. These intense rivalries barely exist any more, and the leagues are worse off for it.
So now, we have a league caught in the middle of a culture war. The NFL has become a battleground not just for teams, but for ideology. The NFL is in essentially a no win situation. Force the players to stand, you lose progressives. Don’t force them to stand you lose conservatives. The NFL is a microcosm of the country right now. Deeply divided, and highly partisan. Culture War 2.0 is real, and has infiltrated every level of our lives. The once sacred bastions of sports, music, movies, and comedy used to be the places we could put partisanship aside and enjoy each other’s company. Now we draw battle lines over every single one of these outlets, and wage war with one another. Is the answer to double down and just hate the other side more? I believe the answer is to really look at what the other side is saying and talk to someone you know who is on that side. The President, be it Trump or Obama, cannot force us to come together and see each other's perspective.
We have to do that ourselves.
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Steve is the author of Forging the Iron Mind, and is the founder and CEO of Americana Prime.