Allahpundit noted this morning that there has been a run on Alejandro Villanueva jerseys after he became the lone Steelers player to come out of the tunnel during the national anthem yesterday. Today, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger published his explanation of what happened, saying he wasn’t able to sleep last night and wishes the team had done things differently.
I was unable to sleep last night and want to share my thoughts and feelings on our team’s decision to remain in the tunnel for the National Anthem yesterday. The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently. We did not want to appear divided on the sideline with some standing and some kneeling or sitting.
As a team, it was not a protest of the flag or the Anthem. I personally don’t believe the Anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest. For me, and many others on my team and around the league, it is a tribute to those who commit to serve and protect our country, current and past, especially the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice.
I appreciate the unique diversity in my team and throughout the league and completely support the call for social change and the pursuit of true equality. Moving forward, I hope standing for the Anthem shows solidarity as a nation, that we stand united in respect for the people on the front lines protecting our freedom and keeping us safe. God bless those men and women.
It certainly sounds as if Roethlisberger will be standing the next time the anthem is played, even if some of his teammates are not. It’s understandable that he and other players wanted to maintain team unity but that’s not how politics works. Politics, especially left-wing politics, works by diving people into categories and then pitting them against other categories. For many Americans, football represents a respite from the kind of divisions we encounter in politics. Steelers fans, like players, come from many different backgrounds but at the stadium, they’re all on the same side. At least that’s how it used to work. Now that politics has reared its ugly head, teammates and fans have to pick a side. Do you support Kaepernick and BLM or do you support President Trump? The Steelers tried standing in the tunnel to avoid the question, but clearly, it can’t be avoided.
At the Federalist, Robert Tracinski pointed out today that no one really knows how this is supposed to end:
The message is supposed to be “I’m protesting injustice,” but it turns into “I’m protesting injustice, which I equate with America itself.” It is the petulant demand that everyone else fall in line with the protesters’ exact political preferences and their vague political program—I haven’t found anybody who can tell me what concrete measures would convince the knee-takers to stand up again—or else they will refuse to love their own country…
What if you don’t go along with them? Well, if you’re not in the Resistance than you’re a collaborator and you must be the racist enemy, too. That’s how we go from a disgruntled quarterback taking the knee, to dozens of players taking the knee, to an inquisition in which every player will be required to take the knee. That’s what’s coming next. People are already demanding that all other players join the kneelers. #TakeTheKnee ends up sounding a whole lot like #BendTheKnee, a demand for obedience to the Left’s anti-American pageantry.
Turning football into a political football seems destined to do for sports exactly what it does for colleges and universities, i.e. turn people away. I see only three possible solutions to this problem. One, as Tacinski suggests, is everyone can bow the knee to the left’s demand for cultural obedience. Two, the NFL could crackdown on protest until the fad wears off, something that seems unlikely in the current climate especially since it would be seen as siding with Trump. Third, the NFL could remove the opportunity for the protest by either keeping teams off the field during the anthem or by cutting the anthem from the game. Of the three, I think option three is the most likely outcome. In fact, CNN has a story up today which makes the case that the requirement to have the team on the field for the anthem is a recent change:
After World War II, the commissioner of the NFL at the time, Elmer Layden, made a specific plea to keep the anthem as a game-day tradition.
“The playing of the national anthem should be as much a part of every game as the kickoff,” he said. “We must not drop it simply because the war is over. We should never forget what it stands for.”
While the anthem continued to be a game-day fixture, NFL players typically stayed in the locker room for it.
There were exceptions, of course — players observed the anthem after 9/11, and during Super Bowl games. But it wasn’t until 2009 that players were mandated to be on the field for the song.
If the NFL sees a few more weeks of declining viewership, something will change. Keeping the players off the field seems like one way to take personal politics out of the game without taking action against individual players.