Nearly a century after its founding, the National Football League finally has its own Hall of Shame. Inductees include:
▪ Nearly two dozen players with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens who took a knee this week during the national anthem. The players will claim that this was done to draw attention to the fact that many African-Americans have grievances with the United States. But much of it was about pettiness and politics. A couple days earlier, President Trump had said that anyone who pulled such a stunt should be fired. An estimated 130 other players in the NFL – which is more than 70 percent African-American – took a knee or resorted to other gestures of protest over the weekend. But context is king. And what the Jaguars and Ravens did was especially egregious because their game was played in London. Let that sink in. American athletes stood on foreign soil and showed contempt for their country, and its anthem, while standing out of respect for “God Save The Queen.”
One more twist: Have any of these rich and pampered malcontents ever picked up a history book? If they had, they might have known that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is based on a poem written by a 35-year-old lawyer named Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombing of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. And who was the United States at war with in 1812? The British.
▪ Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, and nearly the entire Steelers team, which cowardly remained in the tunnel during the national anthem. It was Tomlin’s idea; the coach later said he wanted to “protect” his players by sparing them the discomfort of having to choose between respecting their teammates and showing their love of country. Protect? Is Tomlin running a football team, or a daycare center? Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on his personal website that he regretted the incident and wished that the team had “approached it differently.”
The one bright spot was Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who was awarded a Bronze Star while serving three tours in Afghanistan. The offensive tackle stood alone outside the tunnel, hand over his heart during the anthem. It was an inspiring image that Villanueva – who has been criticized by Tomlin for not sticking with the team and who is obviously under intense pressure to show solidarity with teammates – said in a tweet he now finds embarrassing. He told reporters that he wanted to stand for the anthem, but he didn’t want to be on display. He doesn’t want to be singled out, and he can’t afford to go rogue because he needs his teammates to watch his back on the gridiron. Villanueva now says he regrets making Tomlin and fellow players “look bad.” No need for regret, soldier. They did that all on their own.
▪ And finally, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the entire Cowboys team, who tried to be too cute by half and wound up creating a spectacle that showed just how ridiculous the whole “take a knee” movement really is. It’s obvious that Jones just wants peace in the valley, so the team can get on with playing football and the billionaire can get back to making money. So the team owner and his players linked arms and kneeled. But this all happened before the national anthem. They might as well have done it in the parking lot during the tailgating, amid the aroma of brisket. When former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick – who is now a free agent – started this movement last year, at least kneeling used to mean something. I didn’t like it, and I still don’t. But I knew what it meant. As he made clear in interviews at the time, Kaepernick believed that police were targeting, beating and sometimes even killing young African-American men. And he thought the choices in the 2016 election were lousy and depressing. Now kneeling has become just another thing to do – like “The Macarena.”
The Cowboys are marketed as “America’s Team,” but do they have even the faintest idea what’s going on in America?
Here goes. Too many Americans are stuck on stupid. They are embarrassed by patriotism, take freedom for granted, lack empathy, don’t listen to each other, think themselves superior, ascribe sinister motives, see everything in terms of race and can’t stop poisoning every aspect of society with politics.
I could go on, but some of this may get unpleasant. So, before I continue, Coach Tomlin had better gather up the kiddies and get them back into their safe space.
Ruben Navarrette’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org.