NFL: Now the No Freedom League
I grew up in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before they had satellite TV. As such, on the Monday after the Super Bowl, everyone on the entire base would try to get through the day without knowing who had won the game. That night, after a tape of the game had been flown down from the U.S., we'd watch the game and be riveted to our TVs. The military TV stations weren't allowed to show private commercials, so we would all greet a Pepsi or McDonalds commercial that might slip by the censors with wondrous applause. The NFL was my passion, along with my sainted Dolphins, with Gods Bob Griese and Dan Marino at the helm.
Today, however, I doubt I'll watch another NFL game, and I most certainly won't spend a penny on NFL merchandise.
Why? It's simple. The NFL, helmed by men who are ostensibly some of the smartest businessmen in America, literally helped bring America to the brink of revolution, maybe even led the way. We're talking about Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter.
The NFL, and to a lesser degree MLB and the NBA, used to be oases from which all Americans could seek refuge from the slings and arrows of daily life. Monday at the office used to be "Did you see that catch?" or "The zebras blew another one!" Since Kaepernick started his grandstanding, however, the conversations became more about who was kneeling, what star was lecturing America about this grievance or that, and ceased to be about the excitement or pain or joy of the actual games.
In a sad irony, Charlie Daniels once wrote an anthem called "In America" where he used an NFL team to demonstrate Americans' unity.
And we may have done a little bit of fighting among ourselves,
but you outside people best leave us alone...
Cause we'll all stick together, and you can take that to the bank,
that's the cowboys and the hippies and the rebels and the yanks...
You just go and lay your hand on a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and I think you're gonna finally understand.
It's almost apropos that Daniels died in the very year when it's not outsiders who have started a revolution, but other Americans, and they were set on that course by the NFL.
Had the "geniuses" who run the NFL understood anything about America and put a stop to Kaepernick's on-field preening four years ago, we wouldn't be where we are today. Freedom of speech had nothing to do with anything. Kaepernick had and has every right to say what's on his mind. The NFL, however, did not have to allow him to hijack its platform to trumpet it. Had they not helped him become a media darling, he probably wouldn't have walked away from is multimillion-dollar contract and become the least worthy "martyr" in the history of martyrs.
And just to be clear: it's not because they couldn't have done anything. The NFL controls virtually every single thing about its games and programs. It choreographs everything! Uniform colors...check. Shirts tucked in...check. Fines for faux cell phone celebrations after a touchdown? Check. Yet somehow they weren't able to tell players that they could not disrespect the American flag and National Anthem. They could have required standing, or required those not wanting to participate to stay in the locker room, or they could have kept all the players in the locker rooms and let the fans sing the song...but they didn't. Instead, they allowed what would have been a flash in the pan to become a raging inferno that has the potential to turn the United States and its Constitution into ashes. The fires and riots and attacks on police and federal buildings and America are simply the progeny of the boiling tempers fueled in part by the victim mentality emboldened by the NFL's wokeness.
Today in the United States, the idea of free speech is vanishing, and the NFL, by showcasing a struggling, marginal, spoiled quarterback with a chip on his shoulder, helped make it so. Today in America, everything is political: science; education; health care; and now, sadly, even sports. Sure, politics in sports has been around for a while — go back to the 1968 Black Power Olympic protests or Muhammad Ali, but those were news, not everyday life.
Now politics has infested every corner of American life, and you can't help but see it everywhere, from shopping to going to the movies to wedding cakes to science — not to mention workplaces. Up until about 2016, Americans had at least one refuge from the cancer of political rage. That was sports. Americans of different colors, of different religions, of different national origins could get together and cheer for (or against) the Cowboys, the Raiders, the Patriots, or the Steelers and feel as though they were part of something bigger than themselves, members of the same team. "How'd we do this weekend?" or "Where are we at this Sunday?" wasn't reserved for players or coaches; fans were part of the team, the twelfth man. They weren't just observers; they were family. Sports made fans' differences inconsequential, even if only for as long as they were cheering together or drinking beer together or wearing the their matching Giants jerseys.
In putting politics front and center in their offerings, in letting their platforms become a cultural litmus test, in actively turning their sport into a vehicle for wokeness, the NFL has destroyed its brand as an American icon. Never again will many Americans look to it for a welcome respite from the chaos of everyday life. Never again will it have the capacity to change American life the way the Heidi Bowl did.
The NFL may continue to be a viable business for some time, but its place in history will be sealed by its engagement in wokeness. The thing about wokeness is that there are always new victims to be supported, new causes to be championed, and new targets for expropriation and destruction. The geniuses who run the league shouldn't be surprised that eventually they will be on the wrong side of some victims' rights group, and their businesses will be targeted, their directors will be hounded and eventually their assets will be taken, one way or another. When that happens, they shouldn't be surprised that more than a few people might be whispering feelings of schadenfreude.