Every week, America implodes over yet another seemingly stupid cultural battle. The latest blow-up over NFL players kneeling for the National Anthem, however, takes the cake. That’s because over the last week, the debate has moved from a relatively clear consensus — protesting the National Anthem is idiotic, but people shouldn’t be fired for doing it — to outright warfare.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. It’s Idiotic To Protest The National Anthem. Protesting the National Anthem is foolish politics. It’s foolish because that’s one of the symbols that unites us. It’s the equivalent of burning the American flag; no successful American political movement has built itself on flag-burning or Anthem-protesting. There have been historic figures who say they have a hard time with the National Anthem, most prominently veteran and American hero Jackie Robinson — but that was back in 1972, not in 2017, when America has largely moved beyond the shadow of legally enshrined racism. Protesting the National Anthem on the basis of police brutality is particularly stupid, given the lack of statistical evidence of national law enforcement discrimination against innocent black Americans. National Anthem protest-initiator Colin Kaepernick is largely and correctly seen as a dolt who divides the country.
3. Trump Will Make Bank Off This Issue. President Trump can always count on the media and the Left to lose their minds over everything he does, to the point that their tactics backfire in spectacular fashion on them. This issue is no different. Trump overstepped by suggesting from the White House bully pulpit that NFL owners should fire players who protest the Anthem — that’s a particularly egregious position to take when the Trump administration is actively and rightly fighting for the rights of religious business owners to run their own businesses as they see fit. But that doesn’t matter. By turning the Anthem protests from a settled issue into a referendum on him, Trump pushed the Left’s buttons — and the Left responded in the stupidest possible fashion, by suggesting that everyone kneel for the Anthem. The Left thinks they’re protesting Trump’s overreach. The image that will hit the newspapers, however, is Leftists supporting protesting the Anthem itself, which is deeply and properly unpopular. If the Left believes they’re going to win hearts and minds by kneeling for the National Anthem, they’re insane. Even the New England Patriots were booed for protesting the Anthem on Sunday. The biggest winner of the day was Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, who bucked his team’s boycott of the Anthem to appear and stand for the Anthem (his jersey sales skyrocketed). The biggest loser was Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, who stretched during the Anthem. Trump may have stepped in crap, but he’s the one who will come out smelling like a rose politically.
4. Democrats Will Make Bank Off This Issue. It’s not just Trump who will do well with this issue. Democrats will do well with their base, even if they suffer with the middle of the country. They may not win back the Rust Belt based on this issue — they’ll almost certainly push a lot of those people into Trump’s camp — but they’ll raise enormous sums of cash from celebrity backers, and increase their cultural dominance and cache. Trump may win Ohio, but Democrats will still be the cool kids hanging out with Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Stevie Wonder. That seems to matter to them.
5. Our Cultural Fabric Is Eroding. Quickly. In February 2017, I wrote a column titled, “Can The Super Bowl Save America?” The basis for the column was simple: America needs to take a breath from politics every so often. Football is one of those breaths. As I wrote:
Hollywood and pop culture would do well to remind themselves that if they don’t want to alienate half their audience and exacerbate our differences, they can allow us room to breathe. The Super Bowl did that this year. For that, we should be just a little grateful, even if it didn’t solve any true underlying problems. Those will require a bit more time and a bit more space.
So much for that rosy notion. The NFL has become ground zero for the culture wars. Which means that we can’t see movies anymore, watch TV shows anymore, or even watch sports anymore without feeling that we’re being judged. That means our common spaces are disappearing. And we have so little political common space already that cultural common space was our last relic of togetherness.
6. The NFL Will Lose Most From This Nonsense. They Deserve To. The NFL will be destroyed by this. Thousands of Americans were already tuning out due to concussion coverage and domestic abuse issues. Now that will accelerate. That’s due in large measure to the NFL’s utterly inconsistent stance with regard to political posturing. When St. Louis Rams players engaged in “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” protests in 2014, the league did nothing; when Dallas Cowboys players wanted to wear Dallas police decals to honor the department after a massacre of officers by a black radical, the NFL turned them down flat. When Kaepernick knelt for the Anthem, and other players followed, the NFL did nothing; when some players wanted to wear cleats on September 11, 2016 honoring the fallen, the NFL threatened fines. Is it any wonder that fans feel like the NFL took a side here?
Here’s the bottom line: this conflict isn’t good for the country. We need our shared symbols, and we need our shared spaces. Both of those elements are being destroyed for political and ratings gain. If that doesn’t stop, we’re not going to have anything at all in common anymore.