If the NFL owners thought they came up with a solution this week that will make disappear the issue of players’ game-day protests, the billionaires are dumber than the inventors of the adobe submarine.
In the benign NFL calendar period of organized team activities, when it’s all about hope and fluffy spring clouds, the owners’ new anthem policy inflamed all sides anew.
The change created an opening for the Divider in Chief, Donald Trump, to bulldoze through, praising Wednesday morning the owners’ plan while damning the players: “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
A few hours later, Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin had a retort.
“He’s an idiot,” he said, “plain and simple.”
Usually one to run around an obstacle, Baldwin went freight train.
Baldwin stood for the anthem throughout last season while working with the league and the new Players Coalition to create an $89 million fund to help non-profits deal with grassroots issues of social injustice. He was crestfallen at the owners’ lame plan and Trump’s suggestion of deportation, sensing a full regression to the convulsive political drama of September.
“When you stoke the fire and inflame a gap that was really dissipating at the time, you cause more problems,” he said at the interview podium after the OTA practice Wednesday at team headquarters. That’s why I say I think the NFL missed it.”
The NFL’s change in game policy to require all personnel to stand “respectfully” for the national anthem, while giving protesters the option of remaining in the locker room, even irked QB Russell Wilson, the formeer human Hallmark card who has grown a little edgier over the past year.
Asked whether the NFL is telling players to shut up, he said, “Pretty much. I think that’s part of it. It seems that way.”
Baldwin was appalled at Trump’s deportation idea.
“For him to say that anybody who doesn’t follow viewpoints, or his constituents’ viewpoints, should be kicked out of the country, it’s not very empathetic,” he said. “It’s not very American-like, to me. It’s not very patriotic. It’s not what this country was founded upon.
“It’s kind of ironic to me that the president of the United States is contradicting what our country is really built on.”
Coach Pete Carroll was more diplomatic, emphasizing the need for more listening and empathy. But Trump’s rhetoric, reminiscent of the Vietnam War drivel by war hawks, “America: Love it or leave it,” dismayed him.
“It’s sometimes hard to take the perspectives that are out there in a meaningful way,” he said politely.
Baldwin, who has put in countless hours contributing to community initiatives as well working with NFL executives to turn protest into genuine progress, was crushed by commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement banishing would-be protesters to the locker room, or risk fines (amounts unknown) for the team if they demonstrate publicly.
“I can’t lie that it was emotional for me yesterday to read it,” Baldwin said. “Specifically the part where he says it was disappointing that our (players’) narratives had been misunderstood, that our players were unpatriotic, which he stated was completely false. But in the same breath, in his next statement, he said everyone will stand and respect the flag, as if what we were doing before was disrespectful.
“It pulls on the heartstrings. The demonstrations — the reason why we were having the conversations we were having — was because there was a loss of life. It was never about disrespecting the flag, or the military, or anything in that regard. It was about the loss of life in a particular community. There was frustration. Enough is enough.”
Baldwin, son of a Florida police officer, was referring to the fatal shootings of unarmed African American men by police that ignited anger in minority communities over the past several years.
Since Trump in September called protesting players “sons of bitches” who should be fired, team owners have struggled to find a way to appease the fans mad at protesters and tuning out games, while not alienating a high-profile workforce that is 70 percent black.
Since anthem policy is not part of the collective bargaining agreement with the players union — unlike the NBA, where players negotiated away their right to demonstrate on the court — the owners had no obligation to consult with players before amending the game-operations manual. But Baldwin suggested it would have been smart to do have done so, at least informally.
“It is just disappointing that the NFL has not seen the majority of the players in this locker room, and how this (policy change) impacts them,” he said. “The NFL was reluctant to reach out to those players and see why this matters to them so much.
“I will speak on behalf of those who did not take a knee, those who did not demonstrate in any other way — I didn’t take a knee, I didn’t raise a fist, I didn’t sit down. I stood. I’m telling you that I’m disappointed in the NFL’s policy, because (of) the way that they went about it, and the lack of communication they had with the players who they’re supposed to represent.”
Owners assumed they knew what the players would say, but neglected to offer the courtesy of a respectful consultation. Then they changed the anthem protocol in a way that appeared to pander to the president and his base, only to have their effort blown up by more Trump insults and threats to protesting players, some of whom this fall may defy the edict. That would mean the NFL can fine the team, forcing an owner to choose between losing cash or losing a player to alienation.
So much for the optimism of May football.