I hadn’t planned on writing this post. After all, you can’t turn on the news this morning without seeing what happened at the beginning of the NFL games yesterday. The story isn’t over, either, because there is another game tonight. But comments by Pittsburg Steelers coach Mike Tomlin force my hand. His attitude, combined with the events — or non-events — at UC Berkley over the weekend, are indicative of a problem in this country that the media refuses to cover. Very simply put, free speech is approved only so long as you are doing or saying what the “cool kids” approve of. In this case, the cool kids are the media, Antifa and the like.
We saw a perfect example of someone doing what he felt was right yesterday. Steelers player Alejandro Villanueva came out of the tunnel and stood, hand over his heart, during the playing of the National Anthem. He was the lone Steeler to take to the field. Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, had the courage to stand in respect and in support of the flag he served and the country he loves. None of his other teammates can say the same.
Not that they had the choice. Coach Tomlin made the call they wouldn’t take the field until after the Anthem was played. Here’s what Tomlin (who, along with several of his coaches, did take to the field and stand for the Anthem) had to say:
We’re chasing something special here in 2017 and we’re not going to play politics. We’re football players. We’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today. Not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.
People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t have to be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to. So we’re not participating today. That’s our decision. We’re going to be 100 percent. We came here to play a football game. That’s our intent.
Now, at first blush, this seems reasonable. However, look a little closer. He says they aren’t going to play politics but that’s exactly what they did. It was a political statement made in response to President Trump’s comments about firing those players who don’t stand for the playing of the Anthem. There’s no way they would have responded in the same way had it been anyone else to say what Trump did. they might have given the reporters a soundbite but that would have been all. No, this was exactly what Tomlin claimed it wasn’t. It was a political statement. But there’s more.
He goes on to say people shouldn’t have to choose. But isn’t that exactly what he, and the rest of the coaching staff, did for the players? They chose to make a statement by staying inside the tunnel, a choice that was not unanimous. In fact, I have yet to find out how many of the players actually voted to remain off the field. Was this a case where the few made the decision for the many? Even if it was a majority, that took the decision away from those who, like Villanueva, wanted to pay respect to the flag and the anthem.
But there is another quote, even more telling, that came from Tomlin later.
When asked by a reporter about hero Alejandro Villanueva coming out of the locker room to stand for the national anthem, instead of staying inside like the rest of his teammates, coach Tomlin said, “Like I said, I was looking for 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team.”
That doesn’t sound like he’s willing to let his players make a decision, to make a choice. Will any of us be surprised to find he disciplined Villanueva for not standing down? If so, he will have simply proven the double-standard that is so evident right now when it comes to the topic of free speech. And no, I’m not talking about “freedom of speech” as guaranteed in the Constitution. I’m talking about the ability to say what we want, as long as it doesn’t violate the law, without fear of reasonable reprisal.
Yes, an employee has to consider how what he says or does reflects on his employer. If he does something that reflects negatively on his employer or that could negatively impact the brand, it is reasonable that he will face reprisal from the employer. However, the key is “negatively impact”. Standing for the National Anthem will not reach that threshold. Now, it is debatable if kneeling for it will. Considering the decline in rating for NFL games, it can be argued that it does. However, that is for the bean counters to decide.
What is so troubling about what happened Sunday is that there were those who wanted to show their respect for the flag, for the anthem and for this country and were not allowed to do so by their coaches. How dare they! If you say in one breath that the NFL isn’t going to play politics and then, with the very next, do something like that, you are worse than those you condemn.
Like it or not, those players who choose to take a knee can do so. I don’t have to like it but I won’t attempt to stop it. I will simply make my feelings known in ways that can impact their bottom line. I won’t buy their jerseys. I won’t go to games they play in. However, when management inserts itself into the equation and claim politics isn’t involved, I will call bullshit. I will turn off the TV when their team is on. I won’t buy from the businesses advertising with them. Since I have no doubt Roger Goodell, head of the NFL, will do anything about the situation, I have no qualms about tuning out. I will also recommend the Pentagon and other governmental agencies withdraw any financial support, through ads etc., from the NFL as well. After all, why should the NFL benefit financially when it won’t take a stance to allow all its players to have a voice in this issue?
If Tomlin wants an all or nothing proposition, I’m more than happy to give it to him.