Gil Mertz | The NFL Fumbles on Racism, Again

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After surviving the debacle of players kneeling during the national anthem before games a few years ago, the NFL has decided to wade back into those troubled waters. They lost ratings, revenue, legions of fans and respect, but the owners managed to appease those protesting with a commitment of $100 million to causes they cared about. 

That solved everything, right?

Well, they’re back again, only it’s far worse. In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death, the NFL apologized for “not listening” about racism and we can now expect masses of players kneeling before the flag this season during the playing of our national anthem. But Houston Texans jock J.J. Watt said if anyone thinks their protest is disrespecting the flag, “You clearly haven’t been listening.” 

That’s bull. 

We clearly listened when Colin Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.” Kaepernick made it very clear that he was kneeling because he was ashamed of the American flag and what he thought it represented. 

So please spare us that their protest is not about the flag. If it wasn’t, then why kneel ONLY when the flag is presented?

Meanwhile, future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald recently said, “Our first step must be to listen to one another — to sincerely lean in and hear what the person who is different from us is saying.”

Did NFL players “sincerely lean in and hear” Drew Brees when he expressed his views about kneeling before the flag? He said he disagreed because it reminded him of his two grandfathers who fought in World War II.  

But he was mercilessly attacked by NFL players because he had the audacity to think differently.

Sadly, Brees immediately apologized to those who were attacking him. His two grandfathers risked their lives to protect their grandson’s right to free speech. But after a few mean tweets, Drew Brees surrendered. 

Heck with my grandfathers, I’m with you guys! Now please stop saying mean things about me, OK?

Fearing the same mob, NFL owners have pledged $250 million over the next 10 years to “combat racism,” whatever THAT means. But think about it. For 32 billionaire NFL owners, that’s like a portion of their popcorn receipts for a few games.

The players and the owners of the NFL are sacrificing great opportunities to make a real difference with racism at the altar of political correctness. Instead of taking a knee, they need to stand up to make a real difference. Here are just a few suggestions:

First, stop wasting your voice by trying to convince your fans that racism is bad, George Floyd’s death was wrong and that Black lives matter. Are there that many Ku Klux Klan members among NFL fans out there? Stop insulting the intelligence of your fans by trying to appear cool that you’re against racism.

Second, acknowledge the progress America is making about police brutality and racism. Since George Floyd’s death, over a billion dollars has been raised to support this cause and Congress is working to implement changes to our laws. You won! Considering these tangible results, why would you still kneel when the American flag is presented? This act of willful ignorance will only polarize you from your fans.

Third, embrace the fact that no element in our culture has overcome racism like sports. Players are colorblind to their teammates. What can NFL players teach us as a culture about racism? How can these lessons be applied to the greater society?

Fourth, NFL players have enormous influence over other men. Speak directly to men about their responsibilities as husbands and fathers. Why not use your influence to motivate men to stand up and be the men they need to be in their homes and with their families?

Worst of all, the NFL is not listening to their own fans, who overwhelmingly disapprove of coddled, multi-millionaires kneeling to “not show pride in their flag” as Kaepernick himself defined it.

I wish today’s players would listen to Jim Brown, the greatest NFL player of them all and champion for civil rights, who said, “I am not going to denigrate my flag and I’m going to stand for the national anthem. I’m fighting with all of my strength to make it a better country.”

Stop kneeling and start standing!

Gil Mertz is a Thousand Oaks resident and former Santa Clarita Valley resident who worked for Help the Children in Valencia for 20 years. His column does not necessarily represent the views of The Signal or its editorial board.

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