America, the Land of the Free, has become the land of confrontations. Now the sports world has taken center stage in these confrontations. Sunday it was one silent protest after another across the NFL, including in London, where Jacksonville played Baltimore. In Minneapolis (Vikings vs. Tampa Bay), Vikings players, coaches, general manager and owners locked arms in unity, then went out and dominated Tampa Bay 34-17.
It’s been about a year now since former star quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to protest during the playing of the national anthem by taking a knee. He did it because as an American he has the right to protest. His decision has put him in the spotlight, and he has been targeted nationally.
He no longer plays for the San Francisco 49ers and has been an unrestricted free agent since March 2017. One problem is that he can’t seem to get a job. The phone is not ringing — no calls from any NFL teams.
Brooklyn rapper Jay Z recently kicked off his first concert in years. During his 90 minute performance in New York, he dedicated a song to Kaepernick, who has become a polarizing figure among NFL fans for his decision to sit last year and then kneel to protest police brutality in our country.
Several players have followed Kaepernick’s actions both last year and many this season as well, like Michael Bennett of Seattle who last month was assaulted by Las Vegas police. Many of Kaepernick’s supporters believe he is being singled out or blackballed for his advocacy, while others say he’s not been hired because his talent and performance have fallen off.
President Donald Trump, while speaking to his supporters at a rally in Alabama on Friday, said of player protests: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!”
Saturday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL is at its best “when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelmingly force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
Never has there been an NFL Sunday like the one we just witnessed. Head Coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in the locker room in Chicago at Soldier’s Field until after the playing of the national anthem, as did the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans prior to their game.
As a former player and journalist who has covered this league for 39 years with a son active in the NFL, I can tell you the words of our president have fired up the NFL. It just might be enough to bring the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) a little closer.
I said weeks ago we are headed towards a national debate on race relations in this country. It hurts that those who don’t understand won’t take the time to try and learn about the issues that exist. This is so much deeper than the playing of the national anthem. And it never has been about disrespecting the flag.
The division can only lead to a harmful result. There is a thin line between love and hate. It’s a shame that the president has chosen to stoke the fires and fuel his base — many of whom don’t care and won’t change — with hatred and violence. But that is who he is.
Stay tuned. I hope the best is yet to come.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.