Awkward Moments For The NFL

by Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist

I’ve been trying to keep up this week with all of the discussion about the protest gestures by players of the National Football League during the National Anthem before games. Trust me, it hasn’t been easy. There’s a lot of it.

There are all sorts of angles involved here, and one word keeps coming to mind: awkward.

As you certainly know by now, what started as a small gesture by a few players snowballed last weekend, due to some remarks at a rally in Alabama by President Trump. Since this involves the NFL, the media frenzy has been overwhelming. I find myself wishing that coverage of the federal government would be as detailed and complete as the coverage of the NFL is.

Appropriate place and time?

I’m a little torn over the setting of the protests, and that’s from someone who is a strong believer in the First Amendment. If the players spoke at a rally for justice, taking advantage to present their beliefs in full, I’d welcome the fact that they had developed a strong social conscience. But a silent gesture during the anthem doesn’t strike me as a perfect fit. It does give the players the biggest possible audience to introduce their viewpoints, which is obviously the point, but the action may get a little lost in the emotional attachment that others have to the symbolism of the anthem and of the flag.

The owners no doubt feel they are in a bit of a squeeze. They want their team to win games, and they don’t want the issue to split the roster apart and spoil the season. But they don’t want to anger part of their fan base – which some owners no doubt did when they visibly supported the players’ right to protest. The NFL has cultivated those fans over the years, with its military flyovers, giant flags, and salutes to veterans. I wonder if some NFL officials talked about playing the anthem before the players had taken the field.

Rally around the flag

Then there’s the matter of Trump’s remarks at the Alabama rally. The line that received the most attention in this case was, “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?’” It received wild applause by those at the rally, which no doubt encouraged Trump to keep bringing it up in the days since then. The subject was quickly turned into a topic for a fundraising email for Trump’s next campaign, according to one report. Still, it sure felt awkward to listen to the President of the United States call a group of Americans a mild obscenity in public.

And speaking of awkward, that word came up again a little later in the rally when Trump criticized rules offering players more protection from injuries. “They’re ruining the game,” he said to more applause. Brain injuries have become an epidemic among ex-players, and they have the chance to threaten the long-term survival of the sport. Do we really want to cheer the idea of having more of them?

My guess is that eventually this issue will slowly fade away, perhaps because of the lack of a focus on a specific issue. Even so, the forecast calls for more awkward moments in the days ahead.

Click here for more opinions from Buffalo Sports Page’s Budd Bailey.

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has been involved in almost every aspect of the local sports scene for the last 40 years. He worked for WEBR Radio, the Buffalo Sabres' public relations department and The Buffalo News during that time. In that time he covered virtually every aspect of the area's sports world, from high schools to the Bills and Sabres and everything in between. Along the way, Budd served as a play-by-play announcer for the Bisons, an analyst for the Stallions, and a talk-show host. He won the National Lacrosse League's Tom Borrelli Award as the media personality of the year in 2011, and was a finalist for that same award in 2017. Budd's seventh and eighth books, one on the Transcontinental Railroad and the other about Ichiro Suzuki, are scheduled to be released in the fall.

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