Sunday’s anthem protests seemed to be more about responding to the Commander-in-Chief’s challenge than the issues that sparked kneeling and sitting in the first place (although concerns regarding racial equality and equal justice surely remain). Now that the NFL has both pushed back against the profane remarks of the President and rallied together in an unprecedented display of unity, what happens next?
For starters, Week Three hasn’t ended. The Cardinals and Cowboys on Monday night will surely add to the demonstrations that have occurred, with particular attention being paid to the franchise known as America’s Team, whose head coach and owner have made their positions clear regarding the anthem issue. Indeed, the Dallas Cowboys are the only team who have said nothing at all in response to the President’s comments. While they’re expected to issue a statement closer to kickoff of tonight’s game, the fact that an owner who always has something to say about anything and everything has had nothing to say about this very important matter is conspicuous, to say the least.
Next comes Week Four. The league, we’re told, believes and hopes that the President will move on to other things, allowing the NFL and its players to focus on the efforts that previously had begun to create and advance a dialogue between players and law enforcement and to engage in other efforts aimed at improving their communities. The goal will be, in short, to continue to move from protest to progress.
This assumes that the President stops talking and tweeting about anthem protests, urging fans to not watch or attend NFL games, and/or trolling the league regarding bad ratings or rules that make the game less violent and, in turn, less interesting. If he keeps it up, the league and the players will feel compelled to continue to respond.
To the extent that some believe the President intended to create division within the NFL, its teams, and its players, the best way for the President to truly divide could be to say nothing more about it. Some players will want to continue to protest. Some players eventually may be inclined to resist, arguing that with the President no longer taking shots at the players, there’s no reason for the players to continue to react. It could be a recipe for, in time, a problem in one or more locker rooms.
Then there’s the question of whether the owners who supported the President in the past have undergone an epiphany or whether they’ll continue to support the President once this issue dies down. Surely, they aren’t surprised by the tone or the content of remarks, especially since the President previously had made public comments about anthem protests and safety measures long before Friday night. Now that he has done a cannon ball into the shallow end of their swimming pool, will they kick him out for the weekend, or for good?
However it all plays out, there’s a good chance this situation remains closer to the beginning than the end.