When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally addressed the Colin Kaepernick situation, Goodell rooted his position in notions of patriotism.
“I support our players when they want to see change in society, and we don’t live in a perfect society,” Goodell said. “On the other hand, we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that.”
The strategy suggests that P.R. guru Joe Lockhart finally has gotten a seat at the table, at least on this issue. By coming out strongly in support of patriotism, Goodell’s comments have created a not-so-subtle impression that Kaepernick is behaving in an anti-patriotic way.
“I’m always sensitive to the labels that the league and media want to attach to our players,” NFLA executive director DeMaurice Smith told PFT. “When someone interjects labels like ‘patriotism’ when this issue is discussed, I’m concerned about whether it’s interpreted as a method to portray someone like Colin Kaepernick as unpatriotic. If so, it completely drowns the point that he and players like him are exercising a right protected by the Constitution, which is secured by thousands of men and women who keep us safe and is therefore an affirmation of what this country stands for.”
Regarding the decision of Kaepernick and any other players to not stand for the anthem, Smith said, “The position of the union is pretty clear and at its core pretty simple. We love it when our players understand and embrace issues in their own communities. We applaud that.”
And for good reason. These actions aren’t a rejection of patriotism; they are an exercise in it. The rights we hold dear as American citizens are meaningless if they can’t be exercised, and the behavior of Kaepernick and others has become a shining example that the Constitution is something more than words on paper.
While those rights include the right to disagree publicly with a player’s decision not to stand for the national anthem, equating standing for the anthem to patriotism suggests that anyone who doesn’t isn’t a patriot. Which isn’t a major leap from suggesting he’s a traitor.