Opinion: I Just Want to Watch Football

Washington Redskins National Anthem Protest
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Washington Redskins Owner Daniel Synder stands with cornerback Josh Norman #24 and cornerback Bashaud Breeland #26 during the the national anthem before the game against the Oakland Raiders at FedExField on Sept. 24, 2017.

Stand, sit, kneel, lock arms, do somersaults — athletes can do whatever they want on the sidelines during the national anthem. I just want to watch football.

The star-spangled pregame tradition is the subject of much hand-wringing and consternation, with NFL players opting to bend a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, social injustice and racial inequality. At least that’s what I think this is about. I’m not really sure anymore. I just want to watch football.

We’re bombarded by politics every waking moment on every electronic device. Is it too much to ask to just spend a few hours on a Sunday watching large men run into each other at high speeds without having my worldview challenged? Sunday is supposed to be a day to give that crap a rest.

But it won’t rest. The media loves this stuff, and they’ve saturated TV, their airtime, Twitter feeds and column inches with everyone’s hot takes. Some analysts have reached hitherto unknown levels of woke. ESPN, which recently brought back Hank Williams Jr., should probably analyze its own affairs first. And I don’t know what to make of a team called the Redskins suddenly becoming social justice warriors.

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Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, Uzo Aduba and more television stars are weighing in on the #TakeAKnee movement.

It’s hard to ignore. Every televised game now has Anthem Cam, in which the standing/kneeling status of players are captured live. The halftime reports now get you caught up on all the standing/kneeling highlights you might have missed. The sports section in the daily newspaper devotes four pages to in-depth standing/kneeling analysis on Monday and Tuesday. If you’d like to read about that really stupid play your favorite team did, then you are S.O.L., my friend.

The NFL’s got lots of other serious issues to deal with, and commissioner Roger Goodell no doubt wants to wish this latest controversy away to the cornfield. Goodell usually rules with an iron fist, quashing any form of individual expression on the playing field, but he’s clearly not taking a hard line on this issue, instead putting the focus on the good work that the NFL and its players do while making calls for “unity” without having to pick a side with which to unite.

President Donald Trump, who should be attending to real disasters in the Caribbean and potential ones in Asia, instead unleashed his internal monologue on Twitter, blasting NFL players for exercising the freedoms he’s sworn to protect.

The president, as he does, merely threw more gas on the fire. In Week 3, NFL teams started linking arms during the anthem as a sign of unity—there’s that word again—in response to Trump’s taunt. So we’ve just reached the protest of the protest of the protest stage of Anthemgate. Your move, Mr. President.

The absurdity of the whole affair has completely clouded the original intent of former 49er Colin Kaepernick’s anthem sit-down protest: to call attention to racial injustice in America. Now, the issue isn’t that black men are disproportionately the victims of police violence. The issue is that people who take a knee during the national anthem are whiny, unpatriotic pinkos and those who stand for it are alt-right, jingoistic racists.

I hope we can all enjoy watching football again some day, and be free to cheer on a team without being forced to pick a side.