Monday, Nov 12, 2018
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Matt Markey

COMMENTARY

The NFL season starts, but I won’t be watching

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    Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson kneel during the national anthem before Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.

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    In this 2016 file photo, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game.

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    Members of the Cleveland Browns kneel during the national anthem before a 2017 game.

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In this 2016 file photo, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game.

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In more than 30 years of covering high school, college, and professional sports, I witnessed athletes go on and on about being motivated by what they perceive as a lack of “respect.” This opponent doesn’t respect us, that school didn’t respect me enough to recruit me, the rankings show the media doesn’t respect us, etc. Their postulating on these perceived slights continues today.

But while watching the NFL national anthem controversy devolve into an increasingly offensive form of clumsily choreographed kabuki theater, I am convinced that Colin Kaepernick and many of his comrades in ill-timed genuflection know next to nothing about real respect.

Kaepernick, who decided first to sit during the anthem in a 2016 preseason game and then opted to go down on one knee after that, has said he was not going to stand for the flag of a country that oppresses black people and people of color, citing police “getting away with murder.”

READ MORE: Anthem tradition at sporting events stretches back a century

We are told repeatedly, and rightfully so, to never judge a group of people by the actions of a few. Kaepernick first took a brush wider than anything Sherwin Williams sells and painted all police as evil, disregarding the 99.9 percent who likely do their dangerous and difficult job with honor. And in one of the more convoluted connect-the-dots tangents ever created, he chose to link that tiny fraction of bad cops with the American flag and the national anthem, and disrespect them both on the biggest stage he could muster — at an NFL game.

Symbols mean things — the Star of David, a crucifix, a swastika, the star and crescent, a hammer and sickle. They all evoke passion. In choosing the flag and the anthem, with no discernible connection to a few rogue cops who dishonor the badge and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, Kaepernick decided to insult the millions who revere those symbols. He slapped the face of the 95-year-old World War II veteran, he spit on the grave of the 21-year-old who died in Vietnam, and he showed no respect for the symbols of the very country that allows him to grandstand and protest.

In his current Nike ads that I hear are draped all over the NFL broadcasts, Kaepernick mentions “sacrificing everything” for what you believe in, as if he is some sort of martyr to the cause. He still has millions, and Nike has just added to that fortune.

And sacrificing everything? Tell that to the guy who came back from Afghanistan with one leg. Tell that to the ancestors of the men raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Tell that to the families who just received the bones of their uncle or grandfather in a box sent from North Korea. Tell that to the first responders who died at the World Trade Center. Tell that to the families of the 9,387 American military buried at Normandy. They stood for that anthem and saluted that flag so today’s NFL players can drive Bentleys and prattle on about the police, the same police who guard their secured parking lot at the stadium, keep criminals from breaking into their mansions, and protect their families.

The choices we make have consequences. You throw enough bad passes, well, then you lose the Super Bowl. You opt out of your lucrative contract, well, then you run the risk of never playing again. Kaepernick has to live with his choices, and so do I.

I was an NFL fan since Super Bowl I, when the Green Bay Packers, with my heroes Bart Starr, Elijah Pitts, Boyd Dowler, Willie Wood, Ray Nitschke, and Willie Davis, beat the Kansas City Chiefs. But I will no longer watch the NFL, not because of Kaepernick, but because this mega business has given a blind-eye blessing to disrespecting our flag, our anthem, our military, and our hundreds of thousands of law enforcement personnel of all backgrounds, colors, and ethnicities.

Kaepernick lost me when he showed up at practice wearing socks with large images of pigs in police caps, and made certain that the media took notice. That was his Hanoi Jane moment — casting all police as pigs. He doubled down by wearing a shirt with Fidel Castro’s face on it — celebrating the same Castro who put thousands of Cubans in front of firing squads or sent them to languish in prison for questioning his rule. Had Colin displayed disgust for the Cuban flag or anthem under Castro’s regime, how quickly would he have been dragged off to rot in jail?

Kaepernick, who has helped some worthwhile charities, then upped the ante by donating $25,000 to an organization that honors a convicted cop killer, who curiously escaped from prison and fled to Cuba. Credit him for stretching his 15 minutes of fame into a three-act tragedy not worthy of summer stock, but he is no hero who has “sacrificed everything.”

During all of this, the NFL has engaged in a series of hypocritical hyper loops while failing to demonstrate the spinal rigidity to tell its employees that for one minute and 53 seconds before each game, you will stand at attention, head up, not scratch yourself, yawn or talk, and show some real respect. If they need a lesson in this, I suggest each player be required to attend a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery to learn about respect. At the end of the burial, they carefully fold the flag, and they present it to the family of the dead solider.

The NFL, the same band of billionaires that in 2016 told the Dallas Cowboys they could not wear a helmet decal honoring five Dallas police officers slain in the line of duty, the same cohort that penalized Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah for praying after he returned an interception for a touchdown, the same group that in 2015 fined William Gay for wearing purple cleats to raise awareness about domestic violence, the same outfit whose rules required Robert Griffin III to take his shirt that said “Know Jesus Know Peace” and turn it inside-out at a postgame news conference — yes, that NFL has mumbled about free speech when it came to the anthem protests. The league’s latest play, telling the protesting players to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, is cowardice to the nth degree.

The NFL, which opens its 99th season, has lost my respect, and my business.

On each fall Sunday, I’ll choose to focus my attention on other things, such as respecting the memory of Lt. Debra Lucinda Clayton, who was 42 when she was gunned down in the line of duty while pursuing a murderer in a Walmart parking lot in Orlando.

I’ll think of deputy sheriff Colt Eugene Allery, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota who was shot and killed while confronting a suspect in a stolen vehicle, and agent Benjamín Antonio De los Santos-Barbosa of Puerto Rico, who died of a gunshot wound sustained while chasing a criminal, and detective Miosotis P. Familia of New York City, shot in the head in an ambush during an investigation in the Bronx, or officer Anthony Pasquale Morelli of Westerville, killed when he tried to intervene in a domestic dispute that had prompted a 911 call.

There were no protests by famous athletes over these recent deaths, no calls for justice, and certainly no demands for an end to the violence directed at law enforcement.

Instead of watching the NFL this season, I choose to stand with the military who lost their lives defending that flag, and stand with these fallen officers. They won’t be watching, either.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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