Hartman: The NFL’s anthem protests: Now can we move forward?


Hartman: The NFL’s anthem protests: Now can we move forward?

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The Cincinnati Bengals lock arms during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The Cincinnati Bengals lost in overtime to the Green Bay Packers Sunday, they also got some attention for something none of the players did before the game: Kneel or sit for the national anthem

Coach Marvin Lewis detailed why the decision to stand and lock arms was made: The Bengals wanted to show unity in divisive times. 

Receiver A.J. Green also had some poignant words on the subject. 

Meanwhile, many players on other teams chose to repeat Colin Kaepernick’s folly by kneeling or sitting, actions that have proven time and again to overshadow the message the former 49ers quarterback was trying to deliver last season. 

Except this time they seemed to be doing it less out of righteous conviction for the cause but to spite an unpopular president.

To be sure, President Trump’s statements Friday night and on Twitter were unnecessary and foolish. 

Calling protesters SOBs was over the line, and I don’t blame anyone for having a strong reaction to such an insult. 

As when Browns coach Hue Jackson said he hoped none of his players would kneel or sit for the anthem, the reaction felt kind of necessary for the players’ to prove their autonomy. I guess that was true Sunday well after Trump’s statements. 

Nonetheless, Jackson’s overall point is still valid and still largely ignored by people more happy to play up the more sensational aspects of this story. 

These actions obscure the message more than they advance it. 

That being inconvenient or disappointing to some people makes it no less true. 

But this entire episode has never been wrapped in common sense or intelligent discourse from either side, beginning with Kaepernick’s actions and the ridiculous rhetoric he used once someone finally noticed he was sitting for the anthem during the preseason. 

His choice of federal symbols for a municipal problem didn’t really make sense, but he found enough sympathetic reporters and opportunistic opinionists to gloss over that and push his message anyway. 

Naturally, those on the other side took every opportunity to twist the actions and reactions to serve their purpose, too, and our dangerous obsession with trending topics took over from there. 

Of course the reaction to Kaepernick (both from his common man critics and those in the conservative media) has also been over-the-top most of the time, including from the president. 

I understand many share a genuine feeling that whatever else they do, players should take two minutes to show reverence to the flag and anthem. That goes for plenty of people who are sympathetic to the cause otherwise.

I have to admit I also would have thought being mad about it for a couple of minutes then moving on would be sufficient rather than calling protesters names and promising to boycott the league. 

Almost everyone has just made things worse along the way with the media being the worst offender, continuing to push various pro-Kaepernick narratives while turning a blind eye to his deep flaws as a spokesman for change even after he championed an actual oppressor (Fidel Castro) and told reporters he didn’t vote in the election because he doesn’t believe the democratic process can fix the nation’s problems

Meanwhile, it was interesting to see the different spin put on the actions of the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to stay in the locker room (aside from one notable exception). 

The immediate reaction I saw was that this was a major rebuke to Trump, but coach Mike Tomlin’s explanation seemed more like he had convinced the team to take a pass altogether. 

That’s pretty much what the Bengals did, too, and you can debate if that was the smart play or not. 

I continue to feel we’d all be in a better place today if Kaepernick had just called a press conference, something he easily could have done. 

That would have bypassed much of the vitriol he endured and gotten people talking about his concerns rather than his actions. 

Certainly fewer people would have noticed, but I suspect more actual progress would have been made. 

I wish I knew what would have happened if the first act in this drama was from Michael Jenkins and Anquan Boldin, who explained to Sports Illustrated their concerns and changes they want to see

I guess we never will, but that doesn’t mean all is lost (just follow the link above to what Jenkins and Boldin said for one example). 

While much of the attention went to who was sitting or kneeling and who did not take the field, it’s impossible to ignore the unity displayed by not only players but also coaches and even owners. 

There’s a tendency to think things only get more divisive from here, but maybe this will be the turning point overall. 

Some chose to kneel, but more chose to stand together. 

We’ve gotta start somewhere. 

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