Right at the beginning of 2018 a tone may be set for the rumbling of the national mood throughout the rest of the year—perhaps for the remainder of the decade. Annually, Americans gather around the electronic device of choice for the Super Bowl—the game of champions in the football realm. But, one year after the controversy surrounding the “Deflategate” debacle, the public is witnessing a deflation of the NFL. In the wake of a season of controversy over players insisting upon making their own controversial political statements by refusing to honor America’s national anthem, or the flag, the NFL is reeling.
As an “enshrined” national tradition nears a historic kickoff, the NFL leadership has demonstrated questionable leadership within the larger scope of American traditions.
Recently, it has been disclosed that NFL corporate leadership has made one of their “wise” business decisions as they intend to limit “anthem discussion” in an attempt to curtail controversy in the wake of a full season of player defiance of the national anthem in honor of the stars and stripes.
Ironically, it seems that such “wisdom” may backfire. The decision to stifle a group of military veterans’ efforts to run an ad during the Super Bowl lineup of witty and silly ads may be considered by many Americans as insulting as the basic protest of those who deliberately failed to stand during the playing of the national anthem. The rejected ad featured the hashtag “PleaseStand” as it showed military veterans saluting the Stars and Stripes, which was apparently too much for the NFL front office types who prefer to cut their 2017 financial losses and move on.
The NFL upper echelon had some problem with the exact wording of the ad. According to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, the American Veterans, or AMVETS, submitted an advertisement with the message, “Please Stand.” McCarthy has explained that the NFL has editorial control over ad content, and had requested that AMVETS use other options for the message, such as “Please Honor our Veterans” or “Please Stand for our Veterans.”
Ultimately, the no agreement over language could be arranged in order to meet production deadlines. Consequently, another veteran’s group, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, were willing to be “edited” with the words “We Stand for Veterans,” and it was was approved.
The U.S. veterans in AMVETS had raised $30,000 to produce a commercial to run within the Super Bowl lineup of ads. The rejected ad would have also instructed viewers on how to help veterans through the AMVETS national charity, which provides help and substantial assistance such as previously owned clothing and furniture to veterans in need.
Officials from AMVETS claim the NFL seems to have engaged in “corporate censorship” due to their decision. AMVETS national commander Marion Polk wrote in a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell:
Freedom of speech works both ways. We respect the rights of those who choose to protest, as these rights are precisely what our members have fought—and in many cases died—for … But imposing corporate censorship to deny that same right to those veterans who have secured it for us all is reprehensible and totally beyond the pale.
Apparently, AMVETS did not run into the same problem with the NHL or NBA. Those groups agreed to utilize the same ad in official programs for their All-Star Games.
The real question lingering over this incident, whether it can be called editing or overt censorship, rests squarely in the intent behind the wording of the AMVETS rejected ad: Is it okay per NFL standards to stand to honor veterans only, and not to honor the American flag, which flies because of the veterans who pledged to defend it?
The implication of the AMVETS simplicity of English usage is clear—they were asking Americans to stand in honor of the flag and in honor of the veterans who are willing to give their lives to defend not just a flag, but the nation it represents. The NFL players who have taken to kneeling during the playing of the national anthem are not just denying the value of the anthem, they are denying the value of those who believe in America, and in the foundations of America itself.
It seems to many Americans “at this stage of the game” that the NFL leadership has no real leadership in dealing effectively with a controversial situation of freedom of speech. Mr. Polk is right when he states that freedom of speech works both ways. And of course, the NFL has the right to “edit,” and players have the right to make political statements to quite captive audiences. But, American veterans should have their freedom of speech honored as well. In the case of the rejected AMVETS ad, there was little respect offered to simple words of encouragement to “please stand” for the playing of the National Anthem.
This simple rejection of the two words in an attempt to control language smacks of “political correctness” if not of censorship. Is it actually an embarrassment for the NFL upper echelon to honor the National Anthem? Perhaps—given the sharged political climate in the United States in the post-Obama era. The smell of this issue, the taste of it, leaves many with the sense that this is the residue of the Obama period.
Especially, under the shadows of the standing Supreme Court ruling that burning the U.S. flag is protected under the 1st Amendment, prominent athletes refusing to stand like genuine citizens during the playing of the National Anthem seems a minor form of disrespect. Nevertheless, that may leave many Americans wondering what meaning or value the Stars and Stripes has any more.
The reality is that the American flag is more a symbol of the people of the United States than a symbol of the U.S. government, and history cannot be more clear on this. If an intelligent and reasonable person understands that the flag was born before the very existence of the U.S. government, it becomes clear.
The stars and stripes always represented the people of America—even dissenters—the genuine symbol of the struggle of a determined people to be free. Actually, before the formation of the government, the design of the flag was recognized as a symbol of the people: the red and white stripes represent the original thirteen colonies and the stars were meant to represent each new state that entered the union. Fundamentally, the flag, as originally designed, represented the unity of the people in their desperate fight for freedom. The government that would be formalized much later owed its existence to brave and brilliant people.
That same stars and stripes (adopted by the Continental Congress in 1777 before the United States government had been formally recognized) flew over the battlefields of the Civil War. That war resulted in the freedom of countless slaves. Unfortunately, this fact seems to be ignored by the history-conflicted kneelers who mistakenly view the flag as a symbol of racism.
Unofficially, the NFL seems to be siding with the sizeable group of dissenting players (their employees) and backing their right to their freedom of speech, and are willing to pay them to do it. However, in rejecting the wording of the AMVETS ad, the NFL sends the message that respecting the rest of We the People does not hold value in corporate America—driven by mega-bucks.
Americans are facing tough and turbulent times from challenges from within as well as from outside the borders. Citizens may need to reassess their priorities in these times. Pre-Super Bowl, all Americans could take a bit of time to frankly consider the roots of the nation, and to consider the NFL “editorializing.” The NFL has chosen what they value—it remains to be seen what message citizens will send to the NFL.