Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


Take a Knee, Draw the Penalty

By Rob Tenery, MD on October 3, 2017

When the quarterback takes too much time calling a play, the team is penalized for delay of game. If the wide receiver is blocked by the safety before the pass gets close to him, the opposing team is penalized for pass interference. Those are the rules of the game. If one player makes a mistake, the whole team suffers the consequences.

The NFL has a rule that the players stand at attention for the national anthem or face disciplinary action. It only seems reasonable that a player's conduct before the game begins could result in a disciplinary action that affects the whole team, similar to penalizing the team when a player displays 'excess celebrations' after scoring a touchdown. Why then shouldn't the team be responsible for one of their player's actions that elected to stay in the locker-room until the anthem had been played, raises a fist or refuses to stand? If so, the team then carries a responsibility to ensure compliance by the individual players or incur a penalty that could affect the ball placement on the field of play.

Even though football is our national pastime, it is just game where the losers lick their wounds only to come back and try again the next week until the season is over. The tribulations of life are not a game; often there is no coming back.

Players claim they are exercising their first amendment right of free speech. Opponents disagree, claiming once these players don the uniform and walkout onto the field, they are guided by the rules of the owner of their team and the NFL. Thus, they are subject to the fines and penalties outlined in the NFL game operations manual.

President Trump has been called racist for criticizing the players who don't stand for the national anthem. The movement started when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick failed to stand during the 2016 preseason. He claims his action was a protest to police brutality and 'oppression of people of color' in the United States. Of possible relevance, is his fiancee Nessa Diab calls herself a political activist and works as a radio DJ. Nessa, raised a Muslim by her Egyptian father and Middle Eastern mother, wrote that her parents were refused jobs "because they had an accent." On August 3, she posted a tweet comparing the Baltimore Ravens owner, Steve Bisciotti, to a slave owner in the 2012 movie Django Unchained after a deal to bring Kaepernick to Baltimore was nixed by him. One could claim the tweet posted by Ms. Diab is not related to her boyfriend's action. If not, it is, at the least, suspicious.

At first, there were just a few players in the NFL who, following Kaepernick's lead, didn't stand for the national anthem. Virtually all were black. After President Trump's September 22 comments on banning players who kneeled during the national anthem over 200, both black and white, players sat or kneeled for the pregame tribute. Never once did Trump mention color, only decrying their lack of respect for the flag and the national anthem that stand for the greatness of this country.

One of this country's freedoms is that Kaepernick and the other athletes have every right to voice their concerns. But suited up and standing on the football field at the game, Kaepernick assumes a different role. At that moment, he is an employee of the owner of team, who has certain rules that apply to his conduct. In turn, the team owner is part of the National Football League that has rules for the players, set down by the owners themselves.

According to an NFL spokesperson, the game operations manual says: The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking... Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.

Probably fearing blacklash and hoping for team unity, several of the coaches and even an owner joined in the protests. No question team chemistry plays a significant role in winning games. But allowing the players to insert their own social agendas while they are participants in the actual game only diverts attention away from what the fans paid their hard-earned money to see.

Putting aside the first amendment right of free speech and charges that opposition to these actions is racist, in the end, it will be the fans and the advertisers that spend billions who will ultimately be the judge and jury.





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