If you are an NFL fan, you may remember the exciting 2007 AFC playoff finals?
I don’t either, I suspect nobody does. It’s in the past, whoever won that game is to be congratulated but in a historical sense, it has almost no meaning.
As fans, we follow the drama throughout the season, we love it when our team wins, we pick up memories and feel great in that moment. But when the season is over and the new season starts, the details of the previous season’s games don’t matter anymore and are lost to most of us.
But even without the win-loss details we remember the athletes, we remember their efforts on our behalf, and we remember watching the games with the ones we love. And we pass the legacy of the game down to our children, to inspire them, to teach them life lessons and give them role models to look up to and emulate. Kids watch football with their dads or their friends, they religiously follow the players, their heroes, and everything they do.
Role models – That is the essence and the real value of professional sports. If you think it’s the win-loss record you need to check your own values with respect to sports.
It’s the effort that our children learn from and the notion that the players are “fighting” on the field for us, for our community. It is no accident that NFL teams represent cities, the people of those cities truly believe the NFL teams are part of their identity. This is valuable, it makes us feel good about ourselves and inspires us to make their values our own.
Parents see the football field as the ultimate in fair competition and good sportsmanship. The will to win is tempered by compassion for your fellow athletes. It teaches that hard work and preparation, no matter if you are the quarterback or special teams’ substitute blocker, are worth the effort and the sacrifice for your team, win or lose. It’s pride in winning, dignity in losing, and the spirit to never give up. These are the ideals that every parent wants for their kids. It’s a microcosm of America, real values that will help your 12-year-old in any future endeavor, not just football. Respect for others, respect for America.
But there’s the problem.
Your 12-year-old also hears about it when the players screw up. Or are just mean. Or are downright immoral.
What happens when your favorite play beats up his girlfriend, or abuses drugs, or finds a way to cheat at his sport, or in the Michael Vick case, gets convicted of dog fighting?
This tells your 12-year-old son, that it’s OK to do these things because their hero does it. In fact, the message to your 12-year-old is he MUST do these things to be just like his hero. That all of the lessons you may have taught him to the contrary might be out the window since the example has been set by someone you yourself have endorsed.
Yes, I’ll say it again, the real, lasting, permanent legacy of the NFL is the example it provides for your 12-year-old, whether it’s putting in monumental effort to reach for his dream, or living the “gangsta” lifestyle and abusing the ones around him.
And nothing else!
Deep down, the fans feel all of this. The National Anthem has always been about respect to America and those who fought for it. That’s why fans have started to become disillusioned with the NFL as players refuse to stand, the ultimate sign of disrespect.
The fans are reminded that some players do not share some of their American ideals and are not necessarily good role models for their kids. That not only the players, not only the NFL, but maybe even the sport of football itself does not respect America like the fans do. That the values they have always found in the NFL, are perhaps waning.
The external effects are obvious. Kaepernick has already cost the league tens of millions in ticket sales. He deserves his current fate of being unemployed, he brought his politics onto the playing field. It wasn’t his playing field. Kaepernick’s cause was not more worthy than those of the dozens of players who run legitimate charities who have genuinely done good work for society, and whose charities would greatly benefit from 90 seconds of national airtime.
I believe the NFL still feels an obligation to maintain good values in football, even if only to preserve ticket sales. The League already knows that politics is bad for football, but do they know why? Because the fans sure do.
But their rules are always under negotiation, often without the right values in mind. Their rules allowed Michael Vick back into the league, as well as numerous players who are identified with assaults and drug abuses.
They see Trump’s remarks as costing them money, because the whole mess of players kneeling during the National Anthem has started up again. The NFL was hoping this would go away quietly. They know that it’s costing them dearly and it will continue under Trump’s barrage of put-downs.
But Trump is correct in not allowing this to die, and in forcing the NFL to take a stand. The current state of play leaves the fans in doubt as to the true values of professional football. The NFL is deathly afraid of this, but at some point, they will have to decide if they are a league of ideal values or a group of mercenaries who can be drawn into political hate speech on a whim.
Will the League have the guts to step up and save themselves?
Or will it continue to allow a few players to force them into a political agenda that insults Americans and runs counter to the ideals the NFL has always stood for?
And Trump is correct on another point.
The fate of the NFL is in the balance.