It’s Just Football! (Isn’t it?)

All right, I said I was just going to do short reviews until I was ready to release pieces of a bigger project. Said bigger project is at 8,000 words, and I’m still mulling it over. But this only-reviews thing just ran headlong into the thing that everyone seems to be talking about: football players standing, not standing, kneeling, hiding in the locker room, etc, during the playing of the National Anthem.

So I feel moved to say, “It’s just football!

Isn’t it?

No, it isn’t, and I know that. It’s not just a game, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry which is part of America’s civil religion. That’s not me being sarcastic, either. There is a recognized civil religion in this country, and pro football games are one of its sacred rituals. So, for a lot of us, those who would fail to behave as per accepted norms during one of the religious observances which are key to that ritual–i.e. those who are unwilling to stand for the National Anthem–are heretics.

I’m already a heretic. I don’t watch football, nor do I care whether or not God is mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance, because I don’t believe that a free nation should have anything as obscene and fascistic as a pledge of allegiance.

But, even as a heretic, I do understand the anger and frustration of those who are currently boycotting football games. For literally all of their lives, members of my generation in this Country have watched football as part of a very literal religious observance. It’s part of the fabric of our lives and part of our love of our Country. So when someone steps on the traditions involved, it’s a punch to the gut for us.

I also share with the boycotters an impatience with celebrities, be they actors, singers, directors or football players, using their elevated public visibility to shove their opinions down our throats. I laughed through my anger when George Clooney, a high-stakes donor to the Clinton campaign, had the nerve to say that it was time to get money out of politics by voting for his candidate. I publicly invited Joss Whedon to attempt to impregnate himself when he made PSAs about the election with a lot of his famous friends. I don’t want to be told how to think, especially by people who are paid for their looks, artistic talent and charm, not their brains.

But I don’t think these young men who have currently raised our collective ire are trying to tell us how to think. I think they’re just trying to bring our attention to a situation that they think is grossly unfair. And I doubt they’re missing the irony that a lot of their fans wouldn’t be interested in the opinions of a black man unless he was wearing a pro football jersey.

I’m not a supporter of the Black Lives Matter campaign, although I do agree with the basic sentiment. I’m definitely not a supporter or even an apologist for AntiFa. I am a supporter, however, of people peacefully making their opinions known, of bringing up topics for discussion. I think that’s what these players are doing, however much I may or may not agree with their ideas.

“They’re just employees!” I’m hearing. “There’s no free speech in the workplace!” I’m hearing. Again, I’m of two minds.

They are employees, and their bosses have a business to run. That business is entertainment. Fans of films and TV are used to the celebrities in that business spouting their (largely very liberal) opinions during awards shows and interviews. They get some flack from non-liberal fans, but generally not enough to cost them jobs. No Alien fan really cares that Sigourney Weaver is rabidly anti-gun, because Ellen Ripley is rabidly not. Sigourney is not going to visit most of our living rooms. Ripley is in mine every Christmas. (Yeah, Aliens is a Wilson Family Christmas movie. Are you really surprised?)

Americans have a long tradition of distrusting and even hating anyone who smells like an elitist. That especially includes celebrities who mouth off about political causes. Another reason we probably dismiss them.

But football fans probably don’t watch a lot of awards shows, and football players have not, historically, been very political. Nor are they, like actors, as likely to fall on one end of the political spectrum. Actors, dancers and singers tend to be liberal, for one reason, because their craft often depends on public funding that’s often in danger of being cut. Football players also depend on public funding, but it’s never likely to be cut. So they can comfortably be right-wing if they want to.

But here we are with a bunch of entertainers who have a fan base that actually might object if their opinions are stated too publicly, and those fans might walk away with a lot of private funding on which pro football is also dependent. So those entertainers bosses might have to say, “Stand for the Anthem, or you’re costing me the money I need to pay your salary, and I’ll have to let you go.”

That’s just business.

Right? Well, again, maybe not. I read a very good discussion about whether or not large, government-supported corporations like Google (and, I would argue, the NFL) really do have the rights that a private business does. (Trigger warning! The link to this article takes you to L. Neil Smith’s very libertarian website. You may encounter opinions that will induce severe digestive distress. You have been warned.) Since they’re tax-supported, are they not also answerable under the Bill of Rights for the actions they take against their customers or employees? They may be. If football is an arm of government, and some would argue that it is, then the NFL may be out of bounds if it fires its players, because it may be abridging their First Amendment rights, just as Google and Facebook may be when they censor political speech.

Our President doesn’t understand the First Amendment. Nor, I think, does he really care about the NFL and the Anthem protests. He just wants public outrage harnessed to his benefit. So I have the same advice for both him and his political opponents: Ignore. Mr. President, ignore the protests. They don’t harm you. If you have to say something, say, “There go my fellow Americans, exercising their right to hate me and my policies, because I’m the President of the greatest nation on the planet.” Anti-Trumpers, ignore it when he talks about non-issues like this. Keep him focused on the real issues.

And football fans? If you feel betrayed, like you’ve invested a lifetime of emotional energy into something that turned out to not be what you thought it was? I been there, brothers and sisters. Turn off that box, go outside and enjoy this beautiful Fall weather. Maybe play your own game of football.

And try to be optimistic. Lionizing the wrong people is not a good thing. Waking up and realizing that you’ve lionized the wrong people? That is a very good thing.

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