Retaliation isn’t always out of bounds. With their pre-game kneeling ritual, National Football League players have put a big hurt on their teams — and the fans — who pay their enormous salaries. Fans from coast to coast have responded with a forearm to the league’s all-important TV ratings, leaving the muscled men flat on their backs, looking at the sky and wondering what hit them. The NFL is the king of sports entertainment, for now, but it’s reassuring that when their favorite stars sneer at their country, Americans will still show where their hearts are.
The phenomenon of players taking a knee or raising a defiant fist has shaken the American sports scene this fall, led by black athletes protesting police shootings of black men, and copied by some of their teammates of paler hue. Fans have responded by turning off broadcasts of the games, with average audience down 18 percent since the protests began in 2016.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, at first reluctant to take the field, is attempting now to take control because the players are kicking the league where it hurts most — in the pocket, where the owners stuffed more than $13 billion in revenue last year. Keeping the players off the field during the display of Old Glory and the playing of the national anthem hasn’t worked. For now, the league has been reluctant to require players stand for the anthem. League management, team owners and players’ union representatives are meeting this week to find ways to show solidarity with the players without further angering fans and television viewers.
Colin Kaepernick, the unemployed quarterback who kicked off the protests, was cheered by Black Lives Matter and other race hustlers but the kneelers drew little attention until President Trump questioned both their patriotism and parentage. The president’s rage was disproportionate, but the players have been been equally off-target in accusations that the police are hunting for black men to kill.
The cool statistics suggest otherwise. Last year, 963 persons were killed by police across the nation, according to a database maintained by The Washington Post. Of those, 233, or 24 percent, were black. Twice that number — 466, or 48 percent — were white. So far in 2017, police have fatally shot 773 persons. Of those, 174, or 23 percent, were black; 370, or 47 percent, were white. The number shot while unarmed in 2016 was 48, and the number declined to 33 so far this year.
These figures tell a lesson that uninformed players haven’t bothered to learn. The primary targets of police are white men — not black men — and the vast majority from both races were shot because they were armed, threatening and refused to drop their weapons. Getting into a gunfight with the police is a fool’s game, and trying to take a policeman’s gun away from him is the worst idea of all, as Michael Brown learned in Ferguson, Mo.
Injustice in any form is unacceptable, but to pretend that the United States is an enormous hunting ground in which the game of choice is black men, is absurd. If football players want to reduce police shootings, they could spread the message that it’s not smart to confront cops with a weapon.
Disrespecting the music and flags of the nation and those who willingly go in harm’s way to protect and defend the rest of us, is out of bounds. Confronted with a choice between their country and a child’s game, Americans will always stand.