NFL Sideline Protests: The Game Will Survive and Prosper

Get one thing straight. The actions of some of the NFL players on the sidelines this season were a disgrace. Personally speaking, it was an affront and embarrassment to see players on my hometown Raiders and Niners teams take a knee during the national anthem. And while the nationalistically impotent “leadership” of the league is to be expected from a cadre of globalist suits, their toothless response was a slap in the face to patriotic pro football fans.

But I will be watching the 2017-18 season playoffs over the coming weeks, as I have since the Oakland Raiders met the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II, circa 1968.

The question is, will you? Be honest, especially if your team has made the playoffs.

Consider it understood that a growing number of people not only do not watch televised pro football, they don’t watch television at all. It’s a lifestyle decision I respect, but this submission is not for them. My question is for the millions upon millions of conservatives who’ve derived decades of enjoyment following football seasons past, especially during that special time after the regular season ends and only the winningest teams are left to face off for the world championship.

It is important to note that the controversy may have peaked. In this fresh New York Times analysis, John Branch makes the case that though the protests were the biggest story this football season, the worst is over; only one percent of players engaged in any kind of protest on the last Sunday of the regular season, and the collective consciousness has moved on.

That would seem to support my central premise: the game is bigger in every sense than these unwittingly disingenuous protests, and the PC-addled individuals who administrate the league.

Again, it is a gravely misguided act to kneel in protest during the anthem. As others have correctly pointed out, there must be countless other ways to protest an ostensibly legitimate grievance about perceived police brutality against African Americans. But— assuming the controversy has not run out of steam and may substantially rear its ugly head again — how long will it take for the NFL to right its ship? Commissioner Roger Goodell came forward mid-season with a largely toothless mandate suggesting that players “should stand” for the anthem. How many seasons will conservative pro football fans have to abjure while waiting for every player on every team to stand respectfully during Francis Scott Key’s immemorial composition?

The playoffs are go time. This is when the most consequential action commences. When dynasties are born or ended. When unbelievable outcomes are achieved and metaphorical moments crystallize the fortunes of whole teams, whole seasons. This is the magic, the build of tension, the revelatory breakthroughs, the unforeseen collapses, the miraculous triumphs.

In one of the last 2017 regular season games, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass that brought the playoff-hopeful Baltimore Ravens' season to a thudding conclusion. The crestfallen expression on Ravens Coach John Harbaugh’s face and the jubilation of the also-ran Bengals speak volumes about what is still at stake for teams, coaches, and fans alike, and portended much about what can be expected in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl LII.

It is a spectacle that a great number of conservatives may put aside their disgust at the sideline kneelers for—though many might not want to admit it.

College football is the alternative universe many conservatives, including Sean Hannity, have turned to as a way of protesting the protesters. Another choice I totally respect. All the dramatic elements present in the pro game are present at the collegiate level. But there is a significant difference between the two.

Unlike college ball, pro football impacts more broadly the downtowns of our cities, the expanses of regional suburbia. Outcomes at Arrowhead Stadium, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and Lambeau Field reverberate down to a street level that is different and more profound than the precincts affected even by the most storied college franchises. Pro ball is about hometown loyalty, regional pride, a throwback to a general territorial tribalism not easily intellectualized out of the human spirit.

The Patriots stand for all New England, the Vikings for all the Great White (think snow) North, and the Raiders for every hard-bitten blue-collar back street over the bridge from San Francisco.

Beyond that, the NFL is the “show,” the place where performers chosen and elevated by the most rigorous standards compete. In a butt-ugly final regular season game that Oregonians watched with interest, former Oregon Ducks superstar quarterback Marcus Mariota scrambled and threw the Tennessee Titans into their first playoff game since 2008. Taking nothing away from Mariota’s talented Duck teammates, only five were drafted into the NFL.

Deep-rooted civic pride and the superior play of the best of the best will withstand disgrace and embarrassment on the sidelines. It is hurtful to watch our gladiatorial warriors kneel disrespectfully against the anthem and the flag, but the game ultimately miniaturizes their protest, and will survive, and prosper.

Final question, asked with the ultimate respect of an almost 30-year listener and acolyte of Rush Limbaugh: Will El Rushbo be watching as his AFC second-seed Pittsburgh Steelers line up to face the challenges of postseason play?

Limbaugh has specifically criticized the players who engaged in the protests, but has also worried that President Trump’s call for action against them is unwarranted.

Will Rush watch his Steelers? I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet he is planning to. Perhaps he’ll offer counsel when he returns from his holiday vacation.

I’ll be watching too, but with hopes that the Steelers ultimately face the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl LII, and that the Purple Gang will capitalize on home field advantage and hand Ben Roethlisberger and company a big fat loss wrapped up in one of those terrible towels.

Godspeed.