Vince Lombardi, the patron saint of modern football, established its credo: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” But, if Lombardi could look around the league he would see sub-par signal-callers on about half the teams – and not because half of the QB’s would have to rate in the second half of any rating system. Still, if winning is the only thing, one might think that a free agent quarterback capable of winning a playoff game might be a hot commodity for those teams suffering with inept leadership. Yet, if said quarterback creates controversies by espousing his beliefs at every opportunity – to the point of kneeling at what many consider inappropriate times, the teams start to weigh athletic ability against public disapproval and “locker room distractions.” This leads team officials to start disparaging that quarterback’s abilities, over-emphasizing his weaknesses and ignoring the fact that he has proven himself a winner despite these liabilities.
Thus, 30-year-old Tim Tebow, whose on-field kneeling became known as “Tebowing,” played minor league baseball last summer and moonlights as a sports commentator. You thought I was going to write about Colin Kaepernick and the NFL players protesting for justice for African-Americans? OK.
Thus, former Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned after five weeks into an NFL season that features an epidemic of bad quarterbacking. The real issue, of course, is our First Amendment guarantee of free speech – and how those who oppose it would use it against everyone. “Sports can be an opportunity, hopefully used the right way, to be able to share certain things you believe in,” Tebow said over the weekend. “For me it was also the way that I tried to do it was a big part of it as well.” And, while Tebow declined to take a stand on those athletes now taking a knee, he acknowledged, “Obviously that’s a big issue in today’s society.”
It is a big enough issue that those who don’t want a discussion on social justice have tried to portray this All-American protest – free speech, peaceable assembly and petitioning for redress of grievances – as some kind of insult to the very government that guarantees those rights. That desperate attempt to hijack the dialog reached a pathetic, showboating peak over the weekend when Vice President Mike Pence went to an NFL game where he knew in advance that many of Kaepernick’s former teammates would kneel during the National Anthem.
At taxpayer expense – and evidently as a bit player in a skit designed by his boss – Pence flew back home again to Indiana just so he could attend the football game – and then leave in high dudgeon because Americans expressing their First Amendment rights expressed beliefs counter to his own.
Estimates listed about 20 players taking a knee. Teams can suit 46 players per game – a total of 92. That means 22 percent dissent is not acceptable to Trumpeteers. There must be total, lock-step agreement.
Lucas Oil Stadium has a capacity of 70,000 fans. Sidelines look to accommodate a couple hundred folks each. I doubt if more than a couple hundred people in the house took a knee. That makes the percentage of protesters too small to register – unless dissent is a damnable offense. But, this fake governance smoke screen provides a diversion from the administration’s dismal record of non-accomplishments. And, it also gives the grudge-holder-in-chief a chance to try to stir up trouble for the NFL – which put Mr. Trump’s US Football League out of business.
Consider the much more patriotic reaction by the protesters’ teammates. They did not join them in kneeling, but linked arms with them or stood with them to support their Constitution-given right of free expression. I guess protesters should thank Pence for focusing on such a small protest, giving it so much more exposure than it might garner otherwise, providing an opportunity for others to point out that this protest is as American as apple pie.
This country was founded by protesters. Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Dr. Thomas Young, Ethan Allen, Dr. James Warren, James Otis and others of their reviled (at the time) ilk stood as one with that 20th century seaman who famously said, ‘That’s all I can stand. I can’t stands no more.” And they realized their protests carried consequences.
The Declaration of Independence pledged the signers’ “life, liberty and sacred honor” to the cause of freedom. Ben Franklin summed up their situation best: “We must. indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Warren died on Breed’s Hill (before Franklin bespoke) and Young died of disease while treating Continental soldiers. Messrs. Tebow and Kaepernick both exercised their free speech rights. Tebow’s situation even included his freedom to express his religious beliefs. And, they have both suffered the consequences.
Similarly, last week, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton made a dismissive remark to a woman reporter – and quickly lost one of his endorsements. As someone blackballed out of my chosen calling twice – 20 years apart – and who had another job killed by a political opponent, I appreciate that free speech might prove a mischief to one’s career. But, because of the sacrifices of our founders and countless heirs of the Sons of Liberty, Tebow, Kaepernick and the rest of us have the right to say and do what we deem necessary to make our country the best it can be.
It is the American way.
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)