Many people who read online news or watch television have been engrossed in a recent controversy regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers and the entire NFL and overall professional sports industry throughout the nation. As a refresher, in case you’re one of the few who haven’t heard, the gist of the situation is that the Steelers’ coach made a decision to keep his team in the locker room during the playing of the National Anthem in an effort to avoid politics and debate, and so none of his players would have the ability to stage a public protest on the field.
While it may seem odd to some that an NFL playing field would ever be an arena for protest, those who have been following sports and current events the past several years in the United States may already know it has become somewhat common for various players who have chips on their shoulders about one political topic or another to “take a knee” while the National Anthem plays to show to protest against whatever it is they’re upset about at the time.
Coach Tomlin explained that he decided not to take the field the other day so that his team wouldn’t be affiliated with any type of controversy. The only problem is that by trying to avoid making a political statement, he accidentally thrust his entire team into the center of controversial, public debate. One of his players, who also happens to be a combat veteran of the U.S. military, did not stay in the locker room. He took the field and stood with his hand on his heart in honor of the flag and those who sacrifice so much for freedom.
People came down on him hard, saying he betrayed his ball club while others praised his courageousness to be a lone, albeit silent voice, representing the Pittsburgh Steelers in public while his teammates and coaches stayed behind. Regardless whether you think Coach Tomlin made a good or bad decision, this post is meant to provoke thought on a broader issue: When did our national sports programs become center stage for political protest?
What happened to baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet? What happened to Howard Cosell on sports and Sunday afternoons in front of the TV with several generations of family members sprawled across living rooms everywhere cheering their teams on or yelling at coaches as though they can hear through the screen (something I have very fond memories of my dad doing all the time)? What happened to honor and respect and camaraderie? What happened to the Art Rooney style of football and the good ol‘ fashioned American way of enjoying the game?
It appears the NFL is being boycotted by many and I project that the Pittsburgh Penguins are will have a sell-out season. That’s because Pittsburgh wouldn’t be Pittsburgh without sports; so, the people who are mad at the Steelers need something to do on weekends.
The American Way is all about peaceful protest, and men like the football-playing-veteran who stood with his hand on his heart for the flag have given all, that we might protect our right to do so. I say, let’s get back to letting football be football and players be players and coaches be coaches so that we, the spectators, can enjoy the game and not have to spend hours, days and weeks reading the nasty fallout of these contentious debates all over Facebook.
Writer Bio: Judy Dudich