By ALAN SNEL
Colin Kaepernick might not be on an NFL team roster.
But his past take-a-knee protests during the playing of the national anthem has started a movement that continued Sunday.
President Donald Trump had advised NFL team owners to fire protesting players. Instead, more than a dozen NFL owners released push-back tweets and statements — though there is no talk of any team actually hiring a back-up quarterback named Kaepernick.
We also learned from more than a dozen NFL team owners that sports are not immune from politics.
Yes, sports are an entertainment diversion. But sports and games don’t happen in a silo and national and local politics will always find their way into stadiums and arenas and ballparks.
When the president of our nation used open mic night in Alabama Friday to pop off about the NFL, it was inevitable that team owners — even Trump friends such as Patriots owner Robert Kraft — were going to push back.
Kraft didn’t mince words: “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday . . . There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal.”
The owners of the Giants, Rams, Browns, Texans, Saints, Colts, Ravens, Dolphins, Bills, Seahawks, Falcons and Lions joined Kraft, who donated $1 million to Trump’s presidential inauguration.
Trump hammered NFL players who protested racial inequality issues, including police brutality cases, for taking a knee during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner. In Alabama Friday, Trump urged NFL owners to fire players who did not stand for the national anthem in order to get “get that son of a bitch off the field.”
The NFL owners didn’t fire their players. Instead, the owners released words. Here’s 49ers CEO Jed York:
Rams owner Stan Kroenke said this, in part: “The Los Angeles Rams, our fan base and our city are all comprised of people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. When we recognize that this diversity is our strength and seek to understand different perspectives, we are more enlightened and empathetic human beings. Our organization is committed to celebrating diversity, inclusion and respect, values that help define Los Angeles.”
The owners’ statements and tweets did not address the reason why the players were protesting. Instead, they focused on saying the players were good guys who helped their communities.
Some owners did, however, say the players had the right to express themselves.
“Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and we all agreed that our sole message is to provide and promote an environment that is focused on love and equality,” Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula said in a tweet.
Before Trump gave his opinions about players protesting during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games, only a tiny percentage of players actually took to one knee led by Kaepernick last season.
But Trump’s words fired up NFL owners and players, too. Some teams did not even bother to come out for the national anthem. The Steelers players — except one — did not go on the field to stand for the anthem. That one player who did come out and placed his right hand over his chest was offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger.
Showing how divisive this topic is, while players protested and owners issued statements, Villanueva’s number 78 Steelers jersey became the top-selling NFL jersey on the league’s online store.
And Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ussed a statement Monday showing he had second thoughts about staying inside the locker room during the national anthem.
Roethlisberger wrote, in part, “I was unable to sleep last night and want to share my thoughts and feelings on our team’s decision to remain in the tunnel for the national anthem yesterday. The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently. We did not want to appear divided on the sideline with some standing and some kneeling or sitting.
“As a team, it was not a protest of the flag or the Anthem. I personally don’t believe the anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest. For me, and many others on my team and around the league, it is a tribute to those who commit to serve and protect our country, current and past, especially the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Even so, Trump’s “son-of-a-bitch” reference to protesting NFL players stunned some.
For example, Miami Dolphins’ safety Michael Thomas told reporters Sunday, “It just amazes me that with everything else that’s going on in the world, especially involving the U.S., that’s what you’re concerned about my man? You’re the Leader of the Free World and this what you talkin’ about?”
Contact LVSportsBiz founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com
49ers CEO Jed York