There’s no justification for the NFL to order players to stand for the national anthem. The issue has been framed absurdly, as in: If you stand for the anthem you are a force for good and if you take a knee you hate America and are evil.
Fortunately, we’re too smart to believe that. Few issues are so simple. This one certainly is not.
One of the players who take a knee is San Francisco safety Eric Reid. I met him when he was a rookie in 2013.
The Carolina Panthers were playing the 49ers in San Francisco and Mike Tolbert, then a Carolina running back, grabbed a shovel pass from Cam Newton. With a running start and little time to dance or move, Tolbert, 245 pounds, collided with Reid, who weighed 213. The result was predictable. Tolbert got up. Reid did not.
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Instead of taunting Reid, Tolbert dropped to the ground and stayed with him. Tolbert prayed for Reid and didn’t rise until Reid did. Reid’s father, Eric T. Reid, a pastor in Baton Rouge, La., was so moved he wrote a letter to Carolina running backs’ coach Jim Skipper in which he praised Tolbert.
When the younger Reid and I talked, he said that players aren’t simply people who perform on Sunday afternoons. They’re sons and brothers and dads. They’re human, and their health is as important as ours.
To tell players that they can’t quietly call attention to injustice by taking a knee makes no sense. You might not like what they do but on what grounds do you deny their right to protest peacefully?
If uniformity is demanded when the anthem is played, if the league is convinced that everybody must stand, then it must work with players to find another means to address their concerns. They’re in this together.
Some of the players who are criticized don’t live down to the blatantly false stereotypes. Many have foundations, and they offer these foundations their money and their time. Beneficiaries at events I’ve attended include children, abused women and people who struggle to provide any semblance of a Christmas for their kids.
I’m not saying the league is comprised of humanitarians beneath helmets and shoulder pads. I’m saying that if players care about children, abused women and struggling parents, they probably care about the country in which these children, abused women and struggling parents live.
The stand or kneel issue will be resolved. But there is no simple answer. It’s not a simple issue.