Martha Ford’s approach to defusing football’s divisive national anthem dilemma is inspired, and should be copied by other NFL teams.
Ford, owner of the Detroit Lions, approached her players with a deal:
Stand respectfully as a team during the anthem and she would in turn donate to organizations that are addressing the issues of inequality and injustice that the players are protesting.
It seems like it may work. Lions running back Ameer Abdullah indicated the players saw the offer as a constructive solution. Abdullah is one of eight Lions who has taken a knee during the anthem at times this season.
The protests began last year with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers back-up quarterback who is now out of the league. Kaepernick said he was protesting racism and the treatment of young black men by police.
It spread from there, with 10-15 percent of NFL players kneeling this season. President Donald Trump made matters worse by tweeting out harsh attacks on the kneelers, leading several teams, including the Lions, to link arms as players, staff and owners while the anthem is being played.
The protests have not set well with fans, who expect to see football when they come to football games, not more displays of political discontent. Game attendance and television viewership is down this season. And there’s a national counter-protest aimed at encouraging boycotts of NFL games.
Obviously, this is bad for business. Ford’s way out should satisfy players who wanted action on the issues they care about. The promise of funding is the best kind of action they could have hoped for.
And it removes a distraction that promises to cost the NFL money and fans. It’s better for the league if the spotlight stays on players who score and tackle rather than the ones who kneel.
It’s also better for the country. As one commentator said, the national anthem protests risk normalizing contempt for America by its own people. Already, high school players across the country are mimicking their NFL heroes and kneeling during the anthem.
Martha Ford is not bribing the players; she’s demonstrating both that she cares about their concerns and their livelihoods.
Ticking off the fans is not the way to ensure the franchise remains healthy and able to pay the multimillion dollar salaries these players enjoy.
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