Protests during the national anthem marked one of the key stories of the 2017 NFL season, and on Wednesday the league unveiled a new proposal designed to curtail those protests. Protesters now will be required to remain in the locker room or risk a fine for their team. All players on the field will be required to stand and show respect to the flag, or risk being fined.
Almost immediately afterward, Vice President Mike Pence offered up a single word in response on Twitter: “#Winning.”
What’s Pence’s connection to the anthem protests?
Last fall, Pence walked out of an Indianapolis-San Francisco game after seeing players kneel in protest during the anthem. It was apparently a choreographed walkout; reporters were notified before the game began that Pence would not be there long. But in the end, just so it’s clear: Pence chose to express his point of view about the peaceful protests at a sporting event by … peacefully protesting during a sporting event.
Why use the word #Winning? Doesn’t that imply that there’s someone who’s losing?
Why yes it does. That seems an awfully strange construct to set up, that some Americans can “win” and some Americans can “lose” a discussion over the national anthem and the right to speak one’s mind in America. And the fact that the Vice President of the United States seems to be endorsing a winner-take-all idea over one of inclusion, well … this is an interesting new world we’re living in, isn’t it?
Moreover, the entire point of the protests was not to show disrespect to the flag or the military; players were seeking to bring attention to social issues and racial injustice, and followed up their demonstrations with action. But opponents of the protests successfully re-framed the protests as somehow “unpatriotic,” and Pence’s one-word tweet seems to go one step further, suggesting that opposition to protests wasn’t about higher ideals, but just about notching a W.
What happened to “stick to sports”?
Excellent question. “Stick to sports” is the usual rejoinder that certain fans throw out when they’re confronted with political realities that they don’t like in the sports world; they prefer their games and athletes free of uncomfortable politics. Which is fine! Not every game has to be a referendum on social equality.
But what about when the politicians don’t “stick to politics”? What happens when politics forces its way into the sports arena, the way Pence did here and the way President Donald Trump has in the past, and almost surely will again? Fans can’t expect athletes and the media to ignore reality when politicians intrude on the field of play. “Stick to sports” is dead and gone, and it’s not just the athletes who are to blame.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Shams Charania: Warriors lose identity in stunning 4th-quarter collapse
• Terez Paylor: Cowboys’ Jones vocal in NFL’s protest struggle
• MLB star’s HR turns into an awkward family affair
• Report: NFL proposes rule change, penalty for kneeling