SANTA CLARA — The Lynch who plays for the Raiders, Marshawn, remained seated on the bench while the national anthem played in Arizona last Saturday night. Presumably, it was a form of political demonstration. Wednesday, I asked the Lynch who runs the 49ers, John, what he thought about the silent anthem protests that are likely to blossom around the NFL in the coming weeks.
“We had a great deal the other day where we had four chairs up here, and there was (former 49ers quarterback) Steve Young and (former wide receiver) Jerry Rice,” John Lynch, the team’s rookie general manager, said. “And they talked about ‘the 49er way.’ And I always thought that’s one of the great things about this league. As a matter of fact, I think it’s a great beacon for the rest of culture, in terms of the way it should be. You strive for a common goal, and you have unity. And I think this game brings people together.
“So I think personally when I see (the protests), I think that’s divisive.”
Lynch made it clear that he was not trying to crack down on the potential protesters on his roster.
“I understand guys see things and they’re not happy,” he said. “They have that right. And I think we’ll always respect people’s rights. That doesn’t mean I believe that. I believe this game should be celebrated for what it is — I think, a tremendous unifier for our country, and for the way things should be.”
John Lynch is admired, practically revered, by those who have played or studied or worked alongside him. He didn’t necessarily say anything offensive in his answer. But he missed a great opportunity.
And once again we are reminded that the NFL is an inherently conservative and even regressive institution. The complex teamwork and physical sacrifice of football demand 100 percent buy-in by its players. There is no room for individual thought — or so the coaches and executives of the league would tell you.
Compare this to the NBA. After the election of Donald Trump in November, and especially as the new president moved forward with anti-immigrant policies and insensitive tweets, coaches like the Warriors’ Steve Kerr, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy took turns outdoing one another in their condemnation. They were so passionate, so eloquent that, honestly, they practically moved me to tears on a couple of occasions.
Just Wednesday, Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale publicly decried the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, and Trump’s noncommittal response.
Among other things, Fizdale said this: “I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city, a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable; it will no longer stand.”
Meanwhile, you’ve got Rob Ryan, the former Raiders defensive coordinator, going on Fox Sports with host Colin Cowherd and saying, “I think the whole country needs a dose of, ‘Hey, let’s be proud of our country.’ Let’s stand behind our president. Let’s do things. Do we have other issues? Absolutely we do. Now’s not the time to do that.”
When’s the time, Rob? When swastikas fly in every city in America?