You have to hand it to the National Football League. No other organization has such a gift for turning a molehill into Mount Vesuvius.
Currently, the league is wrestling with two points of contention.
First is the ongoing fuss over what to do during a three-minute, patriotic musical interlude before games. Second is curbing violent, brain-damaging blows to the head with the helmet.
Pretty straightforward, right? And yet, does anyone get what we are doing?
The national anthem flap is inexcusable. This is a controversy that we saw coming from miles down the track, bells ringing, whistle blowing and lights flashing. And yet, NFL owners managed to be surprised.
In October, Commissioner Roger Goodell sent out a memo saying, “We need to move past this controversy.”
The problem is, as we’ve learned, nobody listens to Goodell. President Donald Trump cranked up his Tweeter and doubled down on his “get those SOBs off the field.”
Now Trump says players should be suspended for the season if they kneel during the anthem. But that’s just what he does — sends out a scattershot dog whistle and moves on.
The problem was the NFL owners, who showed all the restraint and decorum of toddlers at a birthday party — after the ice cream.
For starters, in May the owners voted “unanimously” to create an anthem policy out of thin air, requiring players to stand if they are on the field, or stay in the locker room if they disagree with the policy.
First, it wasn’t unanimous because 49ers owner Jed York abstained (well done, Jed). And second, they call it a collective bargaining agreement for a reason. You are supposed to negotiate this stuff.
Then some owners went rogue in support of their players. New York Jets co-owner Christopher Johnson said his team would pay any player fines. Atlanta owner Arthur Blank chimed in to say, correctly, that players have the right to speak up against social injustice.
On the other side, the Miami Dolphins issued a policy that appeared to support suspending kneeling players. And that was followed by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a $1 million donor to the Trump campaign, thundering that his team would be standing, “toes on the line.” And Jerry’s son, Stephen, implied kneeling players would be off the team.
In reply, the NFL did take one positive step. It sent Jones a message. I believe the exact legal phrase was, “Jerry, shut your pie hole.” Until further notice, Jones is no longer commenting on the anthem.
Amid the confusion, the “unanimous” anthem policy is on hold. Some owners are supporting the players. But the majority are taking the kind of our-way-or-the-highway, tone-deaf line that reinforces the idea that they think they own their team and the players. It’s not just dumb. It’s ugly.
And here’s the deal. This was well on the way to being solved last year. Some players knelt, some didn’t. The moment was given quick pre-game coverage on TV and then we went on to kickoff. The point was made by protesters and the Republic did not crumble.
And then a couple of grandstanders — Trump and Jones — rekindled this whole dumpster fire. And now it may be worse than ever.