It’s another football Sunday and the fans are forced to wonder how many NFL players are going to do some sort of protest during our country’s national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner. The real question is, how long are the fans going to put up with this?

President Donald Trump actually spoke for many fans at a political rally the other night when he said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!”

Last week, Green Bay Packer Martellus Bennett raised his fist during the national anthem while his brother across the field of play refused to stand for the song. Bennett responded to Trump’s comments on Twitter:

Instead of causing heartburn for his fellow players and Packers management, they’re supportive of Bennett’s protest and the protests by other NFL players. Packers President Mark Murphy issued the following statement:

“It’s unfortunate that the President decided to use his immense platform to make divisive and offensive statements about our players and the NFL. We strongly believe that players are leaders in our communities and positive influences. They have achieved their positions through tremendous work and dedication and should be celebrated for their success and positive impact. We believe it is important to support any of our players who choose to peacefully express themselves with the hope of change for good. As Americans, we are fortunate to be able to speak openly and freely.”

So, according to Murphy, Trump is making “divisive and offensive statements” about the players and the NFL. Not that the  unprofessional and unpatriotic conduct by the players is “divisive and offensive,” but the president’s statements defending patriotism and respect for our country are “divisive and offensive.” Murphy even believes, from his statement, that the “players are leaders and positive influences.”

Both Packers Coach Mike McCarthy and Quarterback Aaron Rodgers have also expressed support for players protesting during the national anthem.

And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went a step farther, “Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

That’s correct. In asking that the NFL show more respect for our country, at least publicly, the president has demonstrated “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.”

Should Trump have made those comments? Of course he should have. If President Barack Obama commenting on what happened to Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was acceptable, then certainly commenting on the weekly disrespect being shown to our country’s flag and national anthem on national television and in stadiums full of NFL fans falls within the president’s purview. What would President Teddy Roosevelt or President Harry Truman have said? In the case of the latter, “sons of bitches” probably would have been the words he used.

Are NFL players engaged in free speech? Yes and no. Yes, so far as their employer tolerates the behavior, but that does not mean their actions are free from consequence. The NFL could end this nonsense today by issuing a warning to the players that their conduct reflects badly upon the league and any further misconduct will result in fines or even dismissal. This is not an action by the government, but by an employer demanding conduct that does not upset the customers, the fans.

It’s no different than, say, walking into a clothing store to buy a suit and the employee decides to spend his time insulting your politics. Whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, you would expect the clothing store to take decisive action against the employee to prevent that kind of customer experience from happening again. What the employee does away from the store is not your concern. But at the time when you are engaged in that activity of buying a suit, his conduct directly affects your customer experience.

In fact, many private employers frown upon their employees taking to social media to talk about the company in any way that denigrates the company or the customers. Most NFL fans aren’t even at that point. They just want to be able to enjoy the game without some NFL player spitting on the fans’ patriotism.

It’s ironic that the NFL is more concerned with how players celebrate a good play or a touchdown than how players conduct themselves during the national anthem. When Ezekiel Elliott jumped into a Salvation Army giant kettle after scoring a touchdown, the question became how big would Elliott’s fine be? His team was actually penalized for the stunt, but the league showed rare good judgement by not fining or suspending the player.

Goodell’s comment that the president demonstrated “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL” shows that the league commissioner thinks the NFL is more important than America. As they lose viewers week after week, the fans are saying otherwise. At one time the NFL hoped to supplant Major League Baseball as America’s pastime. The league needs to respect America first.

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