Oh Say Can You See Why the NFL Doesn’t Get It?

The issue of players kneeling during the national anthem is front and center again due to the NFL’s zest to please everyone, including any and all potential paying customers.

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The national anthem is the hot-button topic in the NFL again, but that’s not the case where other games are being played.

At PNC Park on Monday –– Memorial Day –– the Star-Spangled Banner was presented to an attentive, respectful audience, and played out without incident (at least that’s what it looked like from the concourse to those filing in just before the first pitch).

At Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, there was also no hint of controversy (at least not any broadcast by NBC). The NHL quite likely could have pulled off a second anthem sans turmoil had the playing of “O Canada” been necessary.

And in the NBA, presumably, they’re managing to stage the games without much of a national anthem distraction (I don’t watch the NBA much, but such a development would have surely cracked the news cycle by now, wouldn’t it?).

Only in the NFL, which is currently conducting voluntary practices that for many of the players are perceived as mandatory, is the proper protocol for the anthem a subject of great debate and consternation.

“We’re the highest profile league in the country,” Steelers president Art Rooney II maintained to a small group of reporters last week, “and I think that’s certainly a factor on this subject and other subjects. People react to positions taken in the NFL and by people who are connected with the league, no doubt about it.”

He has a point.

But the NFL has still dropped the ball on “Anthem-gate,” and the responsibility for the unbecoming fumble falls on the owners and the players alike.

The owners invited contempt when they announced their new policy –– stand and respect the flag and the anthem on the field or stay in the locker room or somewhere else out of the public’s eye –– without any input from or consultation with the NFLPA. A little give and take on the subject would have gone a long way. It might have even allowed the anthem flap to eventually fade away, something it appeared to be well on the way to doing late last season.

It’s front and center again due to the NFL’s zest to please everyone, including any and all potential paying customers.

As for the players, while their hearts and their social consciousness may indeed be in the right place, a few too many have failed to recognize or overstepped the line between activism and conduct unbecoming as dictated by an employer.

Steelers guard Ramon Foster isn’t one of them.

He recognizes the “constitutional rights” argument associated with taking a knee to protest perceived injustice, but he also recognizes the argument doesn’t end there.

“There’s also workplace rules, too,” Foster said. “Weed is legal in certain states, still can’t smoke it in the NFL.”

No one associated with the Steelers thinks this will fester into the type of issue that can fissure the locker room or otherwise distract.

“We’ll handle it like pros,” Foster insisted. “It won’t be a situation for us. Other teams, we’ll see what happens. I’m sure when the summer breaks everybody will voice their opinions. And I’m sure it’ll be a highlight opening day (in September). Our thing is just, minimize the issue.

“We’re here to play a game.”

If the NFL is lucky, everyone will remember that eventually.

The league has itself to blame for having forgotten as much in the first place.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section