The biggest story of the past few days has to do with the National Football League and a number of players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem, or in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the whole team minus one, staying in the locker room until after it was over.
I was struck last Sunday that this made such huge headlines, especially when other things of a far more disturbing nature were going on in this country, such as a shooting at a church in Tennessee by a Sudanese immigrant. Melanie Smith, 39 was shot and killed in her own church parking lot by a gunman. It is unthinkable that such a safe place became so violent. But the disproportional coverage by the media is nothing new. Former CBS Newsman Bernard Goldberg and author of several books about media bias has been fond of saying for years “We live in the United States of Entertainment” and his words have been proven many times over and were proven yet again this past weekend.
The big story; the real scandal in the NFL for serious journalists, should be the selective enforcement of rules by the league. But, that is not what is being reported. The NFL has strict and detailed policies regarding player conduct and demeanor during the playing of the National Anthem. Those rules have been violated in recent seasons by a few players, but blatantly, and in mass, on Sunday by more than 200 players. Mike Tomlin, Head Coach of the Steelers, heavily pressured his whole team to stay in the locker room and even made it clear in a press conference afterwards that he was disappointed with offensive tackle, former army ranger, and Bronze Star recipient Alejandro Villanueva for going out of the players tunnel and standing with hand over heart for the playing of the national anthem. So, there is a price to be paid for freedom of expression. Taking a stand has often proven costly; however what we have seen for many years is that it consistently cuts only one way. Liberal causes, can and should, be championed even if they violate the rules or the law, but conservative causes cannot and should not be championed even if they are within the bounds of the rules and the law.
NFL players got in trouble for wearing items and slogans on their uniforms in commemoration of 9/11 and the reasoning given by the NFL was that it was not a place to make political statements, especially those that some might deem offensive. Quarterback Tim Tebow faced a media firestorm and tremendous backlash for taking a knee in respect for God and giving thanks. Editorials lambasted him for bringing his “religion” and/or “personal beliefs” to football. Football, they said was a job, a sport, a pastime; anything but a place to express any personal views.
Ratings are down for the NFL by significant margins. Providers such as Direct TV are offering partial refunds to subscribers of their NFL package. When the NFL goes to negotiate contracts with cable and satellite providers for next season they will be in a weak position and stand to lose millions of dollars. People are vowing to not watch the rest of the season, not purchase NFL merchandise and, in some cases, are burning their hats and jerseys of their favorite teams. Fans are outraged that these overpaid athletes and coaches are ruining a game they love by politicizing it.
Many people who work for meager wages come home from work and watch football. They also spend part of their weekend watching just so they do not have to watch nauseating political talk on one of the 24/7 news channels. These people love their country, their Lord, and are thankful for what they have because of the opportunities provided by this great country. Allowing a place for politics in the NFL, in and of itself, is enough to infuriate great numbers, but when the particular political expression takes the form of not respecting the flag it touches a nerve with vast numbers of Americans. Historically, even when people vigorously disagreed they would both stand side by side and salute the flag of America. Now, that is changing in a very disturbing, high profile sort of way.
Frankly, many have made a conscious choice to reduce or eliminate following national news because it is so depressing and upsetting. Sports have been one of the favorite escapes, but now that world has not only been invaded, it has been stormed with no apology. The NFL Commissioner has never really demonstrated a conscious in any of the controversial matters of recent years involving the league, and is not really showing one here. He seems to be pulled in the direction of the most politically correct way of thinking.
One positive in all this is that many Americans are being forced to re-evaluate their priorities in life. Many are already stating on social media that they can live without football and that compared to the freedom of living in America it is a small price to pay to turn off their televisions or watch something else.
There is nothing that is immune from the creep of political correctness. It has been attacking institutions and individuals for years and will continue to do so. Now you are seeing pressure in areas you thought were immune, but nothing is really immune. The fact that the church shooting in Tennessee got so little coverage and the NFL controversy got so much is quite telling. Christians and conservative Americans will face more and more pressure to conform and if they do not do so there will be a severe price to be paid. It is time to stick to what you believe and be ready and willing to back it up with facts and truth. It is not a time for weak patriotism, weak Christians, or weak minds. It is a time for strength, courage, and resolve.
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor