Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The NFL Just Destroyed Everything It Created

I love watching football. I never let politics ruin my love of watching football. This time of the year is my absolute favorite, and football is a big part of that. So, no, I won't be boycotting the NFL. That is my right. You have your opinion, and I have mine. Neither of our opinions are right, so stop acting like I have to do what you say. I just read the open letter from Taya Kyle. She is the widow of the sniper who was portrayed in the movie American Sniper. She is a wise lady, and I think the NFL could learn from her words.

In her open letter, Mrs. Kyle says that the NFL is now ruining everything that it had built over the years. The very unity the NFL claims to be fighting for was already created in its own stadiums, and now that idea is gone. I thought about that, and there is a lot of truth to what she says. I do understand the protests. I do realize what the players are talking about, and I do find it frustrating that so many people can dismiss systemic racism as not existing. But I am not trying to change any opinions because, these days, opinions are impossible to change. But what I would like to see is the NFL realize that while it has every right to protest social injustice, it may have already been the best example of a world where people are just . . . people.

We invite discussion here at Niagara's Watercooler. On our blog and on our Facebook page, we want people to discuss things and maybe even change some opinions. But anyone who starts spouting their self-righteous nonsense on the platforms that we have direct control over will find themselves banned. No, we are not stifling free speech. You absolutely have the right to fire off racial slurs and talk down to people who disagree with you, and we have the right to not allow it. That is the biggest problem with this new wave of political radicals. They feel that freedom of speech only goes one way; in their direction. The truth is that freedom of speech goes both ways, and we are not afraid to exercise our right to not have to read your nonsense.

Watching an NFL game used to be an experience that revolved around people. The guys on the field were football players, and the people in the stands were the fans. Fans of all races hanging on the outcome of every play. Fans of all religions embracing when the home team finally gets the ball into the end zone, and fans from all parts of the world sharing in the euphoria of a game-winning field goal. It didn't matter if you were black, white, Latino, Asian, or green for that matter. No one stopped to ask if you were gay or straight, and people did not turn their backs on you if they did not like your religion.

On the field, the players got paid a lot of money based on their perceived value to the team and not based on their cultural background or the color of their skin. Despite players such as Adrian Peterson referring to NFL wages as "slave labor," NFL players do very well. Players associated respect from the team with a higher-paying contract. If a superstar wanted more respect, he knew he could get it from another team, if it came to that. It never mattered what color the player's skin was, what religion he was, or where he came from. The players were looked up to by kids of all races and religions, and the adults were more than happy to embrace any player who jumped into the stands after a touchdown.

Now all of that has changed.

In many ways, I am just summarizing what Mrs. Kyle said, so I want to make sure that she gets credit for pointing this all out. But after I read her letter, I realized that she was saying exactly what I was thinking, and I felt that her point deserved some enhancement.

The NFL had created the very world it says it wants. In an NFL stadium on game day, everyone was equal. Everyone had the same goals and everyone wanted the same things. Fans did not stop to check out the color of the skin of the person they were embracing after the ball went through the uprights for the winning kick. Fans did not stop and ask each other about their religion before deciding to chant the name of their latest sports hero. In an NFL stadium, there was the closest thing to equality this country will ever get. Instead of preserving that and maintaining the level playing field an NFL stadium offered or finding ways to try and export that sense of unity to the rest of the country, the NFL has decided to blow it all up and create deep divisions among the fans and players.

The mob mentality in this country is a dangerous thing. When NFL players decided to sit or kneel during the national anthem, the mob took over. I personally understand what the players are protesting, but I think they picked the absolute worst way to do it. There are better ways for football players to use their celebrity status to bring about changes in society. When football players decided to not stand at attention for the anthem and turn a football game into a political statement, they invited that mob mentality that will start the eventual decline of the NFL if something is not done.

Now the games are becoming different. I really don't think boycotts will hurt the NFL. People were boycotting a couple of years ago when the NFL was struggling with domestic violence issues, and the stadiums were not affected. The sponsors, however, spoke up and changes were made. Maybe that is what needs to happen here.

A young kid of any race is no longer safe to enjoy the unity of an NFL game in an NFL stadium. An African American kid will now feel the eyes on him as he tries to cheer on his favorite players, and the Caucasian kid will feel the pressure of being forced to hate the African American kid because of the protests. Pressure brought on by irrational adults who like to generally ruin everything that kids find fun.

An NFL stadium is no longer that encapsulation of unity it used to be. The NFL no longer has a model for comprehensive societal integration that it can point to as the way things should be. No matter what the intention is for these protests, they are having the opposite effect. The protests are ripping the NFL, and the country, apart. It won't be long before fights break out in huge numbers in NFL stadiums all over the country. Racism is already that ugly thing that binds millions of Americans and those millions of Americans are looking for a reason to destroy everything that has been built.

To the NFL I have already destroyed decades of work in being a beacon of unity. The issues you are trying to shed light on are very real and very disturbing, but your point is not coming across. All people see are millionaires kneeling during the anthem. They scream about disrespect, and then that is when the racial slurs start flying. Racial slurs were not really commonplace in NFL stadiums before all of this started. Now they are, and it will only get worse.

I don't know how the NFL can fix this. I am not sure it wants to, and I definitely do not think the NFL realizes the damage it is doing to its own game and reputation. I don't have a solid opinion either way on any of this. I probably would if these protests happened off the field. When I watch a football game, I want to see football. But just like every other thing in this country, now I have to deal with politics if I want to watch football. It is getting exhausting, and it is not going to accomplish what the players hope it will accomplish.

George N Root III is a Lockport resident who likes to separate social injustice protests from the escape of sports. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at Discuss this issue, but know that anything that is not a discussion will be deleted.