Before the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at today’s game between the Ravens and Steelers, the P.A. announcer at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore asked fans to join and “pray that we as a nation embrace kindness, unity, equality, and justice for all Americans.” When players knelt to observe the prayer, a cascade of boos rained down upon them from the stands.
It was an absurd moment, and it works to prove that much of the ire directed at protesting NFL players has nothing to do with the national anthem. (The Ravens stood for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” by the way.) The entire league is draped in a pall of confused and vicious anger, and it doesn’t seem as if anybody knows what to do about it.
ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham published a well-reported inside look at how the NFL responded to Trump’s attacks on the league and its protesting players (whom the president called “sons of bitches”). There was some hand-wringing among team owners over losing advertising partners, including a $40 million sponsorship deal that worked Washington’s Dan Snyder into quite a tizzy. According to the report, Synder “kept repeating ‘$40 million’ to add emphasis, amusing a clique of owners who did the math and realized that, after the players’ cut of the shared revenue, it amounted to considerably less than $1 million per club.”
There was a back-and-forth about how to prevent players from protesting, with commissioner Roger Goodell arguing to the room of assembled billionaires that “[w]e can’t just tell them to stop.”
In an effort to foster unity (or, more precisely, the appearance of unity), the league’s marketing department proposed that all the players wear “a patch on their jerseys that would read, ‘Team America.’” Sadly, this awful idea was nixed. “An owner briefed on the proposal,” the ESPN report says, “simply shook his head: ‘We need to do better than that.’”
Jersey patches carrying the title of a marionette movie that mocks the country’s misguided obsession with patriotism wouldn’t have fixed any of the NFL’s problems, but at least we could have had an opportunity to laugh about it together.
Hey, anything’s better than people booing a prayer for equality.