Coverage of protests takes away from games

If you’re one of the people sick of reading, watching or hearing about NFL protests, please raise your hand. No need to take a knee. We’ve seen enough of that lately.

There’s a little contradiction in this column because it, too, relates to the peaceful-yet-incorrigible protests taking over the sports world lately. Yet, my stance is less about whether kneeling for the national anthem is right or wrong and more focused on how the gesture is being abused and losing its focus.

The widespread displays by athletes reached an all-time high this past Sunday, when hundreds of NFL players knelt, sat, prayed or even stretched during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” A few teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, didn’t come out of the tunnel for the playing of the song.

Coverage of the most popular sport in the United States was centered around what players did what during the anthem. TV newtworks such as ESPN, FOX, ABC, CBS, etc., focused on the political aspect of the situation instead of the sport itself. And even when the broadcast wasn’t discussing the politics surrounding the scenario, they were talking about which owner or player said what in regard to the current state of affairs.

The meaning behind kneeling for the national anthem was understood when Collin Kaepernick first started the controversial action last preseason, when he spoke out against police brutality. A few players joined in over the next several weeks, with most of them pointing to the same reason for their protest. Their actions became somewhat expected when this NFL season began and attracted minor publicity. That changed when President Donald Trump sounded off on the situation and referred to players who didn’t stand for the national anthem as “sons of bitches” and said they should be “fired.”

Trump’s harsh words resulted in more than 200 players doing something other than standing Sunday during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Most of them did it just because they were upset with what Trump said, not to protest any wrongdoing or political dissension. No one likes being called bad names and, if given the chance, people are going to respond.

That’s what happened Sunday. Upset players responded to an upset President. As I watched players, coaches, owners and different team members kneel and/or lock arms, I really didn’t know why they were doing it. Was it about unity, racism, police brutality, a response to the president or were they just doing it because their owner, coach or teammate was doing it? The watered-down version of a protest really didn’t get its point across because the point was lost, just like the football game.

Sports fans were left listening to reporter after reporter point out who did what during the traditional pre-game song. Personally, I turn on NFL games — and any sporting event for that matter — to, you know, watch and listen to sports and people’s analysis of and for that game. If I wanted to hear about politics, I’d flip the channel to the news station — or, of course, just read the Tribune Chronicle.

I’m all for people having freedom of speech and expressing that freedom when they feel necessary, and I also understand that there’s a level of respect people, specifically veterans and those currently serving in the military, expect when the national anthem is being played. Both sides have their reasoning, and they’re legitimate. The issue is that it appears people are just doing it now to get a rise out of someone — be it the President, the fan base, the media or whoever fits their agenda.

Now, there are absolutely people doing it for specific and notable reasons, and that’s their decision to make, but as far as sports fans are concerned, we’re here to watch the game. There is a time and a place for us all to discuss, debate and appreciate the good and bad that stems from political statements such as these, but the overwhelming coverage of it is taking away from coaches, players and fans.

Part of the reason sports are so important to society is because they allow us to take our minds away from the issues in our life — and in the world — and that aspect is being lost in a cloud of confusing protests.