Are you ready for some football?
I am not sure that I am, but it has little to with being a loyal (always-disappointed) Detroit Lions fan.
It has to do with — what else? Politics.
Athletes have long had an impact in the political world — Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali come to mind, but the recent over-infusion of bitter partisan politics into football is, well, overwhelming.
It starts with ESPN’s decision to reinstate Hank Williams to sing the Monday Night Football song. I love how Hank “brings it,” but every time I hear him sing I think of what he said about President Barack Obama: “We’ve got a Muslim for a president who hates cowboys, hates cowgirls, hates fishing, hates farming, loves gays, and we hate him!”
ESPN claims they are bringing Williams and the iconic song — “All My Rowdy Friends” — to give the fans what they want. In an official statement, ESPN wrote, “It’s a Monday night party, and that’s what we’re all hoping to get back to.”
But I can’t help but wonder if ESPN is re-hiring Williams because so many people allege the network has a liberal agenda when it comes to recent announcer decisions it has made.
The NFL has no horse in that game, and it’s likely deliriously happy about that. It’s clear the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is trying to punt when it comes to admitting politics is at play in his sport. Just consider his cowardly remark — “I’m not a football expert” answer — when he was asked to address the Colin Kaepernick controversy as evidence.
Kaepernick, as you know, started kneeling during the national anthem last year to protest police brutality.
So come on, commissioner, it’s clear that Kaepernick is not playing today because his politics are too divisive for team owners. Why not just address it? After all, according to a Washington Post/UMass Lowell poll, 19% of pro football fans say their interest has declined in recent years. And 24% of them say politics is to blame.
Christine Brennan, the great USA Today sports columnist and CNN contributor, told me you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
“I think that protests will be worse this season — it’s what this generation cares about. And these players are playing to youth,” she said.
Look at what happened in Cleveland a few weeks ago. A dozen players, including a white player, took a knee during the national anthem before a preseason game against the New York Giants. “There’s a lot of racial and social injustices in the world that are going on right now,” rookie safety Jabrill Peppers said. “We just decided to take a knee and pray for the people who have been affected and just pray for the world in general.”
It’s a lovely sentiment that reflects the millennial generation, but perhaps not all Americans. Steve Loomis, the head of one of Cleveland’s police unions, says he and his brothers and sisters will not participate in a pregame flag ceremony at the Browns’ home opener because management can’t control its players’ behavior.
“Their politics are ignorant,” Loomis told me on HLN. “It’s based on a false narrative that white police officers are out there murdering unarmed black people at record rates.”
Never mind that Cleveland police have settled 26 lawsuits and paid out $13 million over police misconduct since an officer mistakenly shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who wielded a toy gun in 2014.
I could delve into Seahawk Michael Bennett’s recent allegations that Las Vegas police profiled him after the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor boxing match — and the police union’s insistence the NFL investigate and “take appropriate action” against Bennett. But I won’t.
Suffice it to say politics infects every facet of our lives — including football. But shouldn’t America’s sport be a place of refuge from our political deluge?
As a journalist who supports first amendment rights, I’m psyched that the league is socially engaged. But as a fan? I’ll admit it: A part of me just wants to drink a beer and watch the Detroit Lions break my heart yet again.
So get ready for some politics-infused football, whether you’re ready or not.