From around mid-September to early February, my favorite day of the week is Sunday. I wake up at leisure, watch the Sunday news shows, have lunch with a friend and come home to watch football and read the papers for the rest of the day. To mangle Carrie Underwood, “I’ve been waitin’ all week for Sunday afternoon!”
But this week was different.
I’ve been a fan of the game of football since I was a kid, despite my lack of talent as a player (in high school my position was Left Out). This week, as I watched TV and occasionally glanced at the Peter Max American flag piece (print, unfortunately!) in my living room, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 became American football on a uniquely American day.
It actually began Friday night when the President of the United States used the phrase “son of a bitch” to describe those NFL players who took a knee to protest racial inequality during the national anthem. Yes, for several reasons it was incredibly disturbing to me that the leader of the free world would take such a vulgar stand against free speech. I thought it was going to be another one of those “it doesn’t matter moments.”
Looking at the response of the crowd in Alabama where Mr. Trump was speaking, I went to sleep that night thinking the President’s base will love it, the rest of America will be furious but in two days all will move on. Even though race, that longtime third rail of our society had been touched again (African-American players make up 70 percent of the NFL), I sadly figured it was the same old stuff.
Well, riddle me shocked!
After NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Saturday issued his statement criticizing the President’s words, the owners of team after team followed. Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam called President Trump’s statement “misguided, uninformed and divisive.” Even one of Mr. Trump’s biggest supporters, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the President’s comments. Four time Super Bowl champ and hall of famer Terry Bradshaw said he does not condone protesting during the national anthem but defended the right of the players to do so.
The games were fascinating, watching how analysts, announcers, players and coaches responded. The debate on social media was intense and passionate with both sides making intelligent, if not sometimes misinformed, points. The President later spoke on camera defending his remarks and said his criticism “has nothing to do with race.”
This was no ordinary NFL Sunday.
When 21-year-old Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer calmly but defiantly said during his post-game news conference, “I know for a fact I’m no son of a bitch,” I hoped the world was watching. Later, when NBC Sports announcer Cris Collinsworth called on the President of the United States to apologize to the NFL and its players, it cemented what I had been feeling: This was a truly American day.
The fact that we all have the right to blast our opinion, disagreeing, arguing, even calling out the elected leaders of our country, is an amazing right, a constitutional privilege, one that I think we take for granted at times. Knowing I live in a nation that allows me and other citizens to disagree and provide perspective makes me pause and realize again, at end of the day, how lucky I am, how lucky we are.
I can’t wait for next Sunday afternoon.