Monday, September 25, 2017

Take a knee

Over the weekend, Trump waded into another controversy. He didn't initiate the controversy. Rather, he responded to an ongoing controversy. Among other things, he said:

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”“You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country. The NFL ratings are down massively. Now the No1 reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening … with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: 15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They’re ruining the game! That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game. But do you know what’s hurting the game more than that? he said. When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.

He continued on Twitter. His comments ignited a predictable firestorm on the left, along with some critics on the right. A few observations:

i) It would be unconstitutional for gov't to arrogate to itself the legal power to punish dissidents. And, indeed, that's what it's doing in the case of Christian businesses that refuse to collaborate with the LGBT agenda. That's gov't exercising official power to suppress political dissent. 

That's quite different from a president expressing the opinion that owners of a private business ought to fire political dissenters. We can still debate the pros and cons, but that's not unconstitutional, as I read the First Amendment.

ii) Trump is simply giving voice to what many sports fans feel. Only difference is that he has a megaphone. 

iii) I've read some people talk about how soldiers die for the flag. That, however, confuses the symbol with what it symbolizes. They don't die for the flag, but at most for what it represents. I'd add that before the advent of the volunteer army, many soldiers weren't dying for a cause. They died because they were drafted. 

iv) Sports used to be bipartisan. But the left insists on interjecting its social agenda into every venue. Many Americans resent that. This has even extended to conscripting 8-year-olds to take a knee. 

v) Strictly speaking, there's no intrinsic reason why a sporting event should open with patriotic ceremonies. But that's our custom. And many sports fans associate sports with patriotism. That tradition can't be rescinded without alienating the constituency. 

vi) The management has exposed itself as a bunch of arrogant out-of-touch elites who don't share the cultural outlook of many or most fans.  

vii) In addition, the management is arbitrary. It allows and defends players who protest the national anthem, but forbids players who wish to honor murdered police officers or 9/11 victims. 

viii) By the same token, you have Democrats who support a movement to violently suppress political dissent (Antifa), but suddenly pivot to defend the right of athletes to protest the national anthem. 

ix) However, some conservatives have said that if we object to Google firing political dissidents or politicians advocating boycotts of Chick-fil-A, then we must, in consistency, defend the rights of athletes to protest the national anthem. To that I'd say several things:

x) There's an important distinction between gov't penalizing political dissent–and economic boycotts. Protest is a two-way street. If athletes can protest, so can fans. 

xi) Moreover, the merits of an issue are germane to what we should or shouldn't tolerate. Now that's irrelevant to freedom of expression as a civil right. It's not for gov't to take sides at that level. But at the level of private citizens and sports fans, we are entitled to distinguish treatment depending on the merits of an issue. People can have good reasons and bad reasons for protesting. Chick-fil-A or Christian bakers, photographers, and florists are not morally equivalent to rich athletes who protest nonexistent structural racism. The difference between right and wrong makes a difference. 

xii) In addition, pro football, baseball, basketball &c. is big business. If you go out of your way to antagonize your customers, you literally pay a price. Entertainers like Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise have damaged their career by making themselves unlikeable. Professional athletes are subject to the same market forces. In the past, entertainers like Johnny Carson kept their political views to themselves because they knew their line of work was a popularity contest. 


  1. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave.

    I would add that this is classic "Art of the Deal". Trump is not making a legal or presidential statement. He is giving advice, as a businessman. Walk away from the table. There's always the opportunity to come back to it. But in making a deal, you have to be prepared to walk out.

  2. The team owners are in the business of selling tickets. Period. Provide entertainment with enough value to support the ticket price. When they forget the prime directive of their organization to make a political point, the market will self correct. They will get the message if walkouts begin.

  3. I enjoy watching professional Rugby Union, where teams loudly and emotionally sing their national anthems - so patriotism is a part of the sports scene in the rest of the Anglosphere. Given the cost of NFL tickets, I don't think there will be any walkouts anytime soon. So save money and sanity and subscribe to the on-line Rugby Channel.