Bill Britton: Taking a Knee.

Taking a Knee [Getty Images]

         At first glance, the National Football Leagues owner’s threat to suspend players who “take a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem seems patriotic, at least on the surface, since those who commit this act seem to have political outlooks contrary to those of “mainstream” America.

When asked what the national anthem or flag means to them, most Americans will immediately answer, “Freedom.” Since our early history is colored by efforts to secure it, freedom seems to be a logical first response. But since our follow-on history includes a long episode of slavery and the repression of various social and ethnic groups even today, don’t these symbols also connote less-palatable traces of national character? In particular, do the flag’s constituent colors, by representing courage, purity, and justice, exclude the possibility of acknowledging their antitheses, especially justice?

If these symbols are to honestly represent what America is about, they must be inclusive of what is bad as well as what is perceived to be good. By claiming that they represent only the national good, Americans must ignore a few unpleasant chapters in its history as well as certain manifestations of contemporary life. Indeed, it can be argued that for some Americans, the flag in particular represents little more than social and economic marginalization, and the last words in the Pledge of Allegiance, “with liberty and justice for all,” is little more than a promise unfulfilled.

            A nation that claims to be made up of free, independent citizens is a nation of potential dissenters. Our history attests to that fact. A flag or anthem of lasting value need not fear protest in any form, even if that means “taking a knee.”

Bill Britton is a freelance writer and formerly an editor for John Hopkins University Press, ABI Research, and Elsevier Science, and is a frequent contributor to Vero Communiqué.

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5 thoughts on “Bill Britton: Taking a Knee.

  1. Mr. Britton’s concerns would be on point if the NFL were a governmental entity. But it is simply a private business catering to the wishes of its customer base. To read more than that into the situation is to both misunderstand the economics of the situation and to inject politics into a private business decision.


    The NFL might be a private business and not a “governmental entity,” as Mr. Saul writes, but it certainly is a beneficiary of governmental largess and other actions:

    –The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 essentially allowed professional football teams to pool together when negotiating radio and television broadcasts rights. This law was the first action by the federal government that would spur the growth of a multi-billion-dollar enterprise as well as legalize what amounts to a monopoly.

    –Not generally known, the NFL is non-profit. The IRS expanded Section 501(c)6 of the Internal Revenue Code, which “provides for the exemption of business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade and professional football leagues, which are not organization.” As noted by The Washington Post, this exception means the NFL’s headquarters in New York led by Goodell is spared tax payments that some estimate to be $10 million annually— because the teams and not the NFL make money.

    –“Apple or ExxonMobil can only dream of permission to function as a monopoly: the 1966 law was effectively a license for the NFL owners to print money,” wrote Gregg Easterbrook, author of “The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America,” in an article for The Atlantic.

    –Football is a recreational sport and both a local and a tourist attraction. Several football stadiums have been built with some or all-public financing. That public financing comes from taxpayer dollars that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars for the building and maintenance of these venues all over the country. Local governmental subsidies have helped NFL teams fund new stadiums and all the infrastructure around them. About 30 stadiums have been built with some or all-public financing, according to David Goodfriend, head of the Sports Fan Coalition.

    –In 2009 the government urged the owners to have football players come out and stand for the National Anthem as a way to market military recruitment. Previously, players were in the locker room during the National Anthem. Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake delved into this issue in a 2015 report that revealed the Department of Defense spent $6.8 million in advertising contracts with different sports teams since 2012, with the majority going to the NFL.

    • Imagine that!! American citizens and businesses have actually benefited from laws written by the US Congress. Exactly whom does Mr. Britton believe those laws should benefit? Non-Americans? The NFL itself does not make a profit, and is treated as a not-for-profit. What’s next, man bites dog? Football’s permission to act as a monopoly came “only” 40+ years after baseball got the exact same treatment…and NOBODY was shocked at the time that it happened. Yes, LOCAL governments have participated in stadium financing and tax breaks, after calculating that the business stimulus connected with gameday activities and the presence of the team would pay for the financing. Also involved are other uses of the stadia, such as rock concerts, etc. More often than the governmental entities would like to admit, they miscalculate. Yet another reason to place less emphasis on government and more on the private sector! And yes, the various branches of the military have advertised for recruits through the NFL. Perhaps they know their audiences, as recruitment targets have been fairly well met. It seems as if McCain and Flake would have had better things to investigate than a wise use of advertising dollars. So far as where players were during the National Anthem prior to 2009, that may have been stadium-specific. From personal experience as a New York Jets season-ticket holder from 1988 through 2012 as well as a frequent attendee of New York Giants home games during that period, I can tell you that in New York, teams were on the field for the National Anthem prior to 2009.

  3. To Bob Stair:
    There is no conflict between business rights and the Bill of Rights. If you actually read the Constitution, you would recall that the First Amendment begins with the words “Congress shall make no law…” The Constitution in NO WAY deals with private regulation of speech by employers, which has been legal since the beginning of the Republic.

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