This past weekend, many of the NFL players went to "war" with President Trump over his remarks made Friday at a rally in Alabama. In addition, they carried it out to the field by kneeling, or not kneeling during the National Anthem.
This action on the part of the players is technically in violation of a league rule regarding the conduct of players during the Anthem. But, considering how the league responded last year with the Kaepernick protest, the players knew that no penalty would be forthcoming.
We like to think that as our creative social media agency trademark promises, “We Evoke Emotion.”
However, it occurred to me this past weekend and to many Americans, be they be football fans or not, that the growing controversy around kneeling, or not for the National Anthem is unwittingly sparking a passionate debate about each of our own interpretation of patriotism.
But as compared to our “evoke” trademark, kneeling or not kneeling is “provoking” emotion. That's an important difference. And more than anything else, it’s a sign of the times.
It’s a bit ironic that the new Ken Burns documentary about the Vietnam War hopes to give each of us “an opportunity to have a better position to understand what’s going on [today]. He doesn’t stop there. According to the Washington Post, “The filmmaker wants his new documentary, “The Vietnam War,” to bring the country together.”
I’m not sure how that’s remotely possible, in this or any other political climate.
As compared to other forms of government, ours technically has 3 separate but equal branches of government, the executive, the legislative and the judicial. And since Jefferson, it’s always had at least 2 dominant political parties. A loyal opposition, if you will that requires compromise.
However, one takeaway from the recent Burns documentary, between then and now is that the domestic fight took place on college campuses. Today, with all-volunteer armed forces, it’s highly improbable our educational institutions will be the “field of play” again, at least on this latest provocative issue.
So, for better or worse, the war is being waged in our nation’s sports arenas. One could make a case, going back to the legendary (violent) days of the Roman Coliseum that this type of public space is uniquely made for this.
Certainly, sports have always been an iconic type of activity that political views seeped on to the field. But what makes this new tussle different, is that it surrounds our national anthem and the first Amendment, right of freedom of speech.
In the last two elections, social media acted as the field of play between our nation’s feelings about each candidate. We also learned last week that Russia, a 3rd party outside both our government, our media and our country also had joined the Facebook fight.
According to Lincoln, our government “of the people, by the people, for the people” doesn’t necessarily include sports leagues, which have their own forms of government.
Across the league, there is division among the players what actions, if any, should be taken. Generally, most teams had a mix of standing and kneeling (or sitting) while the National Anthem was played or sung.
Even the owners of respective teams are divided on what actions would or would not be taken against the players for violating league and team rules.
Madison Avenue Social isn't taking sides in this discussion, but we are highlighting how responses over a social media comment, or a stance, can become emotional and foster a real discussion, over that comment, or over an action taken in protest to said comment.
We are in the first quarter of this patriotist game. In the end, the fans may or may not speak their support or displeasure for or against the players' position by TV ratings and by "cheeks in the seats".
Until the networks complain about how much money they are losing, or stadium concession revenue drops significantly, the NFL may remain silent on the actions of the players. Too early to tell. Until then, be assured that this will be an emotional issue for the fans and the players in 2017.
But make no mistake. Each side is no doubt “provoking,” not “evoking” the other.
Frank McHale is the Chief Operations Officer of Madison Avenue Social