LONDON If the pregame pomp and pageantry of Sunday’s game at Wembley Stadium meets the standards of past NFL games in this country, there will be a moment when everyone in the bleachers rises for the Star Spangled Banner because the Americans are guests here so they go first. And then some 90,000 fans in the UK’s largest sports venue will remain standing and join in a prideful rendition of God Save the Queen.
So two peoples — Americans and Brits — will demonstrate that special relationship between our countries by honoring each other’s national anthem.
But here’s the trouble: Because the NFL is awash in uncertainty over what people should do during the national anthem (there should really be no question) we have the potential of witnessing an embarrassing international scene on the Dolphins sideline during the pregame ceremony.
While all New Orleans Saints players have said they ultimately will stand for the playing of both anthems, several Dolphins players were late this week considering whether to take a knee during the American anthem and one — tight end Julius Thomas — said he definitely would not stand.
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“I think anything you do, anytime you try to make a statement, you have to do it with the full understanding of what statement you’re making,” Thomas said after a Dolphins practice Friday at Allianz Park, home to the Saracens Rugby Club. “When I took the stance and stepped a little outside of myself and thought about others, I did it with the understanding this is something I was committing to. So I’ll continue to commit to seeking equality for all people.”
Pressed for specifics, Thomas confirmed he will continue to kneel.
And if Thomas and others follow the lead of their peers on the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens last week at Wembley, after kneeling during their country’s anthem, they will stand and show respect for the British anthem.
Americans showing more respect for a foreign country’s anthem than their own.
The very idea feels like a betrayal to the USA.
Thomas, however, doesn’t see it that way.
“I didn’t think about that, but I have no problem standing for the British anthem,” he said.
And that makes me wonder how the NFL got here. How did a football league get so off course that its players are becoming international symbols of a divided America?
Last year the kneeling campaign was ostensibly to call attention to social and racial issues. But that campaign seemed to be fading until last week.
Last week the kneeling wasn’t about people trying to raise awareness about rogue police violence or racial tensions. Last week it was President Donald Trump calling NFL players who kneel “[SOBs].”
Except he didn’t use the acronym. He used the words.
In a speech.
And then on Twitter.
So Trump, a bull in a china shop, knocked over a bunch of delicate NFL sensibilities.
Feckless NFL commissioner Roger Goodell immediately came to the defense of the players, calling Trump’s words “divisive.” Dolphins President and CEO Tom Garfinkel said the nation needs civility “not condemnation and divisiveness.” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross released a statement calling for “unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness.”
The statements were well intentioned. But they ring hollow to fans who are walking away from the league because they see players forcing their political, civil and social beliefs upon them prior to practically every game.
And the manner in which the players choose to voice their grievances, by disrespecting the flag and national anthem, angers a lot of people so much it cuts off any meaningful conversation about those grievances before the talking starts. This shouldn’t surprise because, darn it, you don’t disrespect the flag and the national anthem as an ice breaker.
That disrespect is the divisiveness the NFL should have addressed last year before the sitting President got all coarse and divisive right back.
But the words. Did you read the words the president used?
Yes, President Trump used the same words President Truman used when he called General Douglas McArthur “a dumb [SOB]...”
He used the same words President Kennedy once famously used when he said, “My father always told me that all businessmen were sons of (expletives), but I never believed it until now.”
Interestingly, an American president, now widely recognized as a hero, insulted an entire class of American workers. And the history books say nothing of those businessmen crying foul or taking a knee in response.
Look, having the right to protest doesn’t mean it’s always the wise thing to do. And doing it on foreign soil raises questions about the moral clarity of the protestors.
To Thomas and other Dolphins players who may intend to kneel for the American anthem on Sunday but have no problem rising for the British anthem afterward, I ask you to consider these truths:
The country whose anthem you are thinking of disrespecting has had a black president. The country whose anthem you intend to honor has never had a black king or queen or prime minister.
The country whose anthem you are thinking of disrespecting has had and today has multiple minority Supreme Court justices. The country whose anthem you intend to honor has never had anything but white Supreme Court justices.
Disrespecting your national anthem at home has made you unpopular in some circles, but those feelings can fade. Disrespecting your national anthem abroad and in the next moment honoring another country’s national anthem is an outright betrayal you may never be able to overcome.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero