On Tuesday the NFL rolled out an extensive “social justice” program as a direct response to the concerns raised by players who for the past two seasons have been kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness for what they say are racial injustices in America.
Those players have been demanding “equal rights and justice for all,” as Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross put it.
And whatever your feelings about the protests, the NFL’s new program seems well-intentioned because it might help people who have previously been marginalized.
But at the same time the NFL was trumpeting this program to empower the disenfranchised, it was also dropping a censorship hammer on a group of veterans whose message also deserves trumpeting.
American Veterans, or AMVETS, is a nonpartisan veterans organization that claims 250,000 members nationwide. It’s dedicated to providing scholarships, helping vets find jobs and basically help “reintegrating warriors” back into society after their fight is over.
The organization tried to purchase a $30,000 ad in the Super Bowl 52 game program last week. And the NFL, which has editorial control over the program, rejected the AMVETS ad.
What made the ad unacceptable to the NFL?
It asked people to “Please Stand.” That’s it.
“The Super Bowl game program is designed for fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams and the Super Bowl. It’s never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthey told The Herald in an email exchange.
“The NFL has long supported the military and veterans and will again salute our service members in the Super Bowl with memorable on-field moments that will be televised as part of the game. A VFW ad was submitted and later approved for a tagline that read: “We Stand for Veterans” and describes the benefits it offers.
“AMVETS submitted an ad [on Jan. 17] with the line ‘Please Stand’ (no hashtag). We looked to work with the organization and asked it to consider other options such as ‘Please Honor our Veterans.’ They chose not to and we asked it to consider using ‘Please Stand for Our Veterans.’ Production was delayed as we awaited an answer. As the program was going to production, the organization asked about including a hashtag and was informed that approval would not be provided in time and was asked to approve the ad without the hashtag.
“The organization did not respond and the program ultimately went into production to meet deadlines.”
Here’s the problem with all that:
Since when is the message “Please Stand,” with or without the stupid hashtag, a political statement? Is it a Republican or Democrat statement?
Because school children have been standing for the pledge of allegiance and national anthem in schools around the country since before anyone alive today was born. So I don’t accept that asking folks to stand is political.
But it’s in direct opposition to the kneeling a minority of the league’s players have been doing since 2016.
And guess what? That movement started as a social protest movement, but if asking people to stand is political then kneeling must also “be considered a political statement.”
And the NFL has no problem with that political statement.
The league’s stance is it encourages players to stand but it doesn’t make them. It doesn’t stop them from kneeling.
The NFL fines players if their socks are not right, if their shoes are not right, if their equipment isn’t right. If players taunt an opponent or disrespect an official they are fined.
But protest in front of the flag during the national anthem and anger millions of fans? That’s allowed.
Meanwhile, an ad with a message that pushes back on the kneeling? Not allowed.
So I asked the NFL three questions:
1. Has the NFL asked NBC not to promote the political statement by the kneeling players during the broadcast of the Super Bowl -- its biggest event -- the same as it prohibited the AMVETS ad?
The answer I got is “NBC will cover the anthem as it sees fit and show what the players, coaches and fans are doing in the stands.”
So, no. And that shows inequity.
2. How does the NFL reconcile that asking people to stand cannot be accepted because it is "political," but the same league does not stop players from kneeling despite the fact that is “political?”
3. Is the NFL taking a stance that favors one side over the other?
I got no answer to the last two questions.
I suppose somebody at the NFL sees its inequitable treatment of one side versus another so it would rather not answer for it.
And the answer to the last question is obvious.
Of course the NFL is choosing sides.
The NFL is taking the side of kneeling during the anthem. And it’s doing so in a manner long ago adopted by revolutionaries: By stifling one side of the debate.
This serves one segment of the population that agrees with the protests and wants more, not fewer, protestors.
But, ironically, it also serves the opposing segment of the population and fan base because it sends the message the NFL doesn’t want to hear your side. It doesn’t want to give you a voice.
Please Stand is unacceptable to the NFL.
People upset by the protests -- many of whom have stopped attending games or even watching on television -- should know the NFL doesn’t consider what you believe is acceptable for public consumption.
It’s fascinating, really, because a multi billion-dollar-a-year industry is showing it is either tone deaf or fully unconcerned by what a large swath of its customers think -- even to its own detriment.
So much for standing for equal rights and justice, NFL.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero