October 21, 2020

NFL’s Social Justice Experiment Is No Touchdown

PITTSBURGH — In 2017, when Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva stood near the tunnel to the Pittsburgh locker room with his hand over his heart while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, the former Army Ranger was the only member of his team to do so.

Apropos of the moment, that game against the Chicago Bears was being played at Soldier Field.

Villanueva, a Bronze Star recipient, said his decision was not an intentional violation of coach Mike Tomlin’s order for every team member to stay in the locker room until the anthem had concluded. It was the result of Villanueva asking the team’s leaders to amend their original plan because of the texts he’d received from wounded veterans asking him to stand for the anthem.

Instead, he stood with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the team’s other captains at the front of the tunnel. Chaos ensued, and Villanueva found himself standing alone, with his teammates a few yards behind him.

Within 24 hours, several things happened: Tomlin stridently voiced his displeasure; Villanueva held a press conference expressing his embarrassment for becoming the center of attention; his NFL gear briefly outsold that of every player in the league; and he gave fans alienated by national anthem protests in the NFL a reason to keep watching.

Anthem protests began in 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat and later knelt during the anthem, followed by several other players on other teams. It was a significant factor in the 8% plunge in average viewership for a league that had previously been seen nationwide as a great unifier.

That ratings plunge continued the next year, President Donald Trump’s first year in office, when the protests expanded. That time, the plunge was 9.7%.

For generations, the NFL was the glue that gave a guy sitting in his game room in East Palestine, Ohio, a deep connection with a guy in a penthouse in Manhattan because of the passion for their teams. Instead, the league became a social justice organization that was no longer holding them together.

Last week, the Steelers played their first game of the season with a social justice message on their helmets. Villanueva, who served three tours in Afghanistan, instead chose to honor a fallen veteran, Alwyn Cashe, who died during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2005.

The rest of the team honored Antwon Rose Jr. on the back of their helmets. Rose, who was black, was shot by a white police officer in June 2018. A jury that included three black jurors found the former suburban Pittsburgh police officer not guilty after deliberating for 3.5 hours.

Many media outlets published headlines along the lines of “Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva covers name of police shooting victim on helmet with name of military veteran.” What might have been more introspective and meaningful is some version of “Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva, an Army veteran, honors fellow fallen soldier.”

Maybe the headlines were rampant because so few people have a connection to a member of a military family and don’t understand the significance of what losing anyone on the field of battle means to a veteran. Maybe it’s because less than half of 1% of the public serves in the military.

Villanueva wasn’t choosing not to honor Rose. He was instead drawing attention to another lost black life. If you truly believe that all black lives matter, then Cashe, a black man who died for his country after trying to rescue soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq, should be just as important and just as honored.

There are men and women in this country who find a way to do the right thing, who do not conform, who do not go along when the prevailing opinion doesn’t sit right with them. Instead, they become a voice for the voiceless.

In 2016, when Villanueva was asked for his thoughts on Kaepernick’s anthem protests, his response crystallized what many people believe: “I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that’s providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year … when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year.”

The Steelers’ week one game, one of two Monday Night Football games, saw another huge NFL ratings plunge. Compared with last year’s first Monday Night Football game, viewership dropped a whopping 17%. The league continues its social justice experiment and has seemingly decided to bet on the next generation for its fan base, but it is finding out that that age group does not have the loyalty baby boomer or Gen X football fans once did.

The young people the league is trying to bring in are more fickle. Older fans are tired of politics infecting everything they do: Whether they agree with the sentiments or not, they just want to enjoy a game without being lectured.

What the NFL needs is a lot more people like Villanueva, not for his patriotism but for his willingness to search outside what everyone else thinks he should do.

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2018 CREATORS.COM

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16 Responses

  1. Well I am a Viet Nam vet ….. years in Viet Nam 67-68 ….. came home and we were dishonored here at home… I came in very early in the morning so the people who did the yelling were not awake at that hour…..just remember one thing …. the very people who protect you so you can protest are in the military …. without them your butt would be in a sling….. think it over…..

    1. JOHN MCCAIN WAS A TRAITOR TOO! The ‘SONGBIRD” should have been Court Marshalled but his Admiral Daddy and Grand daddy both covered him. Had it been me, I’d have wound up in FT Levenworth.

      1. You are sooo very right, a true traitor on the same level as Hanoi Jane. If they were on fire I would still save my spit! And I was ashamed of the way our men were treated when they came home from a war they never wanted, bloodied and broken yet treated horribly!

        1. Oops meant to add: That is why I expect these men playing a game to show respect to the flag, and our heroes! If it weren’t for our Military these men would not have the opportunity to play a game for money, they would not have the freedoms they enjoy!

  2. I AM SICK OF THE NFL DISHONORING OUR FLAG. THE Y CAN TAKE THEIR MILLIONS & MOVE TO ANOTHER COUNTRY. LET THEM SEE IF THEY GET TO BE RICH. STAY FROM THEIR GAMES. HIT THEM IN THE POCKET BOOK. WHEN THE IMMIGRANTS BRING THEIR PHILOPHYS THEY BROUGHT FROM THEIR COUNTRIES TO GET AWAY FROM,WHEN THE COMMIES T AKE OVER; THEY NO LONGER HAVE FREEDOM OF SPEECH. !THEY MAY BE LINED UP AGAINST THE WALL INFRONT OF A FIRING SQUAD. IUSED TO SAY THEY WERE IGNORANT & NOW I SAY THEY ARE PLAIN STUPID.

  3. JANE FONDA. WHO IN HELL SHE THINK SHE IS. SHE NOTHING BUT STUPID AND IGNORANT. THOSE WHO HIT U.S.A. SHOULD MOVE OUT ICLUDING ALL THOSE WITH LOUD MOUTH MOVIE ACTORS AND ACTRESSES.
    NANCT PELOSI IS SCAM . SHE NEED TO PUT IN JAIL OR IN A FIRING SQUAD AS WILL AS OTHER RADICAL
    POLITICIANS AND JUDGES, NEWS MIDIAS WHO TRY TO DISTROY THE COUNTRY.

  4. Since when was pro sports a venue for political statements. I am a life-long fan, but unless the mixing of sports and political statements ceases, I will cease watching and supporting.

  5. It’s like with preseason games and the strike season with scrubs, can’t relate to the drama of the game anymore because I no longer connect with the players who use America’s game for their PC purposes. Total disconnect! The romance is gone, gone, gone.

  6. I agree with everyone here I grew up in a military family my flag, country, and those who serve, mean more to me then any sport most of all NFL. I was I die hard fan I have packaged up all of my football stuff up and locked it away. You forget NFL you only exist because we allow it. You chose the wrong side to support. All lives matter unless your going to be one of these domestic terrorist running around destroying people’s lives and property in which case you deserve to be put down. I don’t care about your color it’s your actions. .
    God Bless our generations of Military men and women. Thank you for your sacrifice.

  7. I haven’t watched a game since this started. They can drop off the TV without my ratings and so many more ppl aren’t watching bc they don’t appreciate who protects them n has died for them. Not doing it. Total game changer for so many..

  8. THE NFL BROUGHT “ALL” THIS ON THEIRSELVES??????? I WAS VERY UP SET OVER IT ALL?????? NOW I CHEER EVERY TIME THEIR RATINGS GO DOWN????????? I SAW ON THE INTERNET THAT NFL SPORT GEAR WAS 70% OFF???????????? WHEN DI YOU “EVER” HEAR THAT????????? NEVER THAT I CAN REMEMBER????????? KEEP IT GOING……SOON YOU WON’T EVEN HAVE AN ADD ON THE NFL???????????? NO SPORTS FOR ME!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Let’s not forget the nba , labron , the head ah and many others. I have been a nfl and nba fan for almost 60 years . I will not watch or support these spoiled rotten ah’s again. They think because they are rich , we should bow down to them. Forget it

  9. Why are the people following these players anyway? Grow up !! Who needs these traitors in this country? They make millions off the American people , then spit in your face and disrespect our flag ? Come on people DEFUND FOOTBALL! Stop watching these children play their silly game on American soil they don’t even respect!! STOP SUPPORTING YOUR ENEMIES!! If they can’t stand for our flag, I won’t watch them play their stupid games! And the American people should not either! I will not bow my knee to anyone but God Almighty! And you shouldn’t either!! Think about it!! It is just a game for goodness sakes! Get out and play a round of golf! Forget Football!

  10. I am a retired career Army Intelligence soldier, a father, a husband, a preacher of the Gospel and, until now, a lifelong Cowboy fan. I worked against Communism during the Cuban crisis and in Berlin. I have seen Communism up close. The crew of the Pueblo were my brethren. We were white, black, brown and yellow, but most of all, we were all GREEN. The respect of the Flag, the blood of my fellow soldiers and the songs of patriotism are pressed into my psyche like a branding iron. And did I mention, I am a Texan. The blood that was shed for these high-paid domestic enemies (for that is what they are) who desecrate my country cries from the ground into the ears of God Almighty.
    Mr. Jones, if you want me to leave you, just continue to allow these sniveling petulant children to continue to stomp on my flag. As for kneeling: one day every knee will bow before the Throne Of God and give account. They will not be allowed, in their terror, to soil themselves in that Holy Place, nor pay back what the have stolen. I served my last five years in the Pentagon, and the people have, as far as I am concerned, joined themselves with the inside-job criminals who inflicted such heartless cruelty on us there and in other places on 9/11. They are of the same ilk. Take notice, Mr. Jones. We in Texas are, as you well know, a bit different in our patriotism than much of the country. And you will not long be able to afford a team which plays in a empty stadium. Get your money-soaked butt out on the field and stand at attention with your right hand over your heart when the Anthem is played. And command your children to do the same. Last, only and final warning. I did not wear that uniform in vain, nor did any of us,

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