Robert Holland: NFL Again Disrespects Patriots: No, Not the Ones in Pads

AP Chris Carlson
AP Photo/Chris Carlson

After the NFL Conference Championship games yielded a Super Bowl matchup of Philadelphia versus New England, I had a dream.

It was that a clash of professional football teams representing two of the East Coast metropolises that played huge roles in the winning of our nation’s independence would stir at least a minor revival of the study of American history and civics in our schools.

Maybe as a Super Bowl preview teachers could have asked their students to explain what the nickname “Patriots” signifies. And, no, a response that it stands for an NFL dynasty led by Generals Kraft, Belichick, and Brady would not be the correct answer. The true Patriots were the revolutionaries, our forbears, who put their lives on the line to rise up against an overbearing colonial regime and create a representative government, complete with a Bill of Rights to safeguard individual liberties.

Philly or Boston—which was most pivotal in the creation of the United States of America, students?

Was it Boston, with all of its acts of defiance against the confiscatory taxation imposed by the British crown, particularly in and around the harbor and culminating in the Boston Tea Party?

Or was it Philadelphia, with its assemblies of patriots from all 13 of the colonies, ending with the Second Continental Congress hotly debating Splitsville with Great Britain through late spring and a torrid early summer and finally issuing the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776?

Or maybe this contest should end in a tie—something that can’t happen in the Super Bowl.

Okay, the idea of all the Super Sunday hoopla and commercialism stirring any degree of study of the American Revolution is pretty much a pipe dream, and all the more so given that the game-day stadium will not be anywhere near Independence Hall or Boston Harbor, but rather in Minneapolis (sorry Vikings fans!). However, it is the National Football League itself that through sheer bullheadedness has now killed any possibility this Super Bowl at least could light a spark of more unified patriotism than has been evident at NFL games over the past season.

In choosing not to enforce its own game rule that team players and coaches stand respectfully for the pre-game playing of the National Anthem, NFL brass alienated numerous fans who saw the kneeling protest of alleged anti-black police brutality as disrespectful to the flag and what it stands for, and to the military veterans who fought so bravely for us under this banner (some perishing or suffering terrible wounds). Many fans have refrained from watching NFL games or buying NFL merchandise as their own protest, and judging from my Facebook feed, many will continue their TV-watching boycott through the Super Bowl and beyond.

One conciliatory gesture could have been NFL officials accepting for the Super Bowl program a full-page but simple ad displaying a photograph of Old Glory along with just two words: #Please Stand. AMVETS (American Veterans) was ready to pay $30,000 to run this ad, but NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy depicted the game program as a pristine outlet designed for “fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams, and the Super Bowl.” (He evidently has not seen all the empty seats.) And then he added: “It’s never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement.”

That is hogwash. The rejected ad does not condemn people who don’t want to stand for the anthem—or can’t, as is sadly the case with some veterans who suffered grievous wounds fighting for our freedoms. It says a kind and gentle “Please,” and uses the flag as its only symbol.

What is political is the way the NFL has refereed who may and who may not exercise free speech under its auspices. It can be that Zebra because while the First Amendment protects citizens from governmental infringement on their free-speech rights, it does not forbid businesses from punishing or firing workers for their manner of protest.

The NFL has been fine with the kneel-down protest started by former 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In December it even diverted $89 million from its charitable allotments for breast cancer and military appreciation to “social justice” causes associated with the kneelers. Meanwhile, it has not hesitated to bar other forms of expression, such as players’ wearing of patriotic shoes to honor 9/11 victims.

Letting one pro-flag ad appear in its slick Super Bowl program would not have healed all the wounds opened by the NFL’s political correctness, but it would have been a start. Next we will see if the free market—via fans, vendors, and advertisers—throws its own flag at the barons of pro football in the 2018 season.

Robert Holland ( is a senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute


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