SEATTLE – The NFL, Jerry Jones and Donald Trump poked the bear. Big mistake.
As expected, the first night of NFL preseason games brought about more protests from players during the national anthem.
Miami Dolphins wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson took a knee. Some players raised their fist, including Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, a longtime advocate for social justice.
Others remained in the locker room during the anthem, including four players for the
Jacksonville Jaguars and three for the Seattle Seahawks.
“I can’t go out there and stand for something I really don’t believe it in,’’ said Seahawks defensive end Quinton Jefferson. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. You shouldn’t be forced to stand for what you don’t believe in. It’s a free country. That’s how I feel.”
Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who never has knelt during the anthem, wore a T-shirt during pregame workouts that read: “More Than 60% Of Prison Populations Are People Of Color”. Baldwin has worked closely with state and federal law-enforcement officials to bring about change.
Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett, who wrote a book titled, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable”, walked on the field as the anthem was being played.
This situation isn’t going away. The sad thing is it might have gone away if not for a league proclamation, an attention-seeking team owner, and Trump, threatening the players if they continued to protest.
“I think [Trump] speaking out against it is very misguided,’’ said Seattle offensive tackle Duane Brown, one of the players who stayed in the locker room. “It’s not very empathetic toward people’s emotions and feelings who are affected directly or indirectly by injustice.”
Brown said he informed Seahawks coach Pete Carroll of his decision to stay in the locker room during the anthem. Defensive end Brandon Jackson joined Brown and Jefferson. Brown said he plans to stay off the field during the anthem all season.
“I didn’t want to kneel,’’ Brown said. “We told Pete our decision. He understands we all have different realities in this country.”
Trump doesn’t understand or care about different realities. He immediately tweeted his disgust Thursday night, basically saying again players should stand or be suspended.
Jones, the bombastic owner of the Dallas Cowboys, said his players would stand for the anthem and not be allowed to stay in the locker room. A few days after making his statement, Jones kept his cap on while the anthem was played at training camp.
It appeared this issue was dying down before the NFL announced in May that players would be fined if they didn’t stand for the anthem. Players could remain in the locker room if they so desired, and teams would set their own rules on how to handle it.
With Jones and others taking a hard line, league officials realized the May announcement was a mistake, saying they would meet with players to try to find a solution.
“I don’t know if they’ve made any progress toward a decision,’’ Brown said. “There are a lot of people who support the players and a lot of people who are very vocal against us.”
That won’t change. Some people feel the players have a constitutional right to protest how they see fit. Other people are angry and insist the players must stand for the anthem or face the consequences of a punishment.
This is a true dilemma with enormous implications for the NFL, its players and its fans.
So 13 University of North Carolina football players were suspended for selling team-issued shoes. It's a clear NCAA violation.
Meanwhile, the school had a $36 million, 10-year deal with Nike. And Nike has a separate deal with UNC coach Larry Fedora, a man who doubts the link between football and brain injury, who will make $2.2 million 2018.
Yes, the players knew they were breaking the rules while trying to make a few bucks. They also know the school and their coach are stacking up greenbacks thanks to Nike while they bust their butt, risk their health (despite what Fedora thinks) and spending countless hours practicing and playing a dangerous game. And they do it while trying to maintain a decent GPA at a respected academic university.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is 66, has a new eight-year deal worth $74.4 million. Jimbo Fisher signed a 10-year, $75 million deal to coach at Texas A&M.
UNC's expiring Nike deal is chump change compared to the $250 million deals Nike pays Texas and Ohio State.
Yet many student athletes don't have enough money to go home for a family emergency or even a holiday. And coaches often complain if a players simply wants to transfer to another school. The NCAA will make him sit out a year, as is the case with Washington quarterback Jacob Eason, who transferred from Georgia.
Players sometimes suffer injuries that are ongoing long after their college eligibility ends, leaving them without health insurance to cover it.
This little shoe-selling episode is nothing compared the rampant corruption in college athletics with players being compensated under the table by wealthy alums, potential agents and possible future sponsors.
This system is broken and must be changed at the Division 1 level. It's true that most sports don't make money for the university. Football and basketball pay for everything else.
However, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in income while the student athletes struggle to make ends meet is wrong, especially when it's the athletes that enables the school and coaches to get rich.
And I'm not buying the usual answer of "They're getting a free college education."
That's not enough, and it isn't free. They are working hard every day, and taking health risks, to earn that education.
At the very least, the NCAA should allow student athletes to generate income off their names, which the schools are doing now. Let them sell jerseys with their names. Let them sign autographs for money.
On the other end of the spectrum, have the athletes become university employees who can attend school if they so desire. That's a huge step with enormous Title IX implications, but changes must happen soon.
At UNC, the players tried to sell some shoes for a little money. The schools, the coaches and the NCAA have sold their souls for the almighty dollar.
Interesting story from Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas on his hold-out. Says he wants an extension to know the team will take care of him if he's injured. Earl is in the final year of a $40 million deal. I think his family is OK, financially speaking, if he never plays again after this season.
Look, I get it. NFL contracts compared to MLB and the NBA are terrible. It's all about guaranteed money in the NFL. A team can say it gave a player a $75 million, 5-year deal, but often less than half of that is guaranteed and the team can release the player without ever paying the full amount.
Thomas, however, already has banked an enormous amount of money. He's in no danger of financial woes if he suffered a career-ending injury. Players sometimes have to play out the final year of a contract before they get another one. Teammate and veteran linebacker K.J. Wright is doing that now. So is defensive end Frank Clark. Maybe they both play well and get a new deal in the middle of the season.
It isn't a good situation if they get hurt, but the blame lies with the players' union and the Collective Bargaining Agreement that didn't allow players to receive fully guaranteed deals.
This story from Thomas won't make the Seahawks waiver on that hard-line stance and it probably won't chance the minds of many fans, one way of the other.