DENVER — The Broncos want to take politics out of football.
“They don’t mix,” coach Vance Joseph said Thursday.
It’s changed so often, the explanations so vague, it’s tough to say from day to day what protesters are protesting. First, it was the American flag — quite literally — no matter how woke Aaron Rodgers tried to sound Thursday night when he told reporters, “It was never about the national anthem.”
You sure about that?
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick said in August 2016, when this whole debacle got its start.
I don’t know how much clearer the genesis of these NFL protests can be than that, right there. But the protests evolved. They evolved from protests of the flag and what it stands for (see: above), to protests of perceived police brutality (see: Seahawks star Michael Bennett), to protests of Donald Trump’s childish, pandering name-calling (see: last Sunday across the NFL).
“The (president’s) comments kind of forced guys to kneel who hadn’t kneeled in the past,” Joseph said.
One thing hasn’t changed: the protesters are only hurting themselves, and their cause. The distorted message, and its anthem platform, is self-defeating.
They lost support from millions of flag-waving Americans when Kaepernick chose to make it about the flag. (His words, not mine.) They lost security in the very neighborhoods they seek to improve. (Violent crime increased again in 2016 — the FBI’s facts, not mine — arguably a byproduct of police being less inclined to get involved in dangerous situations out of fear of racist accusations — a Pew Research poll, not mine.) Peaceful protests are cool, but a false narrative can endanger more people than it hopes to save.
They lost more credibility Friday when Las Vegas police exposed Bennett, the Seahawks star and social activist, as a race-baiting liar. Back in August, Bennett said he had been detained by Las Vegas police with “a gun near my head” and "facing the real-life threat of being killed." Bennett said he “feared for my life.”
Las Vegas sheriff Joe Lombardo on Friday explained an entirely different account. After reviewing over 800 pieces of video, he said, the sheriff’s office concluded that “the incident was not about race” and “officers acted appropriately.” Oh, yeah, and the officers involved were Hispanic and black.
Video footage — it's online; you can see it, too — showed Bennett even shook an officer's hand when he was released. Don't know about you, but if I fear for my life, I'm probably not shaking hands. Who looks worse now: Bennett, or sports media who bought and ran with his propaganda at face value?
It’s not helping. Feelings over facts, Trump’s ridiculous pep rallies, Bennett’s dramatics. None of it.
“It’s almost like people want there to be division,” Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said.
Doesn’t it, though?
The Broncos announced last week, in a statement through the players council, a collection of 20 team leaders and veterans, that they would stand for the national anthem on Sunday. It wasn't a unanimous vote.
"Changing the platform should help us make positive change," Joseph said.
NFL players are free to continue protesting, if they want.
“It’s their right,” as Joseph said. The coach believes in standing. He's smart.
And NFL fans should protest the protesters by staying home when the Broncos host the Raiders at Mile High, if they want. That’s their right, too.
But it was the NFL and its players who put politics at the forefront of football. Good luck taking them out.