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Paul Klee: NFL butchered national anthem controversy, but Broncos and protesting players brought latest loss on themselves

By: Paul Klee
May 24, 2018 Updated: May 25, 2018 at 11:43 am
Caption +
Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall takes a knee during the national anthem at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium on Sunday, October 9, 2016. photo by Jerilee Bennett,The Gazette

ENGLEWOOD • You’d think professional athletes, of all people, would know that taking an “L,” which the NFL’s protesters have done once again, is a suggestion that someone should switch up the game plan.

Guess not.

“Let’s be clear,” Broncos linebacker/protester Brandon Marshall said Thursday at Dove Valley. “I know they say they’ll fine the teams, but players don’t care about that. Players don’t care if the teams get fined.”

It’s like they will never learn. The reason the NFL finally put its foot down and delivered a long-overdue mandate on standing during the national anthem is a simple one: money. The NFL is losing fans due to the protests, just like I wrote in October 2016 and many times since. The result this week was a long-overdue policy that players must stand for the anthem or remain in the locker room. 

"I don't like it, but I understand it," Marshall said. "I understand what they're trying to protect. They're trying to protect the shield."

So the protesters’ response is to cost their employers more money, this time in the form of fines? Doubling down on a losing approach sure seems like a funny way to prove a point. Whatever sinks your boat, I guess.

At this point the protesters taking a loss barely qualifies as news. The bigger issue with the self-titled social justice movement never has been its message of equality. The issue is leadership and a smart, unified vision of how to get there. Fissures in their ranks surfaced last fall when the players coalition earned an invite to the big-boy table with the NFL. The league offered to donate $90 million to causes deemed important by the players. And instead of taking the money and running to make a difference where a difference can be made, some of the protesters turned their backs on a coalition that had worked with team owners to land $90 million. 

Was it hush money?

Who cares?

It’s $90 million.

The smart ones in the room — guys like Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin — dove right in. They realized $90 million is $90 million.

“For people to say that guys sold out because the NFL has given us a larger platform to amplify our voice is insane. The NFL didn’t have to do what it did, because you can’t name me one other league or entity that has taken the concerns of its players and put resources behind it,” Boldin told reporters then.

“Instead of people celebrating and getting behind the work people are doing and the collaboration between the NFL and its players — as opposed to trying to tear it down — is ridiculous,” Boldin added. “My hope is that the media will stop feeding into that.”

Well, on the last point, media haven't. The next outrage is that the policy announced Wednesday arrived without players having a voice in the matter. Come on. They had a voice, back in the fall. They blew it. And now they’ve taken another “L.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise the protesters are losing. It’s a group that claims as de facto spokesmen Michael Bennett (verified race baiter who lied about police brutality in Las Vegas), Marcus Peters (enough of a distraction one of the league’s worst defenses, the Chiefs, thought it better to trade away a 25-year-old All-Pro cornerback than deal with his nonsense), Bruce Maxwell (baseball’s protester, who later was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon) and Colin Kaepernick (whose lady friend compared the Ravens’ owner to a slave owner even as "Kaep" interviewed for a job there).

How about cleaning your own kitchen before telling me how to clean mine?

The protesters weren’t ready for the bonfire they stoked. They equated Twitter likes to believing the majority stood with them. They underestimated the power of the conservative voice in America. They earned a voice and promptly showed how woefully unprepared they were when the players coalition fractured. Yes, the NFL butchered the national anthem controversy. (The NBA has a similar policy but zero of the blowback that came with it. This isn't hard.) But when it came time for a resolution — way past time, actually — team owners voted 31-0. The protesters couldn't even find common ground among themselves.

Marshall on Thursday sounded like an athlete who had just lost a game.

"I feel like it might make people want to rebel. Just like when Trump said what he said last year. People rebelled," Marshall said.

This loss wasn’t Donald Trump's fault. It wasn't Roger Goodell’s fault. It wasn't Facebook's or Russia's fault. This loss was largely from self-inflicted wounds. Somewhere along the way their message was distorted into something it wasn't intended to be, a protest of the flag. When it became divisive, the protesters needed to audible to regain support. But they doubled down, and now NFL teams will be divided like the American public has been divided — some on the field, some in the locker room.

"It will probably be a lot (of players who stay in the locker room)," said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr., one of the team's union reps.

Go for it, but get ready to take another "L."

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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