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Thorner/Ingold: The Privileged Position of Professional Sports

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Chicago Bears stood with hands over their hearts during anthem last Thursday in Green Bay

By Nancy Thorner & Ed Ingold - 

Professional athletes in football and basketball attracted national attention this week for refusing to respect the flag and National Anthem at games. Once restricted to a few misfits like Colin Kaepernick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, the protest spread this weekend more against President Trump, for his tweets decrying the practice, as for sympathy with Kaepernick.

This is widely regarded as a crybaby response on the part of a privileged few who are paid handsomely to perform children’s games for the entertainment of sedentary fans. This manufactured protest has been met by a roughly 8% drop in attendance and viewership of the games. Fans are seen burning team jerseys, even season tickets in counter-protest. Team members who refuse to “join in solidarity” have been criticized by other players and management for “poor team spirit.”

Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel on September 27th accused President Donald Trump of trying to divide the nation in criticizing NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem, calling the president’s comments a “cynical ploy to distract people” from his administration’s failures.  Emanuel further said that Trump's provocative statements and Tweets about the kneeling protests were for the purpose of dividing America, by noting that the ideals of this nation "encourage those who dissent to speak up, and that takes nothing away from their patriotism."

Emanuel also expressed his displeasure at Gov. Bruce Rauner who made public statements in support of Trump's feelings about athletes who kneel for the national anthem. For this one thing we applaud Rauner as one who was a Never Trumper and even refused to attend the Republican Convention this past summer when Trump was recognized as the Republican presidential candidate to face Hillary Clinton in November of last year.  

This has nothing to do with 1st Amendment rights. The amendment says “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting…” This protection has been extended (incorporated) to apply to states and local governments, but never applied to private business regarding employee behavior, on or off the job. You can’t be prosecuted, but you can be fired or disciplined by your employer.
 
Team owners and managers support the players in this action, while ignoring the pressing issues of spousal abuse, weapons violations, drug use, even murder. Players have been censored for protesting items on this list, or even supporting the police in opposition to “Black Lives Matter.” Pro sports would rather keep the real issues at arm’s length, like another world.
 
For a long time, professional sports were regarded as “games and entertainment,” but in 1972 it was officially recognized as big business. Congress promptly responded by granting immunity from anti-trust laws which would otherwise apply. National athletic organizations, amateur and professional, cannot be prosecuted for fixing prices, wages, and the right to change employers.
 
It would also seem that they are given de facto immunity from anti-discrimination laws as well. Roughly 70% of professional athletes are African-American, compared to 13% of the population. Women are virtually excluded, despite Title XIV. The only official concern is the low percentage in management and coaching.
 
And what about the stadiums and arenas used by professional football and basketball?  They were constructed and are maintained at public expense. Tough life, isn’t it. Politicians falling over backward, in the vulgar sense, to support local teams.
 
John and Andy Schlafly, sons of Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016) whose 27th book, The Conservative Case for Trump was published posthumously last year, wrote an insightful commentary on 9/27/2017, titled The NFL Leaves AmericaFollowing are several paragraphs from their article:  
 
Today’s NFL has become a massive entitlement program for billionaires, one of the worst examples of corporate welfare. Like others who enjoy lavish lifestyles based on government handouts, many NFL owners are ungrateful to the American system that makes their success possible.
 
Of course not all players put their game above the American flag. Pittsburgh Steelers’ lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, gave us all something to cheer about when he stood alone on the field to honor the American flag and the National Anthem while his teammates cowered in the tunnel. 
 
But then even he had to pay a price for being patriotic, as his own head coach and teammates began criticizing him for it. He was apparently forced to apologize for supposedly embarrassing his teammates.  President Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin summed this issue up well on one of the Sunday morning talk shows, remarking that NFL players “can do free speech on their own time.” They do not have to insult our Nation in taxpayer-built stadiums before captive audiences.
 
John and Andy Schlafly also suggested that Congress should hold hearings on how much taxpayer money is flowing to support the anti-American conduct of the NFL, and state legislatures should consider passing laws to cut off that money at the local level. While people have a right to be unpatriotic, Americans should not be forced to support them.
 
When these athletes protest their supposed mistreatment, it is not just disrespect to the flag, but to the privileges extended to them by law and custom. Perhaps it’s time to take another look.

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