By Joe Guzzardi
No sooner had the NBA season tipped off than National Anthem singer Justine Skye knelt during the song’s final words: “…and the home of the free.” After the Brooklyn Nets home opener against the Atlanta Hawks played at Barclay Stadium, Skye tweeted that “she had to take a knee,” to “let her voice be heard, and that “we will not be silenced.”
Luckily for basketball fans, the NBA has an official rule that prohibits kneeling and mandates standing during the anthem. Last week, perhaps in an effort to avoid the kerfuffle that’s plagued the NFL, the NBA issued a reminder memo to the players and coaches that they must obey the rule.
Whether the players will respect their employers, the rule and the American flag remains to be seen; these are different and troubling times. But more than a year after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the patriotic anthem, fans are still trying to sort out exactly what the players’ grievances are.
Originally, Kaepernick said he was protesting injustices to people of color. His gesture has since been expanded to symbolize resistance to police brutality, gender slander, income inequality, conservative Republicans and, of course, President Donald Trump, who was not yet in office when Kaepernick blazed the trail for kneelers.
Fans’ displeasure is reflected in widespread booing and declining attendance. Many disgusted fans wonder what gripe professional football players who earn an average $2 million annual salary with playoff and Super Bowl money waiting in the wings could have.
The protesters might be surprised to learn that most Americans share their societal concerns. But how many kneelers have voiced their objections to the influential people who may be able to create the changes they seek, namely the U.S. Congress?
Players, whose seasons are at the most six months long, have plenty of idle time to visit Congress. One thing is for sure — if they call their U.S. Rep. or U.S. Senator, they’ll get an appointment. If I can schedule visits, and I do, then an NFL player can easily do the same — photo ops for Congress and maybe an autographed football, too, to display in their offices. No one in Congress will pass up that chance.
Based on national voting statistics, many players may not even vote. In 2016, during the contentious Trump-Clinton election, turnout dipped to 20-year low when only 55 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. During the 2014 mid-term elections, when voters decide who will represent them in the House, totals were dismal. Only 36 percent of eligible voters went to the ballot box. Which players were among them? Those who didn’t vote, but kneel on Sunday can’t be taken seriously.
Let’s see a show of hands from the players that have contacted Congress. My guess: very few, if any, have. My advice to the players: put down the remote, pick up the phone, call Congress, schedule an appointment, and spend half an hour unloading on the sympathetic people who are in a position to help you. And next Sunday, stand up.
Joe Guzzardi is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Contact him at [email protected]