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KRYK

Sunday's NFL protests, from a Canadian's perspective

John Kryk

By John Kryk, Toronto Sun

Broncos tight end Virgil Green (85) gestures as teammate Max Garcia (left) takes a knee during the playing of the U.S. anthem prior to an NFL game against the Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (Adrian Kraus/AP Photo)

Broncos tight end Virgil Green (85) gestures as teammate Max Garcia (left) takes a knee during the playing of the U.S. anthem prior to an NFL game against the Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (Adrian Kraus/AP Photo)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – How, on a weekend when the U.S. President called for the firing of anthem-protesting “sons of bitches” NFL players, and urged a fan boycott -- and when players by the dozens if not hundreds responded Sunday with even more protests, this time with the publicly expressed support of the league and most owners -- can the analysis of any NFL game matter in comparison?

It can’t. Especially in Week 3.

So let’s just say the Buffalo Bills defeated the Denver Broncos 26-16 Sunday afternoon at sun-soaked, unseasonably hot New Era Field -- add that both teams are now 2-1, and leave it for another time to address any other lasting meaningfulness.

At a rally in Alabama on Friday night, and on Twitter on Saturday, President Donald Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s FIRED!”

In followup tweets on Saturday and Sunday, Trump doubled down, in one saying, “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”

By Sunday afternoon most NFL owners issued statements that, in general, criticized Trump’s caustic and announced support of players who express their Constitutional right to protest peacefully and earnestly.

Prior to kickoff here between the Bills and Broncos, only 19 Denver players by my count stood for the anthem; the rest kneeled, along with some coaches. The entire Bills team walked out several yards from the sideline, where some kneeled for the anthem.

Bills running back LeSean McCoy -- who’d called Trump an “a------” on Twitter on Saturday -- didn’t kneel, he sat. Then did some stretching before jumping up and jogging back to the sideline before the anthem singer finished.

Now, is that disrespecting the flag? The anthem? The country? The military? Or is it the essence of smart protesting -- to pick a moment in a venue with the most eyeballs for imparting a brash message?

Depends on your point of view.

For most Americans, and Canadians too I suspect, it’s difficult to determine the rights and the wrongs of this issue.

Even as a white Canadian born and raised a few miles from the United States -- by a father who has worked there for 50 years, and where most of his and my mom’s family trees are rooted -- I can’t fully comprehend or appreciate all the reasons that sparked anthem protests by NFL players, nor the depth of resultant outrage felt by millions of disapproving Americans, as summarized and expressed rudely on the weekend by Trump.

As a grade-school kid in the ’70s in Windsor, Ont., once the morning-bell stopped ringing at my public grade school, we recited the Lord’s Prayer (long before that was deemed offensive) then we sang O Canada, our national anthem. That’s it.

The United States, though, is a country that further imbues patriotism via a uniquely American routine, one I suspect is at the root of the protest protestations. American school children nationwide for decades have begun every day by standing up together, with right hands raised at solemn attention, reciting the following Pledge of Allegiance:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

They love their Star Spangled Banner so much south of the border they even have a Flag Day for it. For most Americans, it’s a genuine love -- a pure-grade patriotism that cynical Canadians only embrace when we honk our horns or take to the streets to celebrate after our national men’s hockey team has won some big-game gold medal.

As for the Pledge, it seems few Americans have issue with those noble words. The controversy rests on whether all the Pledge’s words meaningfully apply.

Most people of colour in America don’t think they do, especially the continuing racial profiling and egregious, unwarranted shootings of unarmed non-whites by police.

Last summer, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spawned anthem protests among NFLers by kneeling during the pregame playing of The Star Spangled Banner. He eloquently defended his decision.

“I don’t understand what’s un-American about fighting for liberty and justice for everybody, for the equality that this country says it stands for,” Kaepernick said here last October. “To me, I see it as very patriotic and American to uphold the United States to the standards that it says it lives by.

“It’s something that has to be addressed, until us as a people recognize and address that some of us have privileges and some of us don’t, and some of us are able to do certain things without consequences, and others of us can’t.”

To boil that down, it’s the last three words of the Pledge of Allegiance -- “justice for all” -- that, at best, are still a way-too-slow work-in-progress across America and, at worst, are mocked by racially criminal outrages.

Know this: hypocrites and contradictions saturate both sides of this debate. Such as this one: as players on both sidelines were set to begin their protests here Sunday, the Bills’ PA announcer bellowed, “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and remove your hats” for the playing of the national anthem.

Not to do so would be disrespectful, right? Indeed, have you ever considered not doing it when so asked? Yet owner after owner in statements denouncing Trump praised and supported players for their “respectful” protests.

Players had plenty to say after Sunday’s games. Here, Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes spoke for many in explaining what was achieved with Sunday’s expanded protests.

“Everybody came together as one,” he told Postmedia. “We are Americans, we’re here to embody one. I feel that message came across.

“The leader of our country is supposed to be bringing everyone together, no matter race, no matter nationality, no matter religion. We’re here in this country as free people ... That’s what our country always has been all about. So for ‘45’ to try to divide the nation like that is sad. But, you know, at the end of the day I kind of expect that from our president.”

Trump is the 45th U.S. President. Why would Hughes call him that, and not by name?

“He didn’t respect Obama, so he’s 45,” Hughes replied.

These protests, 13 months later, seem to have met their goal. They’ve shone a bright, burning, necessary light on the issue of social and racial inequalities in America. Point emphatically made.

Let’s now move along. Such protests won’t continue forever. So how about the NFL, and all leagues, stop playing anthems at sports events. Just leave it to the schools.

‘45’ might not even object.

JoKryk@postmedia.com

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