More than just National Anthem protests for NFL players, teams

By BenjaminWatson
Oct. 28, 2016

National Anthem protests have become a hot-button issue for NFL fans and players, but there is much more going on behind the scenes than what you see in the headlines and on television.

There's been a slight decline in people watching NFL games this year. Depending on who you ask, it's not because of the National Anthem protests by some players around the league. A Wall Street Journal reports quotes two NFL executives as saying the league is unconcerned about any long-term issues and the protests are not an issue. But a Seton Hall Sports poll of 841 adults says 56% of people surveyed say they think the decline in viewers is due to the protests.

Whatever the cause, it's important to know what you see isn't all that's happening behind closed doors. Just as fans are debating the protests and social justice issues, so are we. It can be easy to forget NFL players are concerned citizens, fathers, and husbands who examine these issues too. Just like fans, not all of us are always in agreement too.

I know this because I'm on an executive committee with the NFLPA (player's union) and am involved in player development programs. I speak with my teammates, with rookies about things outside of football. Just this past week, I also spoke on a panel made up of NFLPA members and the AFLCIO, a federation of labor organizations in Washington, D.C. on the topic of social issues. There, I spoke to members and shared how often as players, we hear 'shut up and play.' But like I said, we care about our country too. It's disrespectful to tell any worker, athlete or not, that statement. It's unfortunate when employees are told not to share opinions. It can be a productivity and creativity killer. None of us are machines and all of us have something to say.

However, as a player representative, I also take into consideration more than just my opinions and views. It's more than just me out there. My statements can be viewed as representative of my teammates and my organization. I, like many other players around the league, know what we do and how we express different views has a bigger impact.

But it's not just players getting involved in sharing their disagreement or agreements with the protests and social issues facing our country. Some organizations have gotten involved too. The Ravens recently had a Town Hall on race and race relations. It was a forum created where everyone could express their views. It's a testament to the organization to host something like this. I've never been on a team where something like this took place, but then again, the league and times have changed. There was a moderator to keep things on track and help keep lines of communication open.

Ironically, kneeling during the anthem wasn't even a big debate point. We talked about race, how each of our experiences were different and how those experiences shaped how we look at different races and who we are. We talked about navigating race in a truthful and honest way. Most importantly, we talked about how we can use the platforms we've been given in a positive way on social issues. With so many experiences and personalities in the room, you can imagine we didn't all agree on points and there was plenty of debate to go around. But just like any productive workplace meeting, we all walked away with more knowledge and understanding of different views. Most importantly, we all walked out of there friends.

Like many people from all walks of life, there were also guys who wanted to have a voice and advocate but didn't know where to start. That's one of the things I'm focused on developing with players and have in the works. I'm still in the early stages, but we are looking at ways to help give a voice to players for positive change in and outside of the workplace. Everyone needs a voice, whether you disagree with it or not.

I share this with you so that you know there is much more to us as players and what you see on television or on the field. Just like you, we care about our country and have varying opinions on what is going on in our country. Just like you, we all want the best for each other in life. Just like you, we don't all agree. We might differ in the uniforms we wear to work every day, but your issues are also our issues...because we're just like you.