Michael Bidwill, the Arizona Cardinals and, by extension, the NFL, could not have made it any clearer. Don’t mix politics and sports. That’s what we all keep hearing.
What’s actually being said: Don’t mix your politics with our sports.
The NFL and its team owners, like Bidwill (the latest scion of the family that has owned the team since it was in Chicago), can’t pretend otherwise anymore. No more getting fooled, not that anyone should have been fooled even before Bidwill heartily and publicly endorsed his old high school classmate for the vacant Supreme Court justice seat minutes after he was nominated Monday night … and the franchise he runs posted it on its Twitter and web sites.
Want to keep thinking this is about ratings, business, revenues, image, the shield? Or, even better, the First Amendment and the time and place it’s in effect? Nah. Just never forget who can make rules about when, where and how the others can express themselves — and who can do and say what whenever they please, never needing to follow any rules or ever having to answer to anybody.
For the record, since the league and a certain segment of its fans got all salty about Colin Kaepernick and his petty beefs about black people getting murdered by the police two years ago, not one, but two NFL executives have directly contacted U.S. senators to help a Supreme Court candidate get approved. Broncos president John Elway did it last year. Beneath the team’s logo, yet, not terribly unlike Bidwill’s eager endorsement showing up on the Cards’ Twitter account Monday night.
And it was pointed out then, quite simply, that if Elway wants to do that, fine and dandy … as long as that same right to openly engage in American democracy, as protected by the Constitution, is extended to the Broncos’ players, and every other player in the NFL.
For what it’s worth, of course, the league types and the crowd that spread the lie about Kaepernick insulting the flag and disrespecting the troops (and worse) was only scowling, sniping and muttering about how players should not be allowed to get away with it. Nothing was written down; NFL policy didn’t prohibit it.
Those days are over. As of late May, at the owners meetings, the NFL did write it down and, even with its shady, conflicted versions of the vote, approved it overwhelmingly. That was when Bidwill said, “I look forward to getting the focus back on football and getting back to football in 2018.”
That’s his definition of “getting the focus back on football.”
So is going on the radio the next day and saying, “People are saying ‘Stick to sports’? You know what? We ask our players 20 days a year — game days — to restrict their statements. The rest of the days, we want our players to get engaged in the community. Just like I am and other owners are.’’ (There’s his definition of political actions on company time, too. But again, we’re way past the point of everybody playing by the same rules.)
File that remark, by the way, under “O,” for, “Oh, yeah, that $90 million check they’re writing to the Players Coalition looks more like hush money every day.”
That the NFL Players Association filed a grievance about the anthem policy the day after Bidwill put his spin on “focus on football’’ was an almost laughable coincidence. The depth of ugliness coming as Season 3 of “Shut Up And Play, Or Else” approaches, though, is not going to be funny.
The owners are now not even being subtle about using what began as Kaepernick’s solo protest as its signal to wrestle their enemies, the players, into submission. To put them in their place and keep them in their lane. To remind them who tells who when they can and cannot stand, sit and kneel. To tell the audience that it caters to some of them and could not care less about others.
That they can spend 23 months railing against politics getting mixed up in their sport, only to dive into politics feet first whenever they please and dare the targets of their lectures to do something about it, shouldn’t surprise anyone by now.
Don’t mix your politics into our sport. Because it isn’t your sport. Here’s a real, live NFL owner and his letter to the Senate to remind you.