A few days before the NFL preseason began, Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson told reporters that he was not a fan of the Colin Kaepernick-inspired protests against the national anthem that had swept the league in a racial controversy the year prior. Jackson said he was hopeful that his team wouldn’t “have those issues” as the new season began.
Unfortunately for Jackson, his players didn’t agree. Now the Browns are in the spotlight for the protests, which several players engaged in on August 21 when the Browns took on the New York Jets. Kneeling during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, the players sparked a fresh firestorm of fury from Cleveland fans…and some local police and EMS unions. Scheduled to unfurl the American flag at the September 10 regular season opener, the unions announced this week that they would stay home instead.
In an interview with Cleveland.com, Police Patrolmen’s Association president Steve Loomis said he was disgusted with the disrespect shown by the players.
“I’m here at a national police convention, and as soon as they hear that I’m from Cleveland, the first question is ‘What about those stinking Browns?'” he said. “So if the ownership of the Browns and the league are going to allow that type of stuff to happen, and then come to us and say, ‘We want you to help us with the flag,’ that’s hypocritical. We’re not gonna participate.
“When management allows you to do those things, then that’s on them,” Loomis continued. “It’s hypocritical of the Browns management and ownership to want to have an armed forces first-responder day and have us involved in it when they allow their players to take a knee during the national anthem. That’s the very representation of what we stand for. That’s why we aren’t going to.”
The EMS union president, Daniel Nemeth, told a local Fox affiliate that he was on the same page.
“This hit home with me,” Nemeth said. “I am a veteran, an 8-year veteran with the U.S. Marine Corps. So, to disrespect the flag by taking a knee is not something I was going to be a part of.”
The Browns organization released a statement in response to the controversy, distancing themselves from the protests while essentially confirming that they would do nothing about it.
“As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country’s national anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad,” the Browns said. “We feel it’s important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition; at the same time, we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression.”
The Browns, the players who engage in these protests, and the NFL as a whole don’t properly realize the damage they’re doing to their brand with these misguided demonstrations. A great percentage of the NFL audience is willing to ignore it, but there are enough outraged fans that it’s going to take a slow but sure toll on ratings, attendance, and merchandise sales. No one wants to get emotionally-invested in the fortunes of a bunch of anti-American millionaires, the majority of whom couldn’t tell you five separate facts about the founding of this country.
Do they have the right to kneel? Obviously. But they also have the right to the consequences of their actions.
The unions boycotting the game may only be the beginning of those consequences coming home to roost.