The National Football League, a model of fecklessness, has taken the art of surrender to a new level. Last Wednesday evening, November 29, a group of team owners and black players reached a tentative plan to divert at least $89 million over seven years to various radical organizations. The move, an effort to placate the now-ritualized theatrical pregame “kneel-down” player protests during the national anthem, was a gift to two groups in particular, the Players Coalition and the Dream Corps, the latter led by Van Jones, an Obama-era White House adviser. “No decisions have been made on where the money will go yet, much less all the money over the next seven years,” said NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart. His boss, Roger Goodell, meanwhile, won’t have to worry. Two days ago, he signed a five-year contract extension potentially worth $40 million a year.
It is an incontrovertible fact: Tens of millions of Americans crave football, especially pro football. A small minority play the sport for a living, but many play it with virtual “fantasy” software. They also watch football games in stadiums and on television, bet on them, read about them, and talk about them. This has made the 32-team National Football League a highly lucrative enterprise. Insiders this past March projected total NFL revenues for the 2017 season at $14 billion, up roughly $1 billion from last year alone. Players are making out very well. The current per-team player salary cap is $167 million. Benefits for current and retired players add another $37 million. Overall, they stand to make $6.5 billion. Put another way, assuming that each team carries a maximum 53-player roster, an active player on average will receive somewhere between $3 million and $4 million this year.
Owner expenses may be growing, but fan buying power is growing as well. During 2006-16, the average price of an NFL game ticket rose from $62.38 to $92.98, a nearly 50 percent increase, even with annual regular season attendance remaining steady in the 17 million-to-18 million range. Fully 29 of the 31 stadiums now in use have seating capacities of at least 60,000. Eight of these venues have a seating capacity of between 70,000 and 80,000, and five provide seating for at least 80,000. The capacities likely would be larger were it not for the league’s longstanding broadcast blackout policy (suspended on a year-to-year basis starting in 2015), which prohibits the televising of NFL games within the market area of the host team if less than 85 percent of all available tickets remain unsold 72 hours prior to game time. Corporations are enriching management coffers by purchasing stadium naming rights. To acquire naming rights to the Washington Redskins’ home stadium, for example, FedEx paid the team $205 million to cover the period 1998-2025 – thus, FedEx Field. The latest entries in the logo sweepstakes are MetLife Stadium (New York Giants and New York Jets) and Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta Falcons). Currently, only a half-dozen stadiums do not bear the name of a corporate sponsor.
Television networks, meanwhile, are paying teams stratospheric prices in order to acquire broadcasting rights. Under the previous package contract, which expired after the 2013 season, three territorial networks – CBS, NBC and Fox – paid a combined $1.93 billion a year to show NFL games. Under the current contract, set to run through the 2021 season, they are paying about $3 billion a year, a roughly 60 percent increase. That’s not including ESPN, which negotiates its own deals. Broadcasters recoup that money, and then some, from advertising fees. Apparently, advertisers are willing to pay the high fees. Top rates for a 30-second commercial this season for NBC Sunday Night Football, NBC Thursday Night Football and CBS Thursday Night Football are a respective $700,000, $550,000 and $550,000. Believe it or not, that’s dirt cheap compared to the $5 million to $5.5 million that Fox charged advertisers for a 30-second spot during the most recent Super Bowl. By contrast, a 30-second ad for the first Super Bowl (January 1967) cost a mere $42,000.
This flurry of numbers should serve notice that the National Football League knows how to make money and has lots of it on hand. That makes the league a juicy target for shakedown artists, most of all, those who dedicate themselves to black causes. Blacks are only about one-eighth of the U.S. population yet comprise 64 percent of active NFL players. For players in offensive backfield and defensive secondary positions, the figure is almost 100 percent. There are few better ways to dramatize black causes than in front of a stadium full of pro football fans, egged on by groups, mass media, corporations and public officials. And when black players place themselves at the center of political controversy, eager to hurl the charge of “racism” at anyone who disagrees with them, it’s like money in the bank.
Prior to 2016, the football term “kneel-down” referred solely to a quarterback, typically near the end of a winning game, taking his knee to the ground to run out the game clock, the opposing team being out of time-outs. Now it has an additional meaning. For well over a year, it has referred to black players, occasionally with white teammate support, kneeling down during the playing of our national anthem to protest alleged injustices against blacks. As variations on the theme, players lock arms or raise fists. The target of their outrage are shootings by white police of “unarmed” blacks such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Jamar Clark. That these exhibitionist pregame displays misrepresent the context of these incidents (see later discussion) is of little concern to the player-activists.
Ground zero for this moral theater was September 1, 2016. On that date, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is half-black (and raised by white adoptive parents), incensed over having to stand for the playing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a preseason game in San Diego, kneeled on the ground. He made this gesture into a ritual once the regular season began. Black players around the league soon mimicked him as a show of solidarity. High school and college players also were getting in on the act. This bandwagon had plenty of support among non-players. Kaepernick’s 49ers “7” became the top-selling jersey in the NFL; even Tom Brady’s Patriots “12” jersey wasn’t selling as much. The protests have continued this season, if not with the same splash. For Kaepernick has become a free agent without a home. The 49ers management, following a disappointing 2-14 season in 2016, did not re-sign him. And apparently no other team wants him. With his baseless accusations, humorless zeal and a bushy Afro hair style redolent of Angela Davis circa 1971, it’s no wonder why Kaepernick has become radioactive around the league. He would be a catalyst for dissension on any NFL team, desperate or not.
With or without Colin Kaepernick, the game of pro football has become impossibly politicized over race. It is publicity of a sort that team owners and the commissioner’s office can do without. But spin hasn’t made the issues go away. Commissioner Roger Goodell has tried to walk a tightrope. On one hand, he doesn’t want to alienate large numbers of fans who want to watch football without being hectored about their alleged moral insufficiency. On the other hand, knowing that nearly two-thirds of the players are black, he will go out of his way to be deferential to the protesting players. Serious money is at stake. And because the commissioner serves at the pleasure of the owners, failure to resolve this issue could result in his termination.
Goodell’s response, expressed in an October 10 memo to owners and executives of all 32 teams, was to agree with the protestors in soft language. The goal would be constructive dialogue and sensible compromises. “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” he wrote. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.” Later, however, he opened the door to a shakedown. He explained: “I’m very proud of our players and owners who have done the hard work over the past year to listen, understand and attempt to address the underlying issues within their communities.” His plan “would include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues, and that will help to promote positive change in our country.” A week later, Goodell held a brief press conference at league headquarters in Manhattan in which he denied that he had insisted players commit to standing during the national anthem. With 11 owners and more than a dozen players present, the theme was unity. “We heard what they (the players) had to say and they heard us,” said Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. “It’s open talks, and that’s a good thing.” Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins likewise stated: “Very little of the meeting was about the actual anthem. We were really more talking about solutions and how we get the results that we want to get.”
That Goodell was willing to cut a deal with the players should have been evident from his testy exchanges with President Donald Trump. Speaking at a September 22 rally in Alabama stumping for U.S. Senate candidate Luther Strange, Trump at one point urged NFL owners to fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem. The following afternoon, the president tweeted the following message: “Roger Goodell of the NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country. Tell them to stand!” With a perfect pitch for public relations, Commissioner Goodell responded: “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture…Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
Goodell’s language suggested a “settlement” was at hand. And as the 2017 season proceeded, he had an added incentive to settle. A growing number of fans around the country, as ticket holders and TV viewers, were growing irritated over the fecklessness of the league head office and the owners. Here was a coordinated Black Lives Matter-inspired campaign to extract favors from the NFL, and NFL top brass were acting scared to death. Unwilling to see football games turned into a political circus, fans in increasing numbers were reselling game tickets at a discount or simply not showing up. Many were turning off the TV set. The boycott may not have been as pronounced as some critics were claiming, but it looked real. And so long as the staged pregame protests continued, there was a distinct possibility of profit erosion. Indeed, it could be argued that black players were continuing their national anthem theatrics precisely because they knew this tactic could lead to an agreement requiring the NFL to donate funds to radical organizations.
The NFL front office surrender would happen on November 29. According to preliminary reports, the league committed itself to shelling out at least $89 million over seven years to several black-oriented local and national activist groups claiming to carry the torch for social justice. The owners would pay a large portion of that sum, maxing out at $12 million a year during the 2021-23 seasons. Fully 25 percent of the payout would be earmarked for the United Negro College Fund and another 25 percent earmarked for the Dream Corps. The remaining 50 percent would be controlled by the Players Coalition, which recently filed for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, and would operate as a project of the Hopewell Fund, in turn managed by Arabella Advisors, a key figure in environmental activism. The Players Coalition had outside professional advice on this one, something acknowledged by the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins. These consultants included the Fair Punishment Project, Community Legal Services, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for American Progress, and the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth.
There is a lot more going on here than simply “do good” community philanthropy. This deal, at bottom, is a political campaign designed as a counterweight to President Trump and other persons deemed guilty of “racism,” “xenophobia” and other unpardonable sins. Anyone doubting as much should consider two outside powerful forces driving this deal: George Soros and Van Jones. Soros, for years a multibillionaire conduit for hard Left activism via his nonprofit Open Society Foundations, has funded three of the groups listed above: the ACLU, the Center for American Progress and the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth. He also has donated funds to the Dream Corps, which in 2014 absorbed another group called Green for All.
That’s where the Van Jones connection comes in. Jones, a black, founded Green for All in 2007. Two years later he briefly served as “green jobs czar” during President Obama’s first term until bad publicity surrounding his public self-identification years earlier with communism and anarchism forced him out. He’s now a political analyst for CNN. The Dream Corps, which describes itself as a “social justice accelerator,” has four main projects: YesWeCode, which trains low-income nonwhites as computer programmers; Cut50, which demands a reduction in the U.S. prison population by 50 percent; the aforementioned Green for All, which calls for an “inclusive green economy”; and the Love Army. The latter project may prove the most potent. Among other things, this “army” opposes the Dakota Access pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline and the Clean Power Plan. Van Jones, in fact, was wearing a #LoveArmy hashtag sticker as a guest speaker at the January 21 Women’s March, an ecumenical radical event held the day after President’s Trump’s inauguration. Jones was rather inflammatory during his speech. “This movement is not going to let you mess with the Muslims,” he declared to a cheering crowd. “This movement is not going to let you mess with the Dreamers, President Trump. We’re not going to let you mess with the women. We’re not going to let you mess with the Earth. We’re not going to let you mess with Black Lives Matter. This movement is based on that kind of love.”
Malcolm Jenkins, one of the leaders of the Players Coalition, is happy in an Al Sharpton kind of way. He explained: “What the NFL has done is a good first step – it’s not going to solve the massive problems we have in our cities and states across the country, but it’s a start. And, more importantly, I’m glad we were able to get them to acknowledge their responsibility and role in trying to solve these problems and injustices.” This statement is the essence of a shakedown artist. And it misrepresents the issue. First of all, the NFL and team owners do not have any public “responsibility” beyond providing quality professional football. The league is not a philanthropy, a church or a public welfare agency. If players want to become advocates for black power, they can do that on their own. Surely, given their salaries, they can afford to pitch in. Solving “massive problems” is not the NFL’s job. Second, the recipient groups of NFL funds are not to be trusted with the money. More than anything else, they will spend the loot building political cadres. That’s why they formed in the first place. Notice, by the way, Jenkins’ use of the term “a start.” There will be more shakedowns. Already, Los Angeles Chargers tackle Russell Okung has called the NFL proposal “woefully inadequate.”
This is what happens when a powerful organization takes the easy way out and buckles to the will of provocateurs. We have seen this time and again over the years with major corporations, in a Stockholm Syndrome way, bonding with black accusers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and happily bankrolling their activities. The saddest part of this sellout is that it was completely avoidable. The NFL, beginning with Roger Goodell, held the strong hand, morally and legally. The league very easily could have told their accusers to take a hike. And it could have made any number of valid points to support their steadfastness.
First, the NFL Game Operations Manual (not to be confused with the Official NFL Rulebook) requires that all players stand at attention during the pregame playing of the national anthem. The manual states:
The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judges by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.
The manual thus lays out a clear code of conduct for all players on this issue. It does not make exceptions by race or creed. And while it does not mandate punishment for players who flout this rule, it does authorize it. The problem is that no owner really wants to go that extra mile. Several owners have expressed doubts about the wisdom of the kneel-downs, but only one, the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, had the stones to declare that those who “disrespect the flag” will not play. And even he since has backed away, in part because of revelations about a supposedly racially insensitive joke he told back in 2013.
Second, the recent $89 million deal, ostensibly a way to end the kneel-down and raised-fist protests, thus far has been ignored. The Players Coalition has no binding power over the on-the-field conduct of individual players. Accordingly, certain players continued their confrontational tactics this past Sunday during the playing of the national anthem. Los Angeles Chargers left tackle Russell Okung raised his fist; Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch remained seated; Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Robert Quinn raised his fist; and various other players linked arms in solidarity. Moreover, one or more players with the Miami Dolphins, the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers took a knee after a few of them had publicly raised disagreement with the deal. In other words, in classic shakedown form, capitulation has not bought good will from the accusers, but merely has whetted the accusers’ appetite to extract more concessions. The NFL is about to spend close to $90 million over the next seven years in return for an empty promise by players to be nicer during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, for months has been determined to ignore any request by the commissioner’s office or the owners to stop the public protests. In a statement this past September, he declared: “We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports.” He’s not about to change his mind on account of an unenforceable agreement.
Third, the wanton “police killings” that so exercise the protestors’ indignation is a manufactured reality. As National Legal and Policy Center repeatedly and exhaustively has argued these past several years, the oft-cited cases of blacks dying at the hands of whites, especially those in law enforcement, in no way can be called murder. Indeed, in several cases, a white cop shot a black attacker to save his own life. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clark, Walter Scott – none of these and other black fatalities were deliberate “killings” in the sense that cops committed homicide. The reigning saint of misguided moral indignation, Colin Kaepernick, however, oblivious to cause and effect, back in 2016 rationalized his refusal to stand at attention during the national anthem this way: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Such words may have given goosebumps to Social Justice Warriors everywhere, but they were an utter distortion. One will notice, by the way, that Kaepernick and his compatriots have expressed no outrage over the spate of ambush-style murders of on-duty police officers by black shooters. In December 2014, a black career hoodlum, Ishmael Brinsley, murdered a pair of on-duty New York City cops, one Hispanic and the other Asian, as they were sitting in their squad car. In July 2016, a black gunman in Dallas, Micah Johnson, executed five white Dallas cops during a Black Lives Matter rally. Later that month, another black gunman, Gavin Long, murdered three cops, two whites and one black, in Baton Rouge. Where is the indignation for those killings?
Fourth, even if the players’ grievances did carry any weight, the National Football League is not the place to air them. It is a venue for football, not for social justice crusades and accompanying brinksmanship. These self-righteous protests poison the atmosphere of a great sport, turning one group of fans (blacks) against another (whites). Pro football is a way to get away from the roiling conflicts of the day, not to live them out with in-your-face, morally-charged stretching exercises. Yes, there are limits to how the league can police private behavior off the field. But these kneel-downs are on-the-field behavior, and with a clear connotation of “Do as I say, not as I do.” The NFL does not have to negotiate with the protestors for one simple reason: There is nothing to negotiate. It no more owes black players special compensation than it owes white players.
The NFL-player agreement last week was nothing short of an act of surrender to a repellent collection of racial politicians. It not only represents a defeat for the league, it is also a guarantee that its accusers will have a deep well from which to draw for future crusades, in or out of organized sports. These racial extortionists not only were not punished, they have been amply rewarded. On Tuesday night, for example, Sports Illustrated presented Colin Kaepernick with its Muhammad Ali Legacy Award during the magazine’s Sportsperson of the Year ceremony at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Time magazine has named Kaepernick fifth runner-up (i.e., number six on the short list) for its 2017 “Person of the Year.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is not about to protest this state of affairs. On Wednesday, he received a five-year extension on his contract which, factoring in various incentive clauses, is worth as much as $40 million a year. The owners figured their own bottom lines are safe for the time being, so why not reward him? In their world, money ultimately counts more than principle. As for the NFL Players Association, here’s a thought: Stick to football.