The NFL’s protests began more than a year ago as a move to highlight racial inequality and bring attention to police brutality. On any given weekend, no more than a handful of players, initially led by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, would sit or kneel during the national anthem.
Here’s another fan, burning an absolute pile of Steelers gear:
Here’s a Kansas City Chiefs fan turning his back on his team after 50 years:
Here’s an Oakland Raiders fan burning his jerseys; language alert for tender ears:
… and so forth, all following the same format: fans staring into the camera, taking a long time to tell us their belief that players shouldn’t tell us their beliefs, then putting the flame to jerseys or tickets … which tend to ignite with awkward slowness.
For those keeping score, then, these are protests of the protest to the protest. It’s impossible to know whether there’s any significant number of fans torching their jerseys, or whether the ones filming themselves orating over the flames are the outliers.
From one perspective, it’s an admirable demonstration of priorities, valuing the flag even over and above one’s beloved football team. But from another view, it’s a pretty rash decision to make with such little contemplation. If you’ve spent decades of your life rooting for a team, spending money on them, defending them in innumerable bar arguments, shouldn’t you perhaps give them the slightest opportunity for explanation? Don’t you respect those you love enough to hear out and contemplate their views, which might be slightly different from your own?
Eh, maybe not.
In the wake of the president’s critical remarks, NFL teams across the league issued statements in support of their players’ right to speak, without actually endorsing (or, really, even mentioning) what they were speaking about. Sure, it was a PR move, done to tamp down brush fires that could spread into uncontrolled wildfires (see: NASCAR), but the fact that it was done at all shows the teams have at least some small measure of respect for their players’ voices. That, apparently, was too much for many fans to handle.
One key element of the protests is the idea of freedom, the idea that even if you don’t support what the players are protesting, you support their right to do so. It’s a bit of nuance lost on the love-it-or-leave-it, burn-it-all-down segment of NFL fandom. But the great thing about America is that even those basic all-or-nothing views are accepted. And the great thing about the NFL is that they’re always willing to sell you on the shield, no matter what you’ve said before.
Because you’re always welcome back in the NFL as a fan. Every team has a fresh, unburned replacement jersey just waiting for you.