SNYDER: Distractions aside, still reason to cheer football’s return

September 6, 2018

NFL football is back.

You just have to dig through all the noise, clutter and distractions to find it ... if you still care.

This season opens like every other season and like no other, at the same time. As usual, there are questions about the defending champs’ ability to repeat, up-and-comers poised on the brink, and exactly how long Tom Brady can remain Tom Brady.

But as we approach Thursday’s opening kickoff between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, off-field matters obscure the product like crazy. At least for folks who allow themselves to be bothered.

For some of them, the issue of player safety has dampened enthusiasm for the game. They find it increasingly difficult to consume a sport that inflicts such damage on the participants. Not only the unseen toll of concussions and CTE, but also the stomach-churning visuals of knees bent in grotesque fashion.

But for others, their growing distaste has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with the business.

On one side are fans/former fans who are disgusted by the blatant disregard for Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, a quarterback and safety who could help most teams. The league-wide decision to blackball those players has caused more than a few people to put NFL viewing habits on hold (although you rarely hear about this group).

On the other side are fans/former fans who are disgusted by the lack of punishment for like-minded players. Kaepernick and Reid aren’t the only ones who have kneeled during the national anthem. The NFL’s refusal to hammer more protesters for a peaceful act has led this group to turn away (and we hear about them all the time).

Nike threw a log on the fire this week when it unveiled Kaepernick as one of the faces of the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign. The apparel giant proved to its NFL partner that the QB’s Q-rating isn’t based on his employment. Neither is his relevancy; he was in the top 50 in jersey sales last year despite not playing since 2016.

Some folks cheered the new ad. Others burned their Nike gear. I was particularly interested in one response and was genuinely shocked. It sounded like (gasp!) a voice of reason.

“As much as I disagree with the Colin Kaepernick endorsement, in another way, it is what the country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn’t do,” President Trump told The Daily Caller on Tuesday.

I bent down to pick up my jaw.

Was that really Trump being tempered, making a sane, reasonable and lucid statement? Is this the same man who unnecessarily has inflamed the issue and turned it into political red meat?

So be it. I can give credit where credit is due. Even when I expect a full refund any second.

The NFL has botched the controversy mightily and could be charged with collusion as Kaepernick’s complaint goes to trial. But the league also must’ve been on whatever Trump took Tuesday, because it couldn’t have issued a better response.

“The National Football League believes in dialogue, understanding and unity. We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities,” spokeswoman Jocelyn Moore said in a statement. “The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”

Unfortunately for the league, such attention and action doesn’t necessarily involve attending NFL games or watching them on TV.

Some folks will remain conflicted, but the choice is easy for yours truly. Despite qualms about the players’ physical side effects and disdain for the owners’ blackball, I watch NFL football because it’s entertaining. Old habits are hard to break and I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember.

I’m unconcerned by what happens during the national anthem. We should stop playing it before every game, anyway. But stand up, take a knee, stay in the tunnel ... whatever. My appetite for the action isn’t spoiled.

I also don’t have a guilty conscious for “supporting” a league that has treated Kaepernick and Reid so unfairly. My viewership doesn’t affect the ratings or the league’s advertising rates. I would punish myself more than commissioner Roger Goodell Co. by not watching.

However, hooray to those who believe they’re taking a stand by staying away from the NFL. But don’t burn your Nike gear; donate it to charity instead.

Meanwhile, another season is about to kick off.

Enjoy it if you can.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.