BHARADWAJ: Patriotism should not be forced

The recent NFL policy changes are immoral and go against our American principles

Cleveland_Browns_Stadium_during_2008_NFL_season

While the NFL is a private organization, and thus has sovereignty over its internal operations, I believe this new policy is simply an act of pandering as opposed to patriotism.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell released a policy statement on May 23 — approved by all 32 NFL club owners — concerning pre-game anthem protests, which became prevalent last year during the 2017 season. This statement created numerous new regulations regarding protest, including a league-wide ban on kneeling during the national anthem in addition to fines for personnel who “do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” All of these new rules are to be implemented in the upcoming 2018 season. While the NFL is a private organization, and thus has sovereignty over its internal operations, I believe this new policy is simply an act of pandering as opposed to patriotism, and goes against the American principles cultivated by our forefathers.

It is clear to see that anthem protests are a significant and divisive issue in our country, but why do they really matter all that much? The average NFL game is over three hours in length, with upwards of 20 commercial breaks. The singing of the national anthem is negligible by comparison, taking up only a few minutes prior to the start of a game, and barely registering in the minds of devout fans like myself. In fact, a poll conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Massachusetts Lowell found that only about 3 percent of avid NFL fans reported declining interest because of anthem protests. NFL players didn’t even come out of the locker rooms during the anthem until a policy change in 2009, which shows that a lot of this outrage is not originating from the core NFL fan base, who just want to watch football for the most part.  

Unfortunately for the league though, a lot of its viewership comes from casual fans as opposed to football junkies alone. While league-wide NFL ratings haven’t generally declined much since the protests began, ratings for a lot of primetime games have indeed seen their numbers tumble. Super Bowl 52 for instance had nearly 9 million fewer viewers than Super Bowl 51 in 2017, which is nearly a 7 percent ratings decrease. This drop off in casual viewership can be attributed — at least partially — to the fact that the majority of Americans as a whole do not support anthem protests, according to a recent Quinnipiac Poll. With these facts in mind, it becomes clear that the NFL is not passing these regulations out of love for the country, but instead to pander to casual viewers, and save their bottom line.  

The motives behind this policy statement become even more suspicious when you consider the events that coincided with the aforementioned 2009 rule change — which forced players to come out of the locker room for the anthem. Around the same period that this change took place, an agreement was struck between various sports organizations and the federal government, in which millions of taxpayer dollars were spent in exchange for “paid patriotism” at sporting events. Not only is this a gross misuse of tax dollars, but it is also gravely immoral. Such acts are reminiscent of state-sponsored nationalist events in Communist nations such as North Korea or China, where individuals are forced to essentially worship the state for fear of death

Our nation was founded upon skepticism of all ruling bodies — questioning of all authorities — whether that be foreign tyrants or our own government. As is stated in the Declaration of Independence, “When a long train of abuses and usurpations … evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government.” Federal power in our country stems from consent of the governed, but without the ability to critically evaluate our own nation, we lose this consent and the government gains power over us. It is therefore important to never place the governing state on a pedestal — absolving them of criticism — which is exactly what paid patriotism seeks to achieve. Every action our government takes should be accounted for and evaluated objectively.  

That being said, there is nothing wrong with having a love for one’s country, as I certainly do. But in times like these, we also must remember that it is not a flag or an anthem that make us Americans, but instead values and individualism, which is what many of these players are trying to stand up for. Blind nationalism and clouded judgment ultimately leads to abuse of government power, which cannot be tolerated in this country. Therefore, I believe it is immoral that football players will be forced to display artificial patriotism. 

Milan Bharadwaj is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com. 

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