Once again, America is writhing over an entertainment event turned political spectacle. The choice of many NFL players and team owners to “take the knee” during the National Anthem before games is one such event that has taken the political conversation in the U.S., somehow, to even more absurd heights. The lines between entertainment and politics have been completely blurred, now blinding people to their responsibility as service providers in favor of using their platforms for political gain. That brings us to one aspect about the NFL “take the knee” controversy that has seen little attention: the fact that this is all happening within an almost strictly commercial setting.
When fans or season ticket holders purchase tickets, they do so in good faith that the League, the organization responsible for the delivery of a service, will create a venue in which all participants have a responsibility of keeping political controversy off the field and out of the stadium. After all, the NFL’s Game Operations Department Manual is in place for this purpose: “to ensure they protect players and provide the conditions for a fair and fan-friendly contest." And as you may have heard, the NFL’s Game Operations Manual specifically mentions that players should attend the National Anthem, standing with their attention to the flag. While this is not necessarily a hard line rule, as last year the NFL stated that “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem,” let’s compare this to the last time that the Dallas Cowboys wanted to walk onto the field arm in arm in 2016.
After the deadly shooting of several Dallas police officers on July 6, 2016, the Dallas Cowboys wanted to show solidarity with their local police department by wearing an “Arm in Arm” Dallas PD logo decal on their helmets. The NFL denied them this honor, citing the official rule that, “players are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office.”
So what’s the deal, are players allowed to promote political causes or not? The differences in the hardline rules preventing unapproved displays of political speech and the less hardline Game Operations Manual rules about the National Anthem are technicalities, semantics. Both sets of rules are in place to facilitate the delivery of football games as a service to the fans and interested parties, so why aren’t they enforced the same?
Which brings us back to the original point, that this is a commercial event, not a political one. I respect the First Amendment absolutely, as it is part of the foundation of this country and what makes it worth defending. Therefore, the players are free to make any political speech outside of their professional responsibilities. The issue is that players and team owners are doing this literally during their work hours, and in doing so are directly affecting the quality and viability of these games as commercial events.
When people purchase season tickets, they do so with the expectation that their tickets will hold value throughout the season, specifically related to the team’s performance in the game. If the team begins to do well, the value of the tickets go up, and conversely, they go down if the team does not do well. This is a reasonable expectation when purchasing season tickets. What is not a reasonable expectation is for those responsible for creating the value of those tickets, to undermine that value due to political speech made while at work. Similarly, the fiscal responsibility that corporations have to shareholders is to provide a service and to withhold from activities that prevent the dutiful delivery of that service.
While almost all of the NFL teams are privately held and therefore are under the sole jurisdiction of the owners, I would still like to see a regulatory body or other interested organization poll season ticket owners of each team. Ask them if they think owners are violating their responsibility to the season ticket holders by refusing to act in the best interest of the customers. After all, season tickets have already been purchased, with the reasonable expectations of valuation mentioned earlier, and thus season ticket holders are due the services they expected when they bought the tickets.
Protests and political speech are important, but we shouldn’t skirt our professional responsibilities in favor of promoting political agendas. Blurring the lines between professional responsibilities and political ones undermines the purpose and value of both, and it’s especially upsetting to see America’s beloved NFL be a perpetrator of this. Sports are meant to be entertainment, not a political football; they are supposed to be a shared cultural event we unite around, not a tool to divide us.
Richard S. Bernstein, CEO of Richard S. Bernstein & Associates, Inc., West Palm Beach, is an insurance advisor for high net worth business leaders, families, businesses, municipalities, and charitable organizations. An insurance advisor to many of America’s wealthiest families, he is a writer, trusted local and national media resource and expert speaker on estate planning and health insurance. Visit his website at www.rbernstein.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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