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From the White House on down, the National Football League is getting a bad rap over anthem antics by some players. That is a shame, because the league, the game, and the players can teach valuable lessons, particularly for those in government.
If your daddy was governor of California, like Jerry Brown’s, or President of the United States, like George W. Bush’s, that provides easy entry for a career in politics. Not so in professional sports, particularly the National Football League.
No NFL team drafts a player because his father was politician, or because daddy owns the team or the stadium. Even those players whose fathers did play in the NFL, such as Peyton Manning, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Christian McCaffrey, earned their job on the basis of pure merit, like everybody in the NFL.
Ray Seals, Eric Swann, Sav Rocca, and Lawrence Okoye came to the league right out of high school. Many others left college early, rather than risking injury to play for no salary at all.
Nigerian track star Christian Okoye had never played football but quickly proved his worth in the NFL, where players know that raw talent is not enough.
Jerry Rice put himself through workouts that would challenge a Navy SEAL. That’s why he excelled. Larry Fitzgerald has balls thrown to him while hanging upside down, which helps him make catches on the field.
Off the field, NFL players also do things to make other people better. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt raised more than $37 million for relief following the disastrous Hurricane Harvey.
Politicians like to slide business to their cronies, but the NFL is not like that. The football field is level, not tilted in the direction of one team. The rules are the same for all players, and no special rule gives any player a first down for advancing only seven yards.
In the NFL, no runner has to slow down because some other player might not feel good about himself. In the NFL, all achievement is earned. The players, not the owners or league bosses, determine the winners and losers.
Penalties are the same for all players and the game does not proceed until the referees mark off the penalty. That is not always the case in government, where officials caught in criminal conduct are protected from prosecution and allowed to retire.
In the wake of the anthem protests, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said “we can’t have inmates running the prison.” He has since apologized and the statement was a stretch. Some NFL players have indeed run afoul of the law, but they are hardly unique in that regard.
As Mark Twain said, “there is no distinctly American criminal class – except Congress.” In California, some are calling for politicians to get two terms, one in office and one in prison.
The NFL, meanwhile, can be entertaining and instructive but nobody has to watch it. On the other hand, as George Orwell noted, there is no such thing as keeping out of politics. So in the big picture, politicians are a more appropriate target than football players, whatever their antics during the national anthem.