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Fan Anthem Reactions Part II: We'll Continue to Watch the NFL and Here's Why

NFL fans are divided over gestures during the national anthem that are meant to address racial inequality and police brutality. Here are letters from those who support the movement
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Earlier this week, we published letters from readers who said they are walking away from the NFL because they disagree with players peacefully protesting racial inequality and police brutality during the national anthem. In response to those opinions, readers on the other side of the issue wrote in to say that they support the demonstrations and to challenge the argument that such gestures disrespect the flag, the military and the country. Some of the letters have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

After seeing the item on the SI website about fans giving up on the NFL in the wake of the players’ protests this past weekend, I was moved to write and tell you that here, at least, is one fan who is doing the opposite. I am proud of the players for standing up (or kneeling, or linking arms) for something bigger than themselves, and for using their fame and visibility to fight injustice and to give a voice to those who have none. I will make it a point to watch and support the players and teams who are showing us what it really means to be citizens of this nation. — David Posner, Chicago

I have heard a lot of personally disturbing rhetoric around the national anthem protest in the past week. But instead of being negative and arguing against this rhetoric, I just want to be positive and say that I think it’s great the way players have come together and supported each other the last week. It gives me hope in these very divisive times that people can find ways to peacefully and respectfully say that racism is not okay. I will be continuing to watch on Sundays. — Angie Jameson

Whether we like or not, professional athletes are visible in society and often serve as role models. When we have a societal problem, we need thoughtful discourse that reaches a broad cross-section, and celebrities can contribute to this. While I disagree vehemently with the practice, many other citizens (in earlier days) have elected to burn the flag to publicize their concerns and our courts have consistently ruled that this is within their First Amendment right to free speech.  The pre-game actions of NFL players (and other professional athletes) are, by comparison, much milder and more respectful of the nation and our flag, and are surely well within free speech rights.  The fact that our nation’s leadership is so obviously unaware of this constitutional protection is truly scary and I applaud the actions of athletes in standing up to authority, especially authority that is so uninformed and badly misplaced.

My interest in NFL football has waned over the years as its impacts on players’ health have become better understood, but I have developed a new respect and am more likely to tune in to future games.  I hope our role models will continue to pursue respectful gestures protecting our rights as American citizens. — Joe, Asheville, N.C.

When I read your readers’ comments about why they would no longer support the NFL, a common theme was “I don’t want to have to think about this stuff.”

That’s understandable, but it’s indicative of the privilege they enjoy that they can expect to have that choice and wield their financial power (in the form of cancelled or refunded subscriptions to Sunday Ticket, etc.) to express their disapproval. For a lot of people in this country, though, there IS no choice of ignoring police brutality and issues of inequality. Nonchalance would leave us in mortal danger of falling victim to these very real problems. Even saying that, awareness alone is not a shield. 

Some commenters suggested alternatives to the sideline demonstrations, all of which seemed designed to make them easier to ignore. What’s the point of a demonstration no one notices? If the comfortable are never made uncomfortable, what spurs necessary social evolution?

Finally, not one reader quoted in the article placed blame on the real cause behind the most recent activities: President Trump’s inflammatory remarks. He mixed politics, sports and opinion in a way that athletes felt compelled to answer. But not one commenter blamed him; in fact, a couple seemed to support and agree with his derogatory and profane statements. I don’t know why I expected anything more enlightened. Blaming the vocal oppressed is an oft-chosen alternative to holding the oppressor accountable. It’s also much easier. 

So if they want to go back to their afternoons on the lake or to spending more time with their former football widows, that’s fine. They and their descendants still will be able to enjoy the better world some others of us are trying to bring about. — Terry E. Manning

I find it interesting that all these fans say they are leaving football due to the protests, yet none of them go after the President for inflaming the issue and creating a more politicized environment. However, I would like to thank them for leaving as it will free up more tickets for me, a lifelong Raiders fan, and allow me to avoid spending time with them. My father fought in Vietnam, and my older brother fought in Desert Storm and is a police detective in the Bay Area, and neither of them feel the protests are disrespectful to the military. What is disrespectful is the President attacking ordinary citizens about peaceful protests while U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico sit with out power, clean water and food. If you are offended by the protests, that is your right, but at least have the integrity to acknowledge and condemn a President who continually attacks ordinary citizens in vile ways. He brought this up. It was going away until he did this to distract everyone from the damage of the hurricanes, the failure to reform healthcare and the decision to cut taxes on the rich (especially himself with the lower pass-through tax rate). I will be glad to not spend time with you on October 8 when I attend the Raiders vs. Ravens in Oakland.  — Vince

Staying in the locker rooms was common for many years prior to 9/11, except for big games, and it is the smart way to handle it now. If you are in the locker room, you can't protest by kneeling—it simply prevents the act. The real issue these fans have isn’t the “disrespect” to the flag. It’s that it is easier to call these players disrespectful than to actually address the legitimate issues our country has with race and poverty. I don't have the answers, I’m just not that smart. However, I felt compelled to write to call these “fans” out on their hypocrisy. — David

I am a combat-wounded veteran of the Marine Corps. I’m tired of these “fans” picking and choosing the Constitutional amendments they believe in. Either you endorse the First Amendment of free speech or not. I will stand for the anthem, but I respect one’s right not to. More importantly, I understand why players are sitting/kneeling. White people have no idea what it’s like to be stopped by police for no other reason other than being born black. I will continue to watch football and sympathize with the players’ protest. I only wish I knew what to do to fix the problem of police brutality and the inherent racism in this country. When these problems are solved we won’t have citizens/players exercising their right to peacefully protest. — Alan Millstein, proud veteran, USMC 1964-68

I stand firmly on one side of this debate. However, this email is not about defending that side. After reading the MMQB article of the emails from fans who are walking away from the NFL, I have come to the conclusion that these respondents are the ones who deserve the most criticism. Politics in this country affects, directly or indirectly, every aspect of every American's life. To simply withdraw with the mentality 'I do not want to hear about politics' is lassitude at its best and dastardliness at its worst. I may strongly disagree with one's opinion, but I would fight to the death for their right to express it. The one thing I have no respect for is active withdrawal. Listen to others and speak your mind. Society demands it. SethfromN.Y.

I found the emails you chose to publish regarding “The Fans Who Say They’re Walking Away from the NFL” interesting. Interesting, for example, that they blame the players for “politics,” when for the players it was NEVER about politics (which is why 50 men of various ethnic persuasions and political affinities could agree to unite). Donald Trump, by injecting himself into the debate for the purposes of appeasing his supporters during a political rally, and by continuing to stoke the flames of diversion via his tweets, made it about politics.

Interesting that people who could enjoy football while the NFL employed convicted felons now cannot bear to watch it when the players chose to express their objection to being called “sons of b------.”

Interesting that people can demonize Colin Kaepernick for being a “troublemaker,”  when in fact Kaepernick had been sitting on the bench for the anthem for multiple games, away from the cameras, never drawing attention to himself, before [the media] pointed the spotlight on him. How they can forget that his kneeling was actually a compromise, since people had such a problem with him simply sitting.

Interesting that people can lambaste the Dallas Cowboys for linking arms in unity and kneeling, when it WASN’T during the anthem, and the flag was NOT being presented. Explain to me how they were being “disrespectful” to the sacrifice veterans have made?

Again, this isn’t about politics. It never was, at least not for the players. And there is no more proof of that then the reaction of those “Who Say They're Walking Away from the NFL.” It is those people who are the true personification of the real issue. And the fact that they saw no problem cheering on [alleged] rapist and domestic violence perpetrators but are “disgusted” by men who want to express their objection to inequality, speaks volumes. — Edward, Seattle

As far as I am concerned, injustices to human beings are far more important than an anthem or flag. White people don't want to support black football players who want to make them aware of their white privilege. I am white and I love football. I am tired of self-righteous people who think they're Christian. I'm sure God doesn't give a rat's a-- about flags or anthems. I'm sure God does care about police brutality and murder against people of color. I can tell you there are more people like me who support freedom of speech and care about human beings, no matter their race. — Vikki Strong

I asked my friend, an intelligent Republican and Trump supporter, what he would do if he were a prominent back athlete feeling the need to protest the treatment of black people in America. My friend replied he would do something peaceful, like Mother Teresa. I said that's what these athletes are doing. So I asked him to be more specific, to suggest something other than taking a knee; he has yet to answer. I know Malcolm Jenkins, who plays safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, has been taking a knee and using his position to work with the Philadelphia police and the community in developing programs and understanding.

Unfurling the flag and singing the national anthem aren’t part of football. Neither is flying jets overhead. These are symbols introduced to inflame our patriotism. No one is attacking those symbols, and they don’t need defending. 

Many in America are missing the point precisely because they want to miss the point. There is no gentle way to bring up our institutionalized racism, no way to do so that will not make us uncomfortable. To argue that it should be done differently, that it shouldn’t be done before a football game or similar, is to say “do it where I don't have to see it.”

I have grandchildren living in mixed neighborhoods in West Philadelphia and multi-ethnic ones in San Francisco, and they play and go to school with kids of other races, religions and ethnic backgrounds without any issues. They don't care or notice the differences. Whatever hate or discrimination they may develop will come from us, their family, friends, neighbors and community.

America is not a homogeneous, white country. That will not change. The sooner we stop our purposeful blindness and deafness and address the real issues, the better. —Jim Kempner

Is there anyway you could reach out to the NFL and find out how many season tickets were actually canceled this week? I would love to know how many people gave up their tickets ... especially because I've been on the Denver Broncos’ waiting list for 8 years and hopefully will be called soon. — Ken Sikora

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