DALLAS - "Stick to sports."
A line constantly seen in many a social media response when players or journalists provide an opinion on the social issues affecting our country.
Look around your neighborhood. It doesn't matter if you live in East Dallas, Uptown, or Frisco. What do you see? Neighbors and strangers walking the streets decked out in team colors. A car passing by with flags adorning the sides, the team logo fluttering in the wind. Whether it’s the Cowboys or your favorite local team, sports provides society a place where fans can come together, unified as an entity regardless of political beliefs, race, or economic status.
The downside to this belief is the facet of remaining in one's own bubble, not considering situations or issues that may affect those same neighbors and strangers. Regardless, there is an obvious preference for athletes to "just do their job" and keep quiet in regards to divisive issues.
Sticking to sports is impossible when political figures merge the worlds into one.
At a time when the league is trying to deal with issues of policing players for off the field conduct and constant reminders of Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) appearing in deceased former players, the issue on the continuing protests over the national anthem reached a fever point this weekend.
In an event in Alabama on September 22nd, The President of the United States used inflammatory language to describe the anthem protesters, called for their suspension or firing and asked for support in boycotting the N.F.L until the owners take disciplinary action against the players seen kneeling while the anthem plays prior to games.
The tension steadily built up through the weekend before the start of the games on Sunday. Over 200 players protested in some form of fashion. In the bright lights of Monday Night Football, and with attention on the subject at a climax league-wide, all eyes shifted to see what "America's team" would do. The expectation was that the Cowboys would stand for the anthem as they have always had. Prior to Monday night, the team approach, whether it was individually decided on or with direction from management, was to stick to sports.
For several weeks prior, posts had been circulating on Twitter that Jerry Jones had an edict that no Cowboys employee would kneel or protest in any fashion. It turned out to be #fakenews.
Cut to suburban Phoenix, with the stadium looking like it was half-full of Cowboys fans as it usually is. The entire Cowboys contingent, including Jerry Jones and his family, stood on the field and took a collective knee before the game. Once the national anthem began, the team stood up as the American flag was unfurled on the field.
It was a savvy move.
One that, in the mind of Cowboys brass, showed unity within the team, as well as respect to the national song.
The team was roundly booed for their stance, even though they attempted to please both sides of the issue.
Can one really blame an athlete for speaking their mind when they are being directly addressed and demonized as a whole? The President's comments have the entire league, from athletes to owners, backed into a corner. Dez Bryant, hounded for months on his stance by local media, had tried his best to keep his position to himself. But on Monday night he let his feelings be known.
"That was a clear shot at Trump", Bryant told reporters after the game of his team's decision to kneel collectively.
"He should have never said that, it was a clear punch in the face." Bryant added.
A punch the Cowboys took to the chin together and rallied together on, but the fact remains that the team was booed for kneeling BEFORE the anthem was played.
If fans are booing a peaceful demonstration made beforehand, is the vitriol still really about the anthem? If not, then you can expect athletes everywhere to continue exercising their rights beyond sticking to sports.
How do you feel about the Cowboys' "display of unity" on Monday night? Share your thoughts with Irvin on Twitter @twittirv.
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