Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield in no-win situation with National Anthem
This may not be the most pressing news item in America, given that there are natural disasters around the country and we are still in a pandemic situation. Most Browns fans are going to support the players whatever they do, but frankly, by now, this is a no-win situation, in which people are only going to get angry no matter what the players do.
Much of America is understandably growing weary of football players trying to create symbolic gestures. Some players will stand. Others will kneel. Some will link arms. Some will stay in the locker room. Is anything really great going to happen because of any of this?
The entire process is just not going over well. Are people becoming more united because of what the players are doing, or more divided? All the variants on responding to the National Anthem are starting to draw boos and cynical laughter. These simple acts in and of themselves generate publicity for social justice, but they are not accomplishments of social justice in and of themselves. No matter what Mayfield — or other team leaders around the NFL — choose, the most likely outcome is that groups of fans become angrier.
Most fans seem to understand by now that NFL players seek to draw attention to the unacceptable level of violence in our society, especially when it is racially motivated. Probably most would like to help. They also understand that there’s no intentional slight to the US military, despite the breach in flag etiquette.
Initially, at least, the NFL might have regarded itself as an innocent bystander. After all, they did not have anything to do with hiring rogue policemen around the country. However, where the NFL crossed the line was when they de facto took the side of the rogue police by forbidding any protest. Suddenly NFL owners seemed to be jumping in and saying, “hey, we support these guys.” That was a huge mistake. The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell now understand that they do have a role to play.
Nevertheless, Mayfield is in a no-win situation. By attempting to mollify those who are angry about taking a knee, others will be angry about not taking a knee. This is unlikely to pacify Americans, especially in an election year. Football is a business, and if the first thing the NFL does is to make half the fans angry at the product, that is a problem.
In Cleveland, Browns general manager Andrew Berry has challenged his employees to take action by taking active roles in community causes. This has become the “Be The Solution” campaign, an idea which has arisen from the George Floyd killing and Berry’s desire to respond. Berry challenged his employees to join him by choosing a cause and getting involved in the community. In other words, do something beyond just getting attention.
At least to this fan, these organizations that actually help real people in actual communities in the local Cleveland area, are much closer to the ideal of helping real people. I do not know anyone who was actually helped by players posturing with the National Anthem.
The “Be the Solution” initiative is a much larger scale version of behind-the-scenes initiatives that are part of team tradition. Browns players have always been involved in the community. Prominent social activists from the 1960s included Jim Brown and John Wooten who co-sponsored causes such as the Black Economic Union (BEU) which helped to set up businesses in the Cleveland area.
“We understand the platform our organization has to make a positive impact on these important issues. When Coach Stefanski and I began discussing how we might be able to elevate and broaden that impact by expanding the dialogue to our counterparts in Cleveland, it quickly became apparent that partnering with the other teams in our city would help our region come together so we can collectively address the problems that we’ve all been working to help solve independently.” — Andrew Berry, Cleveland Browns general manager via the team’s official website
These moves have been carried out with the full support of Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam who have supported the players from the get-go despite criticism from the league and other owners.
In fact, to the NFL free agents out there who are reading this article (and I know you read my stuff, because when I write something that makes you mad, you tweet it to the whole world), you should be aware that Jimmy and Dee Haslam from the beginning have supported the players right to protest and to become involved in social justice. You should think about that before rushing off to work for the guy in Dallas who threatened to fire the entire lot of you for so much as taking a knee.
The Cleveland Browns have an official web page that lists social justice causes that they support as an organization, and interested fans can link to it here: Be the Solution.
This fan, at this point, will support Baker Mayfield and the players regardless of who stands, sits, kneels, links arms, or stays in the locker room. People are going to be mad no matter what happens. Nevertheless, there is a path forward for those who are interested to help improve the local community and this fan promises to contact at least one organization from Be the Solution.
In the meantime, just play football, guys. Welcome back.