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Volume 25 No. 198
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Anthem Issue Remains Front And Center Despite Effort To Move Focus

Stills (second from r) was one of the few players to kneel during the preseason
Photo: RESILIENT INNOVATION PLUS

The NFL's national anthem controversy "remains as big of a story line as ever" with the '18 season set to start in full this weekend, thanks to the ongoing negotiations between the league and the NFLPA, as well as the collusion grievances filed by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, according to Lindsay Jones of THE ATHLETIC. The goal for players is to remind fans the protests were "never about the anthem, the flag or the military, but about raising awareness about police brutality and systemic racial inequality against people of color." Players this offseason "successfully lobbied for criminal justice reform laws in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Massachusetts, hosted forums for district attorney candidates and wrote op-eds." Dolphins WR Kenny Stills, one of the few players to kneel during the preseason, "rented an RV and drove around the Southeast, to visit civil rights monuments, participate in rallies and meet with community organizers." He said, "I feel like the NFL could’ve done a better job of controlling the narrative from the beginning. You think if the NFL would have done something like Nike did [with its Kaepernick ad] ... then this thing would be going in a whole different direction. I think we’ve made progress but obviously we have a ways to go" (THEATHLETIC.com, 9/6).

NO PROTESTS IN OPENER: In Philadelphia, Les Bowen reported there were "no visible protests" during the anthem prior to Falcons-Eagles on Thursday. Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins stood on the sideline "with his hands clasped behind his back," while DE Michael Bennett "also stood." Jenkins during the preseason had "waited in the tunnel for the anthem to be played," while Bennett "waited in the locker room until the anthem was over" (PHILLY.com, 9/6). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell noted Bennett and RB Jay Ajayi "took seats on the bench near the end of 'The Star -Spangled Banner,' but that was the extent of it." Jenkins during pregame warmups "wore a shirt that read 'Ca$h bail = poverty trap'" (USATODAY.com, 9/6). Jenkins several days before Thursday's game said, "Me personally, I really want to get this conversation to move away from the anthem. I think it has served its purpose." He added that the Players Coalition is "'firing on all cylinders' but that he hasn’t spoken with Kaepernick or Reid in nearly a year" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/6).

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: In S.F., Ann Killion writes for "two full seasons, now going on a third, Kaepernick has loomed over the NFL." He is an "omnipresent reminder of the weight sports can carry; of messages of power, oppression, silencing, anger, racism, fear and corporate interests." Kaepernick has "become the most important face in today's NFL" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/7). In Boston, Jessica Heslam notes Nike execs "likely predicted" its ad campaign featuring Kaepernick would have "everyone talking about the brand as football season kicks off" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/7). But in DC, Kevin Blackistone noted neither Nike's print ad nor the spot that aired during NBC's broadcast of Thursday's game said anything about the reason Kaepernick "no longer played in the league, which was his protest ... against unchecked police lethality upon black men." Nike "bought Kaepernick's silhouette, but passed on his substance." Blackistone: "Most disappointing is that Kaepernick assented, apparently, to Nike's makeover" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/6). In Salt Lake City, Gordon Monson writes the ad "blurs what the protests were really about" and "monetizes them for a company trying to sell shoes." Monson: "It bastardizes and washes over the point Kaepernick was originally trying to make with his pregame gesture" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 9/7). Basketball analyst Len Elmore in a special to the N.Y. DAILY NEWS writes, "Though at first glance it’s easy to consider such a marketing campaign as a ploy, I see the Nike and Kaepernick alliance shortly being viewed as genuine in the hearts and minds of America." In the end, Nike will "thrive, in large part, due to this tilt towards the arc of justice" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/7).

SO FAR, SO GOOD: YAHOO SPORTS' Charles Robinson cited data from ad consulting service Ace Metrix that the Kaepernick ad "registered as a big hit." The spot "scored high marks with a broad base of the consumer population," registering in the "10th percentile of Ace Metrix's 'polarity' score." That means 90% of advertisements traced by Ace Metrix were "found to be more polarizing among viewers" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/6).