Until February 4th of this year, the life an Eagles fan was one of disappointment, near misses, national mockery, and strained hearts. But, with a seemingly magical season and a whirlwind victory over the notorious New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, the Eagles and the city of Philadelphia were losers no more.
We embraced our newfound sense of glory with wonder and excitement, tears of joy, stories of great pain being lifted away, and middle fingers being held up to the rest of the world. What could possibly ruin this feeling? Enter the White House.
On June 4th, President Trump announced that the Philadelphia Eagles would not be visiting the White House as a team, nor as individuals, as is tradition. In an official statement, the White House said that “[The Eagles] disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.”
It’s worth noting that no member of the Eagles took a knee at any point during the season, despite previous reports to the contrary. Zach Ertz and Chris Long of the Eagles were quick to correct those erroneous reports.
The champions’ White House visit is nothing more than a glorified photo op, worthy of a few quick headlines in the team’s hometown, but it is a long held tradition in sports.
Even NHL teams, which are made up of Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and Asians, make the journey each year, although players have sat out in the past citing politics as the reason.
Eagles safety, Malcolm Jenkins, made his feelings clear on the pomp and circumstance only a few days after the Super Bowl stating, “Me personally, because it is not a meeting or a sit-down or anything like that, I’m just not interested in the photo op.… If you want to meet to talk about advancing our communities, changing our country, I am all for that. But this isn’t one of those meetings.” Jenkins has been a frequent visitor to Washington and Harrisburg to discuss a plethora of issues with state and federal representatives, as well as being a strong force in the Philadelphia community, which never goes unnoticed in the city.
How much further does this spat between what is arguably a handful of NFL players and the president have to go?
President Trump has used the NFL as a whipping boy for the majority of his presidency thus far, publicly decrying both the league and team owners for allowing players to take a knee in protest or in solidarity with teammates. The media continued to put forth the stories, both in positive and negative lights, and the fans began to stir as their beloved Sunday ritual was being disturbed. Then, only a few weeks prior to Trump’s announcement, a victory was seen as the NFL owners agreed to issue a new rule stating that players and teams may be disciplined if a player should do anything but stand for the anthem. If they cannot, they may remain in the locker room.
It is worth noting that even this was not enough for the president.
Let’s be clear: this is not a free speech issue, despite how much so many of us would like it to be.
Were the Trump administration to pass legislation forbidding players from protesting in any form on the field or if a state or the federal government were to punish teams in some way, then the issue would be clear and all hell would break loose in the form of litigation. Instead, this was the decision of private employers to discipline their employees for potentially hurting their brands and their bottom line.
This is not an unusual move in businesses that are public facing. Most recently, ABC parted ways with Roseanne Barr and canceled her newly rebooted show following an offensive tweet.
ABC saw that this could reflect poorly on the show and network, which they would ultimately feel in their pocket. Politics aside, this is not uncommon.
The real problem here is that the NFL caved to the president’s demands and altered their rules. At least one owner has stated that he would be willing to pay any player’s fines, should they protest, but this only makes one wonder how all thirty-two owners voted unanimously on the rule change.
President Trump is attempting something horribly dark in Washington: he’s attempting to mandate patriotism. By using one of the most public-facing companies (in the NFL) he has escalated what was really a non-issue that was blown up by pundits and a few trolls on twitter to an “us versus them” scenario.
If this government cannot make one stand for the national anthem by law, it will continue to divide opinion until someone finally breaks. In this case, it was the NFL.
Patriotism is not an external phenomenon that individuals come to embrace. It is an internal drive within the individual that they express as best they can. We grow up learning to love our country and our communities, which is reasonable to an extent, but when someone attempts to criticize something within our country, particularly in a manner that seems shocking or offensive, it feels as if we have been struck across the face.
Love of country cannot be mandated as that is how we transition from patriotism to nationalism; a leader who inspires patriotism in all its forms may be admired, but a leader who demands a public standard to which the public must display love of country flies in the face of what the United States truly represents as a nation.
While the Eagles remained in Philadelphia, continuing to prepare for the upcoming season, President Trump decided instead to have the US Marine Band and US Army Chorus perform the national anthem; a “Celebration of America” that the Philadelphia Eagles apparently despise.
While Trump’s loyal voter base may see this as something to admire, the forced show of patriotism only comes across as a stunt, designed to poke the disrespectful Eagles and turn more of the public against them and, by extension, any opponent of the president and his perception of proper patriotism.
It would seem that in the United States, the most American thing one can say is “to each, his own,” but this is no longer the case.
We must have opinions and those opinions must be equal to my own, lest you face persecution.
As with religion, faith only seems genuine when such genuflection is not compulsory, but voluntary. As such, patriotism must also be voluntary and may be expressed in many forms.
We are nation built on dissidence; questioning the motives and authority of the highest office in the land may be just about the most star-spangled thing one can do.
In the meantime, as opinion on the Eagles and NFL continues to be pulled apart and fans choose their sides in preparation for the new season, remember: We’re from Philly, no one likes us. We don’t care.
* Rory Margraf is a writer whose work has been included at Freedom Today Network, Speak Freely, and the Foundation for Economic Education. He spends his free time studying classical liberalism and how to apply those tenets to his home in the United States, Northern Ireland, and abroad.