Long after the 2017 NFL season concluded, the national anthem debate remained, thanks in large part to presidents — both of clubs and country —keeping the issue at the forefront.
With the league’s new anthem policy quickly created and then shelved, it remains to be seen what the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens will do when they kick off the preseason slate with Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
Whatever the Bears decide to do (last year, the team stood with linked arms under coach John Fox), it has been made clear it will be done as a team under new coach Matt Nagy.
“It’s everybody. That’s how we do things around here and I think that’s the beauty of it,” Nagy said after Tuesday’s practice. “I know everybody else feels that way and that’s what makes it so easy for so many of us to understand that and feel good.”
Veteran outside linebacker Sam Acho, the team’s NFL Players Association representative and vice president of the association’s executive committee, had plenty to say about the anthem and what the team plans to do, building off Nagy’s statement.
“There’s some serious issues going on in this world: death, despair, sadness, grief,” Acho said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’m confident that whatever comes out on Thursday, what we do as a team, we’re going to do it together.”
Later on during his session with reporters, Acho went into more detail about the diverse backgrounds of the team and the beauty in seeing that diversity unite together as it will prior to Thursday’s game.
“It’s really hard. It can be confusing at times on how you find an answer, how you find a solution, because not everyone has the same beliefs, not everyone has the same experiences, not everyone has the same skin color, not everyone has the same religious background, not everyone has the same sexual orientation,” Acho said. “We come from so many different backgrounds and so many different experiences, so it’s going to be hard to figure out one solution that fits everyone.
“Even if you don’t agree or you haven’t experienced some pain that somebody else has experienced, you do it for them.”
The ability for players with plethoras of various backgrounds to unite is not reflective of what’s happening in a growingly disparate America. Aside from the locker room, it’s a struggle for people with different viewpoints to have a successful dialogue.
The current trend of MLB players having their old, racist and homophobic tweets from their high school days brought back into the limelight demonstrates the realities that were being protested to begin this debate.
After Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader had some of his old tweets injected into the media cycle during the All-Star game, he returned to Milwaukee to a standing ovation.
I doubt a black player who tweeted the word “cracker” would receive the same.
For Hader, Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner and Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb, their tweets were excused with the fact that they were 17 and 18-year-olds ... still children.
While I think that any age post-driver’s permit is too old to excuse such blatant racism and homophobia, there definitely is something to be said for maturity and growth as a person.
But if that’s the case, why was 17 year-old Trayvon Martin allowed to be murdered for wearing a hoodie while black? He was the same age as these players were. They’re kids that can be forgiven, while Martin is a memory.
That ability of perspective is something Acho and the Bears organization, from Chairman George McCaskey on down, hope to practice; not only with the anthem, but with the city of Chicago as well.
Acho said he recently spoke with McCaskey and the franchise plans on helping revive a city in “despair.”
“I’m confident that we’re going to make substantial and significant change in Chicago. That’s my goal,” Acho said. “I want to see the whole city of Chicago changed. I want to see the reputation of Chicago changed. I’m confident that we, as a team, are going to be big catalysts behind that.”
Acho said he and McCaskey have visited some of the city’s most vulnerable people and areas, an example of the perspective two people from totally different backgrounds gained together.
“He’s seen despair, I’ve seen despair. He’s seen grief, I’ve seen grief,” Acho said. “At the end of the day, we’re here to fight against that, I think that’s what it’s all about.
“We’re here to fight with our full will and power against that despair and grief and to bring joy, passion and power, specifically to the city of Chicago, because the city’s in despair.”
Acho’s comments Tuesday sum up what many have been trying to say with their silence. The players fans cheer, the players fans boo and mercilessly taunt from the stands? Those players are people, too.
And in many scenarios, such as Acho’s, they’re people trying to make a change.