Sports Illustrated football writer/NFL mouthpiece Albert Breer has made it his life’s work to cozy up to NFL owners and GMs, eagerly slurp up their self-serving bullshit, and then vomit it back up on readers with an air of smug self-satisfaction. This is generally fine so far as it goes—it’s useful to know what spin NFL honchos are trying out on suckers on any given day, even if it involves hearing it from a guy who’s eager to truther black athletes about racism—but there are also times when it becomes impossible to ignore that even paying attention to this guy involves being vomited on for the benefit of the rich NFL-owner assholes he seems to so admire.
In his column yesterday, for instance, Breer commended the NFL for how it “resolved” the “anthem crisis.” Praising the way the NFL “resolved” anything to do with the anthem protests—not that Breer mentions this, but they involve players protesting systemic racial inequality and police violence—is, at best, like praising someone for putting a lit M-80 in his mouth and then tossing it away the second before it blows up. That’s assuming you’re dumb or cynical enough to think the actual story here is about how old, white NFL owners are dealing with the consequences for their brands and that of the NFL of their young, black employees being angry about injustice. Breer, who’s probably both that dumb and that cynical, asked his readers to use the limited time they have before God judges them or they dissolve into the void reading him slapping the owners on the back for outwaiting a controversy of their very own stupid making. It’s awful.
After pointlessly bragging about how he once woke up early to go for a run, Breer laid out how this year’s NFL owners meeting are different from last’s:
Last October, on the morning of the NFL fall meeting, I went for a run a little before 6 a.m. And because the league hotel was close to my route through lower Manhattan, I decided to jog past it along the way to see if there was any action yet.
There was more than a little. Right there on North End Ave. sat at least a dozen satellite trucks with live shots already beamed up, and everyone in place to cover a day that would start with a gaggle of owners and players meeting at the league’s Park Avenue office, and end here with the owners convening to sort out how to manage a tidal wave of controversy over players demonstrating during the national anthem.
That morning, Texans owner Bob McNair made his “inmates running the prison” comment. It was a few weeks removed from Donald Trump calling the players “sons of bitches.” Things couldn’t have been much worse.
Now, fast-forward a year. I watched as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who slipped out a back door and didn’t speak publicly last year, do a number of interviews on his way to the exit Wednesday, before quietly jumping into black car—parked right where those satellite trucks were in 2017—to head to the airport.
For Breer, the “crisis” isn’t that the league and team owners were trying to threaten players into giving up their ability to protest police killing unarmed black people, but that the league looked bad in the press. Fixing the issue isn’t, per this shithead, defined as McNair becoming any less terrible (he didn’t), or NFL players feeling any less at odds with their owners about their protests (it’s not clear that they do), or the billions in revenue the NFL generates being directed in meaningful amounts to causes players support (Breer lists off a handful of teams that donated relative pennies to unnamed causes). It’s about Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith not just having “handled” things, as Breer wrote, but having done so “quietly,” and about about Jerry Jones feeling comfortable hobnobbing with reporters again.
Seriously! Things get worse from there. Here’s the wised-up takeaway from the knowing funnel through whom the league’s shit gets poured:
Has the NFL been perfect on the anthem? No. Far from it. But for now, the league is riding a two-pronged solution that was so simple and grounded in common sense that … somehow it worked. And those two prongs can be laid out in nine words.
Work with the players.
Leave the anthem policy alone.
This is, of course, not even right; as my colleague Dom Cosentino wrote yesterday, after months of Trump-induced fear and ill-advised bumbling over anthem policies, owners were still trying to get an anthem policy in place as recently as the day before this season started, which they were unable to do because the NFLPA wouldn’t agree to it:
But on Sept. 5—one day before the start of the regular season—the Washington Post’s Mark Maske reported that “moderate owners” were still willing to waive any punishments in exchange for an endorsement from the NFLPA that all players should stand for the anthem. In other words, at least right up until the eve of the season, the league was bargaining for a pound of flesh in exchange for dropping the policy. It’s my understanding that the union balked at this. Then the season began, and very few players—Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills of the Dolphins, Marshawn Lynch of the Raiders, Michael Bennett of the Eagles, Eric Reid of the Panthers—have continued to demonstrate.
If the league and the owners had their way, they’d give some more money to social justice causes and players would be banned from kneeling during the anthem. That they didn’t get their way doesn’t speak to some magnanimous change of heart or even savvy understanding that implementing a punitive policy regarding protests would lead to more bad PR. It speaks to the power of the athletes whose labor generates pretty much all the money made by the NFL and related operations to, even under the direst of circumstances, have their demands met when they band together and confront their enemies. That’s the story, and it’s no accident that it isn’t one the person in the best position to get it is telling.