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John Lynch: Anthem protest is divisive, but respects protesters’ right

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It’s hard to buy into football as, “a great beacon for the rest of culture,” as John Lynch put it.

The first weekend of the 2017 preseason brought with it a renewed group of National Anthem protesters, including Michael Bennett and Marshawn Lynch. Some players continued with the raised fist, while Bennett and Lynch elected to sit on the bench.

On Wednesday, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch was asked how he felt about the protests. He was asked if he supported them, tolerated them, and/or had concerns about them. Here’s a full transcript of what he had to say:

“I’ve got my own feelings about it. And I think my strongest feeling — we had a great deal the other day where we had four chairs up here, and there was Steve Young and Jerry Rice. And they talked about ‘the 49er way.’ And I always thought that’s one of the great things about this league. As a matter of fact, I think it’s a great beacon for the rest of culture, in terms of the way it should be. You strive for a common goal, and you have unity. And I think this game brings people together.

“So, I think personally when I see that, I think that’s divisive. And I understand guys see things and they’re not happy. They have that right. And I think we’ll always respect people’s rights. That doesn’t mean I believe that. I believe this game should be celebrated for what it is — I think, a tremendous unifier for our country, and for the way things should be.

“Bill Walsh used to speak about it. You take guys from all over the country, different socio-economic backgrounds, racial backgrounds, and you have friends for life. Warren Sapp’s here today, working with our defensive line, because he’s a buddy of mine and always will be. So those types of stories I think get lost in something like this. But they’ve got their reasons and we’ll always be respectful of those.”

Lynch was asked on follow-up if he would communicate with players should they protest. He said that he always wants to communicate, and over-communication is a good thing. He said they have not faced that yet, but if they do, there will be communication.

There has been a lot of talk about the importance of team unity, with people suggesting Colin Kaepernick and other protesters are disruptive influences hurting the team. I believe Jim Harbaugh had the best answer for someone who was not an initial fan of Colin Kaepernick’s protest.

Harbaugh initially said he did not respect the motivation or the action. However, after taking the time think about it, he seemingly came around in support of Kaepernick. He even wrote the introduction when Kaepernick was included in the Time 100. The former 49ers coach brought up the fact that Kaepernick is a teammate, and if one of your teammates is hurting, rather than ostracize them, take time to listen and better understand them. Harbaugh is a huge patriot, but also recognizes some of the issues Kaepernick has brought up.

Lynch isn’t the first person, and won’t be the last person who is not a fan of the Anthem protests. It sounds like a “respect the right, don’t respect the method” kind of argument, and we’ve been through that over and over again.

However, I take issue with my interpretation of another part of his comments. He talked about “the 49ers way” and how it is one of the great things about the NFL, and “a great beacon for the rest of culture, in terms of the way it should be.”

He is talking about football the game, but wrapping it up in some ways in the NFL as an entity. And this is something we regularly see from the NFL. It is primarily the way the league ingratiates itself with the military to convince people it is a paragon of virtue. And we see it in the discipline attempts from the league. It is this idea that “the shield” is something that should be respected as some kind of moral authority.

In reality, the NFL as an entity has repeatedly shown itself to be lacking considerably in moral character. Whether we’re talking about how they handle domestic violence or player health and safety, or a host of other issues, the NFL is far from the beacon of morality it tries to pretend to be.

This is not to say there aren’t virtuous people in positions of power in the NFL. And there are character building aspects of the game of football itself. But the actions of the league make it hard to view this as something that is a great beacon for America.

The NFL attempts to portray itself as such, but when it comes to execution, it comes up shortly fairly regularly. It is one of the many great complexities I find myself dealing with as a football fan. I recognize that I have to face my own hypocrisies in watching the game and cheering on the 49ers. Whether it be how I feel the league is handling Colin Kaepernick’s situation, how teams treat players like pieces of meat, or how teams are quick to look the other way in signing someone involved in vicious crimes, my own hypocrisy within this is something I find myself trying to reconcile regularly.