Granato's view: A simple solution to the NFL's anthem problems

Roger Goodell needs to step up. NFL.COM

We’ve done it again. I didn’t think we could, but we did. We’ve made one of the simplest things in the world as complex as advanced calculus (another thing I never understood.) Last year we couldn’t decide which bathroom we should use and it became a national issue, one that ended up costing North Carolina hundreds of millions of dollars in event revenues. This year we can’t decide whether to stand or kneel for the national anthem and it’s costing the NFL’s network partners hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenues.

Darren Rovell wrote this week that the networks will lose as much as $500 million due to lower ratings for NFL games. Is the kneeling issue completely to blame? No. A boring product, injuries to key stars, oversaturation of the product in the marketplace and other factors are all playing a role. But yet another controversy can’t be ignored. Domestic violence by NFL players and how the league reacted to it dominated the headlines a few years ago. For two long years it was the tedious and idiotic deflategate controversy that deflected the talk from the play on the field. Now it’s the anthem and all that that means.

I can’t tell you how many times over the last couple of years I’ve heard “you don’t understand.” Sure, there are things I can’t understand. I can’t understand what it’s like being African American in 2017. I don’t know what discrimination feels like. I know what it is but I can’t feel it. I just can’t. Thankfully I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent whose son or daughter has fallen defending our country. I don’t know what it feels like to see that casket draped in the American flag. I’ve seen it. I just don’t know the heartache it brings.

What I can understand is how passionate each side must feel about their position on the issue, how badly African Americans want equality, and how much that flag must mean to someone who lost a loved one defending it. The kneelers and those who support them will tell you though that’s it’s not about the flag. It’s a silent protest against racial injustice. As Americans we have the right to peacefully protest however we see fit. The kneelers have that right. By the same token the anti-kneelers have the right to feel that something they believe in and have always defended unwaveringly is being disrespected.

Unfortunately this has sidetracked the issue. Do we spend more time talking about how to cure social injustice or that NFL players are disrespectful. It’s not even close. What is supposed to bring attention to the issue has drowned it. It’s become all about the flag and that’s bad business for the NFL. A recent poll showed that 49% believed that kneeling was a negative. In any business if half the people have a negative opinion of one of your practices you have to change that practice.

That’s where Roger Goodell comes in. Under his leadership the league has become as profitable as ever but it’s also taken its biggest hit public relations-wise. The shield is tarnished. His bungling of the domestic violence issue, his high handedness in the deflategate controversy and now his virtual silence in the anthem protests have been killing the league. A report this week said he refused to demand the players stand even though that’s what the owners told him to do. His inactivity in this wave of controversy speaks volumes about his inability to lead in times of duress.

Demanding they stand is probably not the answer though, not with the makeup of the league. Jesse Jackson and Stephen A. Smith among others have referred to the slave mentality of the league. While many think it’s ridiculous and insulting to those who had to endure real slavery, ordering that they stand would only enhance this belief. So what can possibly be done? How can he stem the tide of negativity that has engulfed the league?

To me it’s a simple answer. Play the national anthem before the players leave the locker room. Being on the field for the anthem is a policy not a rule. It states in the NFL’s game operations that players are strongly encouraged to stand at attention with helmets in hand for the anthem. Until 2009 players in primetime games were not on the field for the anthem due to television timing concerns. If something so mundane could keep the players off the field certainly something that 50% of your audience feels is detrimental to your image can too.  

Instead of a negative approach the league should promote positive initiatives. If the players are adamant about social change then NFL sponsored town hall meetings with players, police and local youth may open a dialogue that could promote change. NFL sponsored after-school activities might keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.

The NFL can pay for police training that would discourage a shoot first attitude. They could sponsor alternative lifestyle programs in our most dangerous areas. Instead of losing hundreds of millions by sitting on their hands they can take a hands-on approach that might win fans back.

I know I’m not the only one who’s sick of this subject. It’s tiresome. Both sides have made their point. It’s time to take action, Roger Goodell. It’s time to play football without political agendas. It’s supposed to be entertainment. Let’s get back to having fun. Here in Houston we understand that time won’t come until Deshaun comes back, but we can wait.

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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