Hue Jackson gets the big picture surrounding the national anthem demonstrations in the NFL more fully than 99 percent of the people who have said or written about it in the past year.
The Cleveland Browns coach was right to point out using the Star-Spangled Banner and the American flag as vehicles of protest has steered the coverage and discussions off course consistently since the first time anyone noticed Colin Kaepernick was trying to do so last year.
That continued Monday night when the headlines were all about players making a gesture rather than what the gesture was about.
There's a big difference between getting to the substance of an issue in the first sentence rather than the second, especially in this day and age dominated by people getting much of their info by skimming headlines and tweets.
(Because who wants to wait any longer then they have to before getting their rage on?)
The gesture clearly angers a lot of people who are otherwise (or at least might become) sympathetic to the players’ messages regarding equality and police brutality.
Many have said repeatedly they support the right to protest but disagree with the method.
Like Jackson, they see the flag representing military sacrifices and the anthem as a time to reflect on them.
“I think everybody has a right to [protest], and I get it, but the national anthem means a lot to myself personally, the organization and our football team,” Jackson said early last week. “I haven’t really talked to our team about it. I would hope that we don’t have those issues.”
This isn’t an entirely new stance from someone in the football world, but it hasn’t been talked about much.
Jim Brown was an exception last year.
The Hall of Famer told NFL Network he supported Kaepernick 100 percent but wouldn’t follow his course of action.
“Now if you ask me ‘Would I do that?’ No I won’t, because I see it a little differently. I’m an American citizen, I pay my taxes, I want my equal rights but this is my country, and consequently I don’t want to open up for ISIS or anybody that will take away what we’ve already gained.”
Later in statements to the Syracuse football team, he warned of unintended consequences of the protests.
“When you think of the sacrifices our firefighters make, think about the service of soldiers in foreign lands and listen to their lives, you have to be careful that whatever you do, don’t cast a shadow on what these great people do.
“They make sure you have the right so speak out without retaliation, or at least no retaliation other than other people criticizing you.”
This might muddy the narrative for some, but ignoring or rejecting such sentiment (as nearly all media coverage has) is foolish — at least if we’re more interested in getting the players’ message across than grandstanding about it.
Jackson could have worded his first comments better, but he later went more in-depth into what he meant.
“My personal feeling is that over the last season, we've seen players come under unfair scrutiny for protesting during the anthem, mainly because the focus has become on whether or not a player is being disrespectful to the flag or military and not on the issue and cause attempting to be addressed by the protest.”
This is of course exactly what happened before, happened again last night and is happening this morning.
The Browns coach also noted his players already have a platform for expressing themselves to the public.
Reporters wander through NFL locker rooms looking to stick a mic and a camera in the face of anyone willing to talk (and some who aren’t) nearly every day in training camp and regularly throughout fall, spring and early summer.
There's also social media, The Players Tribune and even an old-fashioned op-ed in a newspaper, so finding a platform was never going to be an issue.
Fan reaction aside, involving the anthem and the flag has contributed to the generally woeful coverage of the whole affair while giving cynics and the faux-enlightened another excuse to cast aspersions on people who disagree with them about this and related topics.
That, of course, just makes discourse worse and further divides people.
So for whatever confusion Jackson created at the start, I'm glad he expressed himself. That needed to be said.
I'm also encouraged the players felt comfortable taking action after there were concerns their coach was repressing free expression.
Like Jackson, I support their right to do that whenever and wherever they want — even if I still think were mostly getting in their own way Monday night.
Just like their coach said they would.