Michael Strahan said Monday that if he were still playing in the NFL, he likely would kneel during the national anthem. In an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’s daytime talk show, the Pro Football Hall of Famer cited his father’s military service in claiming that the protests staged by Colin Kaepernick were not meant to be disrespectful of “anybody in the armed services.”
Only a handful of NFL players have been staging protests this year, in August preseason games and through Week 1 of the regular season. However, the issue has continued to generate headlines, in part because President Trump continues to harp on it and also because Kaepernick was recently unveiled as the centerpiece of a major new Nike ad campaign.
Asked by DeGeneres about the risk Nike possibly took in promoting such a polarizing figure, Strahan replied, “They’re smart, they know what they’re doing.” The former Giants defensive end, who has gone on to even greater fame as a daytime host and is now a co-anchor on “Good Morning America,” said his understanding was that Nike got more than $100 million in advertising from the coverage of its Kaepernick campaign.
The former 49ers quarterback has been out of the league since becoming a free agent in March 2017, and in a grievance filing with the NFL, he is accusing team owners of colluding to keep him out of the league as punishment for his role in originating the demonstrations, meant to raise awareness of racial injustice and police brutality. A slogan accompanying the Nike campaign bears this message: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
In Kaepernick’s absence last season, several NFL players continued the protests, but fewer appeared inclined to do so in the first week of the NFL season. Marshawn Lynch of the Oakland Raiders remained seated before the Monday night game, continuing to demonstrate as he did last season. The Dolphins’ Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson were the only players who knelt Sunday during the anthem, as Kaepernick did, with the Eagles’ Michael Bennett taking a seat near the end of the anthem before Thursday’s season opener. On Sunday, Miami’s Robert Quinn and San Francisco’s Marquise Goodwin reportedly raised fists and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Brandon Marshall stayed off the sideline altogether.
“If you were still playing football today, do you think you would take a knee, or what do you think you’d do?” Strahan was asked Monday.
After first joking that if he were still playing football today, he’d be “old as dirt,” Strahan replied, “You know, I don’t know. I think I would have, I think I would have.”
“I would have had a conversation with my dad, and based on that conversation, and conversations, I’ve had with him, I’m pretty sure I would have,” he continued.
The 46-year-old, whose congenial nature has made him a popular TV host and pitchman, added that he “also would have been proactive in getting more organized,” because “there needs to be more organization between the players and the ownership.”
“When you look at other sports, they kind of have it together,” Strahan said. “Football, it seems to be a fracture between players and ownership, and they need to get that together in order to get the message out there in the right way, and not let the message become hijacked and turned into something that it was never intended to be.”
Those comments echoed some Strahan made in an appearance on “Ellen” in October 2017. “You have a right to protest, but I think the crazy thing is, the reason for the [NFL] protests has been completely lost in all of this,” he said at the time. “ … It’s about racial inequality, it’s not about the flag, it’s not about disrespecting soldiers.”
Several players have expressed frustration that the point of the protests has been lost amid a torrent of criticism, by Trump and others, that those engaging in them are disrespecting the flag and the sacrifices of military veterans. However, since last season the NFL and groups of players have been in discussions on how to come to a resolution on the issue of the protests, without success.
In May, the league announced a new policy aimed at ending the demonstrations, with players mandated to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” Teams were to be fined by the league if the policy was violated by players, who also would have the option of staying in their respective locker rooms during the song.
That policy was put on hold in July, though, as the NFL, criticized for having tried to impose it unilaterally, elected to work with the players union to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution. Those talks have yet to conclude, meaning that players have been free to stage protests.
“That’s one of the things you can do in this country, is you can protest, and he’s protesting injustices that he sees happening,” Strahan said Monday of Kaepernick. “And I take my hat off to him, because he really did sacrifice and put so much on the line for other people that he had no idea who they were. He never met them, did not know them, and he put his whole life and career on the line.”
Noting the service of his father, a retired U.S. Army major, Strahan told DeGeneres, “I know why [Kaepernick] knelt was not in any disrespect to the military or anybody in the armed services, because I have an appreciation for that. And when my father, who’s 81, can look at me and tell me that he’s not offended, and that he understands, then how could I — who didn’t do that service — be offended?”
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