Jim Brown’s Lesson for the NFL

About five years ago, Rush Limbaugh predicted the end of the National Football League. Drawing on the rash of stories about professional football players prone to concussion, the radio talk giant saw clearly that the Left would use a serious and very real problem to try to bring down yet another time-honored American institution. The NFL’s method of handling the bad publicity was to pour money into studies and agree to a $1 billion class-action settlement for retired players and their families. No one believes the NFL should not address an important health issue and it appears, in the wake of that public relations counterpunch, most Americans have come to grips with the inherent risk of playing a violent game and the fact that no one is forced to play. Choice won out.

But as Michael Walsh is always warning, the Left never stops, never sleeps, and never quits. There’s always another arrow in their quiver and if the concussions story missed the target, perhaps the Colin Kaepernick campaign to kneel in protest during the national anthem would be a surer bet.

The Kaepernick story even had the promise of being a bullseye in its potential to undermine both football and American patriotism in one clean shot. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback started the trend of refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” last year at the start of a preseason game, later explaining, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Some other players in football and other professional sports followed suit. For the most part, however, the protest has generated more scorn than applause.

One reason for that is the strong suspicion that Kaepernick was just an opportunist looking to grab some headlines as his football skills were waning. Another is the scuttlebutt that Colin’s new squeeze is a radical activist who encouraged him to protest in an overt (and self-destructive) way. Whatever the reason, the move doesn’t seem to have worked in his favor. Now a free agent, Kaepernick remains unsigned. The stunt hasn’t exactly endeared other Leftists to the public, either.

Last week, before a preseason game, the Cleveland Browns decided they were going to try and “win” something (a concept otherwise lost on them for a long many years) by becoming the team with the largest number of anthem kneelers.

For a brief moment, the protest seemed to pay off. Weak-kneed coaches, wishy-washy owners, and moronic PR flacks made excuses for the antics of these wealthy man-children who thought they were accomplishing something important by insulting a large swathe of their fan base. Nobody in the NFL seemed capable of expressing anything other than fear—and why not? In the media world surrounding professional sports, political correctness is a powerful force. And on the other side, the specter of boycotts loomed large if these protests spread. Uttering the wrong word about them could cost the league millions of dollars in lost advertising, but the ongoing controversy could cost them in ticket sales. Playing it safe down the middle, if not the smart move (because, ultimately, impossible), was at least an understandable instinct. They were set to catch it on both ends.

And then came Jim Brown.

For Clevelanders and football fans alike, Jim Brown is more than just a legend in this city. He is a demigod. He was the Cleveland Browns during their glory days and before the Super Bowl became the sine qua non defining football greatness. He held the NFL rushing record of 12,312 yards until it was broken by the Chicago Bears’ Walter Payton in 1984. Brown is still the Cleveland Browns all-time leading rusher.

Sadly, Brown left the team and the NFL suddenly, prior to the start of the 1966 season. He had bigger goals—the most important being a dedication to racial justice. His activism upset some, encouraged others, and inspired many. He wasn’t the easiest person to talk to or to reason with, but no matter what he said or what he did, the respect he earned was always warranted. His image has been a formidable presence in a city short on championships. He has been a symbol of pride for Cleveland even during the darkest days of burning rivers, blown saves in game seven, and last minute fumbles. It was fitting that Brown played a big role in Cleveland’s first championship parade in decades when the Cavaliers finally ended our city’s sports drought in 2016.

Jim Brown is not someone the Left can credibly challenge. His social justice bona fides set him apart. No liberal could successfully denigrate his position when it comes to standing for the national anthem. It was natural for reporters to make tracks to get his take on the Browns controversy, however, and it’s likely they were surprised at his reaction and some were certainly disappointed.

align=”left” What Brown did was perfect and so typical of a man who has led a life of excellence and integrity. He shamed those players into civilized behavior.

“I’m going to give you the real deal: I’m an American,” Brown said. “I don’t desecrate my flag and my national anthem. I’m not gonna do anything against the flag and national anthem. I’m going to work within those situations. But this is my country, and I’ll work out the problems, but I’ll do it in an intelligent manner.”

When Brown speaks, people listen. And so when the Browns took the field this weekend, no one kneeled. They stood with their arms entwined to assuage their embarrassment, but kneeling was out of the question.

What Brown did was perfect and so typical of a man who has led a life of excellence and integrity. He shamed those players into civilized behavior.

And that—not boycotts or harassment or complaining or wishy washy excuses—is how we should all handle these shameful tantrums. Shame them. Mock them. Scorn them. And let them know that until they actually want to do something meaningful in their lives that makes such protests credible, they’d best mind their manners and remember what they are being paid to do.

The NFL is a great product, but as with all great products, the consumer can be fickle if it doesn’t live up to expected standards. The owners and management of the NFL should cease making lame excuses for their rude players in order not to raise the ire of loud Leftists intent on causing mischief. They should follow Brown’s lead.

No need to punish these players harshly; just treat them like the children they are. And then explain how it’s going to be. Make sure they remember who pays the bills: the fans. If the the fans aren’t happy (and most of them are not happy with this silliness), the ire of the social-justice warrior mob will be the least of the problems facing the NFL.

Perhaps if the Browns make it to the playoffs this year, we’ll forgive their bad behavior. But we’ll always be grateful to the great Jim Brown for reminding this generation how a real man behaves and what it actually means to be a winner.


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About Pamela Shuman Lange

Pamela Shuman Lange hails from Chagrin Falls, Ohio. A graduate of Wilson College, she has worked in development, marketing, and public relations for several liberal arts colleges and for National Review Institute. She is active in local politics and is an amateur FaceBook provocateur.