THE MORNING AFTER: For one day, NFL players and owners together as one
CHICAGO – Thirty-years ago, this certainly seemed impossible. Just six years ago, it would have been really unlikely.
History between those who run teams in the National Football League and those who play for them hasn’t been too kind. Six-times in the history of the league has tension between owners and players forced a work stoppage by one party or the other.
Thirty-years ago this season, it was so bad that for three weeks the owners brought in replacement players to take the regular’s place. In 2011, the owners locked out the players and despite a ten-year Collective Bargaining Agreement signed that year, already there are rumblings of another work stoppage once the deal expires.
That’s what makes photos like this one look just a bit unusual.
These are three examples of owners or front office personal standing side-by-side with their players during the National Anthem. It comes after President Trump called for the firing of NFL players who would hold any form of protest during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner before games.
His reference to players as “Son of (expletives)” was especially troubling for everyone involved. So powerful was the statement, that it brought two traditionally divisive segments of the football world together.
The same happened in Chicago, where it was expected some sort of show of unity would occur when the Bears faced the Steelers. Before that happened, each team’s players got their ownership to back whatever they did.
This was the public statement by the Bears’ chairman. The night before, George McCaskey held a meeting with the team to personally voice his support according to offensive lineman Kyle Long, who returned to the lineup after missing ten months with an ankle injury on Sunday.
“I have a lot of respect for Mr. McCaskey and the McCaskey family for all they’ve done for us and they’re open book style,” said Long when asked about the owner’s support for the players this weekend. “It’s never wondering what they’re thinking. They’re very direct, they’re very respectful to the guys in this place and love I love that about the McCaskeys.”
Players were happy to feel the love on the Bears’ sideline when the locked arms during the playing of the anthem at a summer-like Soldier Field. With the exception of one player – former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva who stood in the tunnel – the Steelers stayed in the locker room as their protest to the words of President Trump.
“You see, every game we stand up for the flag, as a Bear. Just what was being said against us as professional athletes, we thought it was uncalled for,” said Bears defensive back Sherrick McManus. “Sowe wanted to make a stance as a team, as NFL players; we united together.”
Art Rooney II publically had his team’s back. George McCaskey did too before the Bears picked up a thrilling 23-17 overtime victory over Pittsburgh.
Owners backing players, and then they responded with praise.
With all of the issues in professional football moving forward, these two groups of people won’t always see eye-to-eye. But for one afternoon, united by the words of another, the were locked arm-in-arm.