The Orlando Magic invited 17 members of an exclusive U.S. Special Operations military unit to watch practice and meet the team on Wednesday.
These elite fighting men showed up at the Amway Center wearing T-shirts bearing the American flag with the inscription, “All In.”
Those T-shirts and these men symbolize why so many sports fans are so angry with the national anthem protests. In the minds of the masses, including President Donald Trump, NFL players are disrespecting these brave soldiers who are “All In” in fighting for our freedoms and defending our unalienable right to call each other names, spew venom at one another and argue about whether it’s un-American to kneel for the national anthem.
Hopefully, when the NBA season starts next month, this divisive trend of kneeling for anthem will blow over and players will find other ways to make a difference. Let’s face it, the Magic have already alienated their fan base enough by five straight years of unprecedented losing. Taking a knee for the anthem might just make the Amway Center emptier than Rick Pitino’s ethics manual.
However, from watching Magic players and coaches interact with the Special Ops unit on Wednesday, I don’t believe they are interested in taking part in any perceived anti-military gesture.
“We’re competing in a game; they’re jobs are far more important,” Magic coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re thankful and respect the heck out of what they do.”
Asked what it was like to meet the Special Ops unit, Magic point guard Elfrid Payton replied, “It’a a privilege just to be able to spend time with those guys.”
Payton is one of the Magic’s most community-minded players. Last season, he won the team’s Community Enrichment Award and the NBA’s Community Assist Award. He does good deeds such as taking dozens of local kids on cultural field trips to learn about local African-American history. Or sponsoring educational programs to expose fifth-graders to poetry, music, dance and painting. Or taking 100 local kids on a shopping spree during the holiday season.
Payton seems to be one of those Magic players who isn’t really into symbolic gestures. He seems more interested in getting his hands dirty than his knees.
“Those guys who took a knee, that’s cool and all, but for me personally I’m all about getting out there and actually doing something,” Payton says. “I’m all about solving problems.”
Even so, I talked to many Magic players this week about their stance on Trump and the NFL’s anthem kneelers and they almost unanimously sided with their athletic brethren.
Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac, the team’s top draft pick out of Florida State, called the protests “beautiful” and said, “I think every athlete should believe in something and not be afraid to speak on it. I think every league is going to be (more vocal on political issues). I think every league has to be, because every league has athletes who are African American or who come from a different background, and I think (athletes) have to say something about it.”
Most fans don’t have a problem with athletes speaking out; they only have a problem with them kneeling down. Taking a knee during the anthem has become the most divisive, volatile issue I’ve ever covered in sports. .
It doesn’t matter that the real reason most players are kneeling for the anthem is to bring awareness to racial inequality; the perceived reason is that they are simply disrespecting the flag. And if you’re disrespecting the flag then you are indirectly disrespecting the men and women of our armed forces who fight for the flag.
Trump, with his barrage of tweets lashing out at kneeling players and his profane plea to NFL owners to “fire the (SOBs)” who do kneel, has fanned these patriotic flames. He has re-ignited an issue that was on the verge of dying down. Two weeks ago, less than 10 players throughout the NFL took a knee; this week – after Trump went on the offensive – more than 250 players knelt.
Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Trump is winning this PR battle. According to a poll conducted Monday by the Remington Research Group, 46 percent of adults who voted in the last presidential election have a favorable opinion of Trump on this issue while just 37 percent have a favorable opinion of the NFL. These numbers seem to jibe with a Reuters poll last season in which 61 percent of Americans said they disagreed with Colin Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem.
In other words, the Orlando Magic and all other sports franchises and sports leagues might be wise to find another form of protest.
Kneeling for the national anthem is proving to be a star-spangled blunder.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.