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Dreaming of a world where the NFL stands up for players

Patriots players took a knee during the national anthem before a September 2017 game against the Texans.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File


I mean, honestly, who’d believe it?

The National Football League has taken a tough stand, one that should make every patriotic American proud. I still can’t get over the statement the NFL released on Wednesday outlining its new policy regarding players who kneel in silent protest during the national anthem:

“Over the past year, the president of the United States has been railing against NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest causes dear to them. He has also repeatedly criticized NFL team owners for failing to discipline or even fire players for those protests.


“We know many NFL fans are upset by these protests. We have heard from you, and we understand your anger and concern. But we also understand that the right to express one’s opinion, whether by spoken or written word or through protest, silent or otherwise, is fundamental to the United States of America. In the American experience, protests and protesters for causes that were initially controversial — and indeed, that angered many — have helped change the course of history. That is true on matters ranging from women’s suffrage to civil rights to gay and lesbian rights to matters of war and peace. At their best, protests work because, though they may anger some of us, they also make us think. And with thought and reflection, we sometimes re-examine our positions, preconceptions, and prejudices.

“We of course understand that the constitutional right of free speech is a guarantee against government repression or censorship, and that it therefore does not mean that you can say whatever you want in the workplace without fear of consequences. But we are announcing today that we intend to honor the spirit of free speech in the National Football League.


“The protests our players have engaged in are not loud or disruptive. Rather, they are silent and dignified. We are perplexed about why some people are offended by a respectful protest. And we are united in our support of the right of NFL players to protest.

“What we find truly troubling is the attempt by the president of the United States of America to rally his supporters against NFL players who choose to engage in a silent protest. His criticism shows no regard for the American tradition of free speech and dissent. Instead, the most prominent and powerful person in our nation is using his position to provoke public ire against people with far less power than he. We find his actions, and not theirs, repugnant to American values. What, really, is more patriotic: having the courage to take a stand (or in this case, a knee) in support of a cause you believe in — or trying to force others to conform to your notion of propriety? That isn’t patriotism; it’s authoritarianism.

“Today we are also announcing that next season, we will start every broadcast of every game with a civic-service television spot reminding Americans of the value of free speech and of our long American tradition of dissent.

“We know full well that our course of action will anger some fans and perhaps lead them to turn against the NFL. But sometimes you simply have to take a stand. Although we are NFL owners, we are Americans first and foremost, and that means not just honoring dissent, but . . . ”

Huh? What? Um. . . .

Sorry, I must have dozed off. I . . . I was dreaming of an America where citizens respect free speech and dissent, even when they disagree with it. And where wealthy team owners have the courage to take a stand against a bullying president.

But that’s not the cowardly world we live in today, is it?

Scot Lehigh can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.