O Say Can You See? Yes! Quite Clearly!

OK ... understand up front:  I have no use whatsoever for Chelsea Manning and her practice of publishing the contents of confidential diplomatic cables between American and foreign embassies. In one professional incarnation, I and people who worked with and for me depended vitally for our security on the very confidentiality Manning so cavalierly violated. President Obama made a mistake in commuting her sentence.  However … I did learn something from her, albeit second-hand. I copied certain techniques and practices from Manning -- trust me, the following is not a “Snowden job” -- and was thus able to download an advance copy of the new rules the NFL and NBA will soon be publishing for how players are to comport themselves during the playing of the National Anthem. In abbreviated form, herewith a highly abridged sample from the new etiquette rule-book.

o When the National Anthem is played, all players, coaching staff, trainers, and medical personnel employed by the team absolutely, positively, and without exception must stand until the music finishes.

o If any member of the team is unable to stand, e.g., if the player had been injured in a previous game and is wheelchair-bound or otherwise immobilized, players must stand to the injured player’s right and left, and lift the player out of the wheelchair and into a more-or-less standing position during the playing of the Anthem. The team members holding the injured player up will be designated as “athletic supporters”. If the designated athletic supporters are heard to complain about this role, e.g., “Gawd! Being an athletic supporter puts me in a crotchety mood!” or “This guy was a 14th-round draft pick from Nostril Hair A&M, so why is there such a vas deferens between us?”, and if the critical remark is overheard and corroborated by at least two other team members, players or coaches, the complaining player(s) shall be suspended for two games. Finally, in the event of there being any ambiguity as to whether the wheelchair-bound player is standing sufficiently vertical, game officials will review the position of the injured player via instant video replay and determine if the injured player is sufficiently vertical, defined as plus or minus 3 degrees off the vertical. The penalty for insufficient verticality will be a $500,000 fine and a mandatory sentence of 36 straight hours listening to Milli Vanilli, assessed against the athletic supporters and the injured player. Suicide watch is therefore recommended for those thus penalized.

o Alternative forms of protest that shall be forbidden:

+ Rolling of players’ eyes during the Anthem. Technicians from both teams’ Front Offices will be stationed at confidential areas of the spectator seats, and will use infrared lasers to monitor the position of players’ eyeballs for illicit eye activity. During the playing of the Anthem, players’ eyeballs can roll radially no more rapidly than 2.5 arc-seconds per second.

+ Staring fixedly at the ground for more than 3 seconds during the playing of the Anthem, as determined by infrared lasers linked to an isotope clock installed in the stadium for this purpose

Tommie Smith and John Carlos rendering the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City

+ Failure to place the hand, with or without headgear, over the heart. Placement of hand over one’s crotch is not an acceptable substitute. Placement of hand over someone else’s crotch may be acceptable, provided there is evidence that this gesture was intended to honor the President. If the latter gesture is performed on a female sideline reporter for, e.g., ESPN, the player will be awarded a specially designed game ring, and a blank check for any resulting legal-defense fees.

+ If any arm or hand extremity is raised during the playing of the Anthem, the raised arm or hand absolutely must be encased in a brace or cast or some other enclosure making said extremity impossible to lower. This is especially true of middle fingers. Middle fingers of either hand protruding above the fist must be enclosed in a finger splint, and the broken finger necessitating the splint must be verified by a neutral doctor.

The NFL and NBA both realize that placing such draconian strictures on a team’s behavior may well result in emotional stress that demands a healthy and innocuous outlet. Herewith some positive and constructive modes of behavior, judged harmless or even healthy by NFL and NBA medical staff, as emotional “safety valves” for players otherwise frustrated by the above restrictions. These have been tried, though on a strictly ad hoc basis, in the past, and found to be quite effective.

o A practice colloquially known as “Tammy Wynette Therapy” (TWT). In TWT, a player and his significant other, preferably though not necessarily of the opposite sex, go to a hotel and call an elevator from the lobby. Upon the arrival of the elevator, the player punches his partner in the face, rendering her (him?) unconscious, then drags her (him?) into the elevator, and pushes the “Close Door” button.

o A refreshingly straightforward alternative to TWT is to capture feral dogs (or cats or chickens or mongoose or … etc. … ), train them to fight, and pit them in a ring with other animals similarly trained. Call it something like the “The Furry Fight Club” … and then never talk about it to non-Club members.

o Once your credentials for scrupulously respecting the National Anthem have been firmly established, you can branch out, you can diversify and, modeling your behavior on that of our beloved President, demonstrate an analogous respect for, e.g., the Flag, for veterans, and for the Constitution, to name just three obvious examples. For instance:

  • You can adopt the practice of flying the Stars and Stripes immediately adjacent to its Confederate counterpart, the Stars and Bars, the latter being readily available from your local KKK chapter or skin-head or neo-Nazi group whose good and gentle folks will be more than happy, one may be sure, to loan you one long-term.
  • Visit a local VA hospital and ridicule wounded veterans, especially amputees. PTSD sufferers and those with spastic-movement disorders resulting from Service-related neurological damage are especially opportune targets
  • Call up your teammates and even players on opposing teams and demonstrate your solidarity with them, even your rivals, by organizing a “Surveillance Night Party”: while remaining on public property, bring binoculars, telescopes, etc., and for several weeks at a time keep a Muslim mosque under surveillance by 24 / 7 shifts.

And always remember … these rules and the various forms of behavior resulting therefrom are all subsidized by NFL and NBA fans who buy the game tickets and the gear.  The fans may talk a good game about behavior they consider scandalous. But many of them – not all by any means, but certainly enough to maintain the oligopoly of both Big Sports monopolies – would rather steal money from their great-grandmothers’ kidney-dialysis fund than miss in-person attendance at a game or get their all-sports cable channel disconnected for non-payment of the monthly bill. Trust us:  they are happy getting precisely what they themselves pay for!

Bottom line:  it’s not your money that is paying for all the above. So have fun ... well ... bigly!

James R. Cowles

Image credits

Kneeling football team ... KeithJJ ... Public domain
Tim Tebow kneeling ... Ed Clemente Photography ... Public domain
Donald Trump ... Gage Skidmore ... CC by SA 2.0
Football game ... Craig O'Neal ... CC by SA 2.0
Brain comparison ... Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy ... CC by SA 4.0
Flag burning ... Jennifer Parr ... CC by SA 2.0
Black power salute 68 Olympics ... Angelo Cozzi ... Public domain

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