Welcome to Wednesday War Room! Here, Yahoo Sports’ football minds kick around the topics of the day with humor, insight, and perhaps even a little emotion. Today, we’re talking anthem protests and preseason injuries. Want to join in? Read on to see how. Onward!
Question 1: With the Cleveland Browns demonstrating en masse and a rally set for Wednesday in New York, where do you see the anthem story going next?
I think we’ll continue to see more and more players protest, particularly now that we’ve seen white players starting to join their black teammates, first with gestures, as Chris Long and Justin Britt did, and then with more active participation, as Cleveland’s Seth DeValve did (DeValve’s wife is a woman of color). The biggest step will be if one of the NFL’s white superstars – Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, JJ Watt – starts to take part as well. But then what? How do we actively engage in conversation beyond the angry ones over the method of protest and start talking about why Colin Kaepernick started protesting in the first place? We still need to discuss injustice and inequality and work toward solutions.
While it’s encouraging to see other players joining in on the anthem protest and supporting the message it sends, I’m not sure anything will change until an NFL owner or the league itself makes a statement in support of the right to protest. How powerful would it be if a respected league figure like John Mara or the Rooney family spoke in favor of players’ protests? Ultimately, the real issue at hand is bigger than a few players or the NFL but these would be small, but productive, steps.
I wonder if the NFL will eventually force players to stand. This is the NFL we’re talking about; they tell players how to wear their socks and fine them if they don’t comply. The NBA, a far more progressive-thinking league, has a rule about standing for the anthem. The NFL probably wishes it had thought ahead and had a rule in place before Colin Kaepernick’s protest, because I don’t think the league enjoys that this story has in some ways overshadowed the games. Of course if the NFL puts in a rule now it becomes an even bigger story, at least in the short term. But this is a conservative league and it will probably make some concession to the vocal minority that constantly complains about this issue.
Something’s going to have to give, one way or the other, and someone’s going to have to lose some face over this. Either the players are going to get bullied into standing, which seems an unwise position for the NFL to take, or the NFL itself is going to have to admit that there’s a world outside of the stadium. Hell, the NFL could reposition itself as a friend to certain political causes—doing enough to satisfy all sides of an argument while keeping the focus on its charitable efforts rather than, say, CTE. Rebranding itself as a benevolent rather than an enforcement organization would be a nice and cynical move, but it might be the NFL’s only way out of this.
Also, sorry, “keep your politics out of my sports” folks, but this isn’t going away. Might be time to think about WHY opinions upset you so much.
Question 2: You’re the head coach of an NFL team with a generational talent on your roster (think Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Aaron Rodgers). After seeing Odell Beckham Jr.’s career flash before his eyes, how do you adjust your star’s preseason playing time?
In theory? I wrap my stars in bubble wrap and store them safely offsite, far away from the stadium. In reality? This is a violent game, and accidents can happen at any point. Certainly, you only want your stars in against the other team’s first-team defense; no sense losing your icon to some scrub who can’t tackle properly. But timing, adrenaline, tackling … these things can’t be replicated in practice. Game speed is what you need.
I think it depends on the position. I cringe every time I see Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson carrying the ball, because he doesn’t need the extra punishment. But I think quarterbacks need to play a decent amount to be sharp for the regular season. It’s an impossible call to make. If you don’t play them, you’ll get criticized if you start the season slow. If you play them and they get hurt, you’re the idiot who got your star player hurt. I think I’d play most of my stars normally (unless they were a running back or coming off an injury) and just hope for the best.
Do you remember how great Adrian Peterson looked in the preseason in 2015? No, you don’t, because he didn’t play, but still managed to lead the NFL in rushing yards and TDs and the Vikings made the playoffs. There’s almost no benefit to having a veteran star player get significant snaps in the preseason. No teams are running unique or creative schemes, the risk of injury is increased, and you could have a situation where a player is trying to make a team or just generate buzz with a clean – but dangerous – hit on a star. It’s simple risk/reward. Sit them.
I don’t know that I would. Serious injuries can happen at any time, and they’re no less serious or unfortunate whether they happen in practice, a preseason game, or the second quarter of the regular-season opener. In the big picture, the answer is probably fewer exhibition games (two?) and maybe more of the joint practices favored by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick; Belichick has said in the past one of the reasons he likes joint practices is because it’s a more controlled environment.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.