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Here’s a confession – I haven’t watched an NFL game for several years.  There have been a few exceptions here and there – parts of a Super Bowl, mostly because the kids were interested in the outcome, etc.  I stopped watching football regularly though when we moved to Finland back in the summer of 2014.  Having been a long time Buffalo Bills fan, it was easy to stop watching – my team sucked – for many years.  And frankly, I was tired of rooting for a crappy team that never seemed interested in doing anything to become uncrappy.

Then a decision was made that helped me see something else about the NFL – it was a decision to increase the number of games that the players play overseas.  There was talk about launching teams in Europe.  And it was then that I realized that all the NFL really cared about was making a profit – it was the almighty dollar demanding more human sacrifice.  In this case, sacrifice of the player’s health and the fans dollars and euros.  There was big money to be made at the expense of the players.  Granted, they aren’t doing shabby financially.  But still – how much are the players’ health worth?

The concussion situation doesn’t help the NFL either.  Again, a disregard for the players, all in the name of making a buck for the owners.

And us fans aren’t innocent in this.  It is our thirst for sport, for seeing the modern-day gladiators, hit each other violently.   Oh how willing we are to pay these owners to see violence done to people in the name of one of our own idols – entertainment.

And now yesterday we get the decision that players and teams can be fined if they offer a protest during the national anthem – kneeling silently.

This was a bad decision in many respects.  You can read about these in stories that are all over the news sites.  It was bad because it brought the issue up again – it was not being talked about.  It’s bad because it was based on fear of a certain politician – would his tweets have an impact on sales of tickets and merchandise.  It’s bad because it’s just going to cause more people to tune out.

But the biggest reason, and most important reason, that I saw was because the NFL made the decision based solely on finances.  There is money to be made and so rights and protests need to be pushed out-of-the-way.  This is what we in church call systemic sin.  This isn’t about the national anthem at all – it’s about making a profit off of people at their expense and pushing away anything that might impinge on that profit.  And it is something that pervades our culture, with limited escape.  We wrap the flag around this sin, as if washing in soldiers’ blood will cleanse us and save us.  And we demand that the presentation be a spectacle – full of pomp and circumstance, complete with a fly over of the jets.  We want to hear the roar of unity and since that doesn’t actually exist, the owners did what they could to create the illusion – they pushed the protest out of sight.  Nothing says American values and what the Anthem stands for like silencing peaceful protest apparently – all in the name of keeping the status quo of making a nice juicy profit.

Which is interesting since the NFL is a non-profit according to the tax law.  Look it up if you don’t believe me.  Yet, I don’t hear protests from people about these non-profit executives’ salaries. Why?  I often hear how terrible it is that a CEO of a non-profit, ones that actually impact people’s lives for the better, will be compensated six-figures or possibly more.  Yet, I hear no complaint about how terrible it is that the owner of a team that is part of a non-profit makes multi-millions and allows for these men to be billionaires.  Why?  Maybe it has something to do with the idea that it is easy to criticize the non-profits that are helping if we don’t contribute to them.  It’s much harder to criticize the NFL when we are contributing to these profits – we would have to do some self-examination and ask how we are contributing to propping up the system that exists.  And that would be a bit to uncomfortable and close to home for us I guess.

Yesterday I heard Fr. Richard Rohr speak about systemic sin in an interesting way.  He said that we have a world that upholds the seven deadly sins in a corporate (communal) way, but punishes individuals that practice these.  In other words, killing is ok when it is done by the state and is called war because it is for defending what we stand for, but it not ok when an individual does it.  We put statues up to people who caused great killing and suffering on behalf of the state, but punish individuals who do this on their own.  You can see this same type of logic in other areas as well.

This sends a mixed message at best.  And when we give a pass to such systemic sin but condemn individual sins, then we are fooling ourselves into thinking we can have a just and free society.  We aren’t really free at all – we are in bondage to sin.  A bondage that doesn’t allow for freedom.  A bondage that will squash any opposition that exists and silence those who question what is happening.

We think of these systems as super powerful.  Yet, the reality is they are weak beyond belief.  I say that knowing that really, there is a paradox.  These systems are very power – they have immense pull and sway over us.  Yet we willingly participate in them.  Sometimes we can’t avoid participating in them.  But think about this.  The only way these systems continue to persist is through threat and silencing opposition.  They are weak in this regard.  When exposed, they fall apart.  They can’t withstand the truth.  And they crumble like a statue made with clay feet.

The NFL is promoting greed corporately and wrapping it in the flag – as if the national anthem had anything to do with football.  As if what the anthem stood for was actually being promoted through football.  It isn’t.  But the NFL punishes individuals who use something supposedly cherished by what the anthem stands for – free speech.

The NFL has become an empire that demands allegiance and turning a blind eye to the systemic sin it is protecting and benefiting from.

This really has nothing to do with the national anthem or the flag.  If it did, they would follow all the rules related to how the flag should be used and how it should not be used – like on clothing.  But when profit is your idol, your god, then that doesn’t matter. All that matters is making appropriate sacrifices to your idol.  Players’ health and freedom of speech need to be sacrificed apparently – the gods demand it.  There’s a profit to be made.  There’s the spectacle of unity to be shown, even when it doesn’t exist.  Silence has to be forced on those who raise an issue.  It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.  Empires thrive on complacency and spectacle.  It’s also how they end up falling apart.  They get lazy and lethargic.  Their chants become empty and they are shown for what they are – greedy.  And eventually, the “barbarians” waltz into Rome and expose what is left as weak.