The Cleveland Browns made national news recently when a dozen members of the team knelt during the national anthem, the largest such protest to date in the NFL. In response, Cleveland’s police union has said its officers will not hold the American flag during the anthem prior to Browns games.
NFL players have offered various rationales for kneeling during the national anthem, from systemic injustice to specific critiques of police behavior. However, virtually all players who have spoken on their motivations have stressed that they do so out of a hope to improve the country they love.
That rationale didn’t fly with Cleveland’s police union. “It’s just ignorant for someone to [kneel],” Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president Steve Loomis told cleveland.com. “It just defies logic to me. The fact that management was aware of what they planned on doing, that’s as offensive as it can get.”
During the Browns’ initial protest prior to an Aug. 21 game against the New York Giants, the team issued a statement that tried to straddle the line between respecting the players’ opinion while stressing that the opinion wasn’t universal among the team.
“As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country’s National Anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad,” the Browns said. “We feel it’s important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition, at the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression.”
Cleveland reiterated that stance after players locked arms during the anthem prior to the Chicago Bears preseason game on Aug. 31.
Indeed, it’s worth noting that the Browns indicated the players’ community involvement may have actually opened their eyes to situations they wished to protest. “Professionally, thoughtfully, probably as thoughtfully as any others have,” Browns vice president of football operations Sashi Brown told cleveland.com. “These are guys that mean well. We really push our guys to be active and conscious about the communities they live in and what goes on around them that might be even larger than football. They do that, and we support them. We respect their efforts to use their platform to make some change and express themselves. And I think for all those guys that knelt initially and then last week decided to stand—I won’t get into why they made that decision—I think they are going about it in a very responsible and thoughtful way. I’m actually proud of them.”
Loomis called that approach “hypocritical,” adding that the anthem is “the very representation of what we stand for. That’s why we aren’t going to [hold the flag].”
It’s important to note that the Cleveland Police Department is not protesting or boycotting the Browns; this is the officers’ union. Cleveland police stressed that they are still committed to fulfilling their duties at Browns games.
“The union does not speak for the Division,” police department public information officer Jennifer Ciaccia told HuffPost. “The Division of Police is in no way boycotting the Browns, nor denying participation in events with our officers.”
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.
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