Reimer: Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth's condemnation of anthem protests offers strong indication of where NFL stands

Alex Reimer
November 06, 2017 - 11:46 am

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has chosen its words carefully when it comes to the issue of players kneeling during the national anthem. While some owners have offered strong repudiations of the movement, most notably Jerry Jones and Bob McNair, the league office has been mealymouthed. On one hand, commissioner Roger Goodell says he thinks all players should stand for the “Star-Spangled Banner.” But on the other hand, he’s refused to implement any policy of the sort. The league office’s actual viewpoint on the matter appears muddied. 

That is, perhaps until the first half of Raiders-Dolphins on “Sunday Night Football.” Commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth seldom stray from league talking points, covering for the NFL on domestic violence numerous times over the last couple of years. During Week 1, the duo refused to discuss Ezekiel Elliott’s domestic violence case, which was one of the biggest stories of the offseason. Two years ago, shortly after Bob Mueller’s Report was released on the bungled Rice investigation, Collinsworth said he “never doubted Goodell’s integrity.”

As the voices of the NFL’s signature property, it seems as if Michaels and Collinsworth serve as covert spokesmen for the league office. They pass off Shield-approved messaging as unbiased commentary, playing their role to direct the narrative in the NFL’s favor. 

Prior to game time, three Dolphins players –– safety Michael Thomas, wide receiver Kenny Stills, tight end Julius Thomas –– knelt for the national anthem. They said they spoke beforehand with head coach Adam Gase, who agreed to loosen up his policy. During previous weeks, Dolphins players have been required to either stand for the anthem on the field or wait in the locker room. Kneeling or sitting wasn’t tolerated.

Michaels and Collinsworth, who routinely avoid discussing pertinent off-field issues, went all-in on players who kneel during a brief discussion of the topic. Collinsworth talked about the complexity of the issue, whereas Michaels called it the “ultimate distraction.” The legendary play-by-play voice also said the “league hates it.”

Even though the number of protesting players is insignificant –– fewer than two dozen protested in some fashion this week –– Goodell continues to feel the pressure. Earlier this month, it was reported that Jones and 16 other owners want to halt Goodell’s contract extension over a variety of issues, including the anthem demonstrations. Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter, a longtime league sponsor, recently blasted Goodell’s handling of the issue –– blaming the chain’s slumping sales on the protests. Since Jones owns a 49-percent interest in Papa John’s, some have speculated he was behind Schnatter’s strongly worded statement.

Goodell may feel as if he can’t condemn protesting players. It would likely further erode his contentious relationship with the NFL Players’ Association, and maybe more importantly, once again propel the issue back to the front page. At this stage, Goodell’s best option is to probably remain silent.

But that doesn’t mean others can’t do the league office’s bidding. It seems as if Michaels and Collinsworth were selected for the job this week. 

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