The disgraceful anti-American protests have damaged the NFL.
The league’s brand has taken a severe hit on multiple fronts.
But it’s also dividing locker rooms, as one player has alluded to.
Anthony Fasano of the Miami Dolphins admitted that distractions had derailed his team—which had high hopes going into the season.
Fasano was coy about the root of the distractions, but it isn’t difficult to imagine what he meant.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry felt it was time for Miami to overtake the dominant New England Patriots in the AFC East.
It’s time for a change,” Landry told MMQB in April, 2017. “I have all the respect in the world for the Patriots, and I respect Tom Brady tremendously. But they’re not our big brother anymore. New England’s won the division 14 of the last 16 years, something like that? It’s ridiculous. It’s a problem. We cannot let that happen anymore.”
Well, they let that happen, and not only did New England win the division again, but another division-rival, the Buffalo Bills; leapfrogged Miami in the standings and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
The 6-10 Dolphins are sitting at home right now.
“We have the talent and at times we played like an elite team but we couldn’t consistently play at that level in all three phases of the game,” Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano said. “I think that’s pretty much the reason why we’re 6-10.”
What went wrong?
“I think everyone had higher expectations for how things played out and you can look at so many different factors for what played a part in that,” Fasano said.
“Distractions, I would say, from a broad view,” Fasano said. “We couldn’t handle some distractions and overcome some adversities.”
“[Hurricane Irma], that’s part of the list,” Fasano said. “A quarterback change, a coaching change with the O-line position. There’s a lot of things.”
“A lot of things,” could include three players, Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and Michael Thomas, either kneeling during the national anthem, or staying in the locker room when it was played.
People who think this isn’t a distraction to a team, a locker room, might be misguided.
But Fasano, a Notre Dame graduate, is smart enough to realize that if he included that on his list of “distractions,” he would cause a national media firestorm. It’s a third-rail issue, and there no way he was going there.
But do you think Fasano, whose good friends with a police chief in New Jersey, was happy with teammates kneeling to protest the police?
Do you think the Dolphins QB Jay Cutler, who supported Donald J. Trump in the 2016 Presidential election, was happy with the anthem-kneeling? Trump has been a harsh critic of the anthem-kneelers.
Don’t you think this impacted Cutler’s chemistry with two important passing game targets – wide receiver Stills and tight end Thomas – who he worked with closely in practice and games?
Just because they don’t say anything publicly, it might be a mistake to perceive this as support for their anthem-kneeling teammates.
Many teams had some kneeling earlier in the season (especially after Trump’s September Alabama speech calling kneelers “SOB’s”), but it subsided. However, some teams had anthem-kneeling or sitting the entire year, like Miami, Seattle and the New York Giants.
All the three of those teams had disappointing seasons and failed to make the playoffs.
It’s fair to assume the protests did have an impact on certain teams. Earlier in the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had planned to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, but offensive lineman and Afghanistan veteran Alejandro Villanueva stood in the tunnel and saluted the flag.
The Steelers went on to lose to the lowly Chicago Bears and looked disorganized in the process. After the game, head coach Mike Tomlin was steamed and admitted the protest was a cluster you-know-what.
One player’s wife suggested the Oakland Raiders’ locker room had been destroyed by the anthem protests; she implied players didn’t block hard for franchise quarterback Derek Carr.
The veracity of the claims is impossible to substantiate, but the Raiders came into the season with Super Bowl aspirations after finishing 12-4, but fizzled out with a disappointing 6-10 where Carr and the passing game clearly regressed.
The reprehensible anthem protests have definitely been a blight on the NFL, and a point of contention in individual locker rooms.