2017-10-23 12:55:03
On Pro Football: Cowboys Rout 49ers on the Field. But Who Won the Anthem Showdown?

12:55, October 23 209 0

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Civil Rights movement had Selma as a touchstone; the gay rights uprising took flight at the Stonewall Inn; and the N.F.L players’ campaign for social justice on Sunday had Levi’s Stadium as its epicenter. It was here last year that Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem in protest of racial oppression after several police shootings of black Americans.

On Sunday, it might as well have been Little Big Horn for the home team. The Dallas Cowboys’ 40-10 shellacking of the 49ers was the franchise’s worst defeat since 1980 and kept them winless for the seventh straight game.

Who won the national anthem showdown? It depends on your point of view.

The 49ers’ Eric Reid, who knelt alongside Kaepernick last season, did so again Sunday, as did six teammates, down from about two dozen at the peak a few weeks ago. Every player on the Cowboys, widely known as America’s team, remained upright, no doubt pleasing the team’s owner, Jerry Jones, who said players who disrespected the flag in his view by sitting or kneeling would not play.

Against Green Bay this month, defensive linemen Damontre Moore and David Irving had raised fists at the anthem’s conclusion. On Sunday, Irving raised his fist briefly, and Moore briefly did so, too, but only after the anthem was over.

“I know that he was very deliberate during the anthem and of course that’s the issue with me,” Jones said of Irving after the game.

In fact, the vast majority of N.F.L. players chose the Cowboys’ way when it came to the anthem on Sunday, suggesting enthusiasm for mixing football and politics is waning.

Eleven owners met with players and officials from the league and the players’ union last week to find a graceful way out of the impasse. Notably absent was Jones.

He holds close two statistics: How many players are protesting and what the demonstrations are doing to the bottom line. Through Week 6, the N.F.L. is down slightly in TV ratings, though that can be attributed to a variety of factors, including the continuing decline of cable television subscribers.

Last month, after President Trump called for any “son of a bitch” who knelt during the anthem to be fired , several owners stood with their teams for the anthem. None was as calculating as Jones. He linked arms with his team and knelt, then all rose before the anthem played.

No matter. Jones said that the team office was inundated with calls, emails and letters objecting to the gesture.

Jones may have been in an ebullient mood after the game Sunday, giving atta-boys to his players for the rout that brought the Cowboys to 3-3. He was expansive on the three-touchdown performance of running back Ezekial Elliott, who won a temporary injunction to hold off his six-game suspension by the N.F.L. for his role in a domestic-violence case.

Still, the anthem controversy was on his mind.

“There is no question the league is suffering negative effects from this protest,” he said.

Trump on Monday tried to keep the fires burning, sending out a tweet that said, “Two dozen N.F.L. players continue to kneel during the National Anthem, showing total disrespect to our Flag & Country. No leadership in NFL!”

What he overlooks is that over the past year, N.F.L. players have sustained a national dialogue about social justice that often only briefly pops up after police shootings or society-rending riots.

Whether you like it or not, the N.F.L is among the most watched pieces of entertainment on the planet, with a massive platform. Many players have used it to provide poignant moments.

The Seahawks’ Michael Bennett brought a military wife to tears of understanding as he exchanged views with veterans outside the gates of the team’s practice complex. His teammate Doug Baldwin Jr. joined N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017.

The Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate with a Bronze Star for valor as a platoon leader in Afghanistan, memorably stood by himself with his hand over his heart during the anthem as his team waited off field. He then movingly explained why he could not turn his back on the flag and apologized to his teammates for botching the team’s plans and making them look bad.

None of it has done much good for Kaepernick or the team that he once took to the Super Bowl. Last week, he filed a complaint against the N.F.L., accusing all 32 teams of colluding to keep him out of the league. He is an activist now and has more than likely kissed away whatever slim chance he had to play in the N.F.L again.

On Sunday, there were plenty of empty seats here and about half the filled ones were inhabited by fans wearing the blue and white of the Cowboys. Levi’s Stadium hasn’t been a popular home for the 49ers since opening in 2014. Fans complain that the tickets are too expensive and the commute is too far from San Francisco.

Still, it was a jarring sight on an afternoon that San Francisco legend Joe Montana and more than 30 members of the 49ers’ Super Bowl winning teams were here at halftime to honor another icon, Dwight Clark, who is battling the neurological disease A.L.S. It was Montana and Clark who teamed up for “The Catch” in 1982, one of the most famous plays in N.F.L history, a 6-yard pass in the back of the end zone in the final minute to beat the Cowboys and advance to the Super Bowl.

Those glory days seem like ancient history. In the locker room after the game, Kaepernick and social awareness meant little to a winless and beaten up team. C.J. Beathard, the rookie quarterback who was sacked five times, summed up the 49ers’ season like a 10-year veteran.

Sure, it was a massacre, but hardly a last stand.

“Yeah, we are 0-7. There’s only one way to go, and that’s up,” he told reporters. “And we’ve got a lot of season left ahead of us to get better, turn the season around and make something out of it.”