Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

The NFL owners chickened out.

They have had two options since the first time Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Actually, the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick’s employer, could have put an early end to what has become a major fiasco by telling Kaepernick he had to stand for the anthem or he wouldn’t dress for the next game.

But nobody knew the President of the United States was going to get involved and fan the flames and the 49ers were probably hoping it would go away after a game or two.

We know now that it didn’t go away and on Wednesday, the NFL tried to make everybody happy by allowing players who didn’t want to stand on the sideline to hide … err, sorry ... stay in the locker room.

This, of course, identifies the players who have a problem with the national anthem and opens them up for questions and criticism. Teams will be fined if any of their employees don’t respectfully stand when the song plays.

Some critics have said to avoid that, the entire team should agree to stay in the locker room. That would be making the assumption that there aren’t players on the team who actually think that singing/playing the Star Spangled Banner before a game is a nice tradition and one that they enjoy being a part of.

If the NFL owners weren’t wimps, they would tell every player, coach and trainer that he has to stand on the sideline during the national anthem or they would have made the decision to no longer play the song.

Not playing the song would have meant that Kaepernick won and that would have angered the paying customers just as much as taking a knee. But it still would have made more sense than giving people the option of hiding. If everybody’s not going to take part in the ritual, it needs to go away.

  • Nothing about this fiasco is more moronic than the claim that Kaepernick and his followers had no intention of disrespecting the flag. That’s exactly what was-is intended. People are asked to stand during the playing of the song for the express purpose of showing respect for the flag.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please stand and gentlemen remove your hats as we honor America with the singing of our national anthem.”

You might think it’s dumb. You might not have any interest in honoring America, but if you do the opposite of standing and drop to one knee, it is to do the opposite of respecting the flag and the country. It’s to show disrespect.

Own up to it and face the consequences.

And if you know that making a spectacle of yourself is going to anger the paying customers and cause your employer to lose money, you should expect to be fired.

If you were an NFL owner, would you see any value in hiring Kaepernick now?

  • New York Jets CEO Christopher Johnson says his players are free to protest during the anthem and the team will pay the fines imposed by the league. That’s a sign that the fines are way too small. I wonder how the host teams will feel if their fans are annoyed by Jets players taking a knee. One more reason to either make everybody stand or have the guts to end the tradition.
  • There are reports that the Penguins are trying to trade Phil Kessel and the speculation is that he annoyed his coach, Mike Sullivan, by playing through injuries and hurting his team in order to maintain his streak of not missing a game since 2009. Sorry, but if true, I have to blame the coach on that one. Kessel owes it to his teammates to sit out if he thinks whoever replaces him gives them a better chance to win, but the coach’s first job is setting the starting lineup. If Sullivan thought Kessel was not helping the team, he should have scratched him. Same would go for Sidney Crosby.
  • Austin Meadows has Pirates fans saying that he’s a better player than Gregory Polanco and should be in the starting lineup. He had played seven games before Saturday night and was hitting .448 with three home runs and five RBI. There’s no doubt he’s a better player than Polanco, who’s hitting .225 since last year’s All Star break, right now.

But Polanco had everybody just as excited when he came up in June of 2014. He hit .387 in his first seven games and had a hit in every one of his first 11 games. This was after hitting close to .400 in Triple A before being called up.

Wait.

  • ESPN is bringing Keith Olberman back. That should help with the left leaning politics that have been cited as the cause of millions of people deciding not to watch.
  • Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr says the NFL is simply trying to appeal to its fan base with the new national anthem policy. Imagine the nerve of a league trying to appeal to its fan base.
  • Here’s Polanco month to month going back to last season:

August .125, September .214, March .600, April .177, May. 250.

There’s a three month stretch not counting a few days in March when he hit .172.

That’s not a slump. That’s a disaster.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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