Football Fans Tackle Recent National Anthem Protests
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
When the Green Bay Packers hosted the Chicago Bears last night, players from both teams stood during the national anthem. They locked arms in unity on each side of the field. No one took a knee as the anthem played. In the stands, some fans linked arms as well in response to a request that Packers players had posted on Facebook. NPR's Don Gonyea was at the game. He is on the line now from Green Bay. Good morning, Don.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.
KELLY: Now, President Trump's attacks on NFL players have seemed to make this past week's games it's all about politics and protest. So I have to ask, last night, you know, as the national anthem was playing and people were standing, was the focus on all that or was it on the football?
GONYEA: There was plenty of conversation. There was plenty of buzz. There was all of that about everything that's played out over the last week. But it was a relatively quiet night except for thunder, lightning and rain that sent players to the locker room and fans to the concourse at the end of the first quarter. But there was that scene you described during the anthem. It although felt really, really orderly, kind of like it's becoming routine already. These new rituals are being created.
KELLY: Now you were working the tailgates pre-game. Tough assignment, I know. What were you hearing from people who turned out for the game?
GONYEA: Well, let's meet a few of them, starting with 59-year-old Steve Tate of Madison. It's the state capital. It's a college town. More than six hours prior to kick off, I found him at a plaza across the street from Lambeau Field. To say he's a fanatic might be an understatement. He's got replica Super Bowl rings on his fingers.
STEVE TATE: This is just a shareholder Super Bowl 45 ring that the Green Bay Packers made for shareholders to buy after we won Super Bowl 45.
GONYEA: Tate is one of hundreds of thousands of Packer fans who actually hold a share of the publicly owned team. He also stood out yesterday in his Packers football pants, jersey, and on his head, a foam cheese head with the words NFL owner on it. But yesterday, he was reflecting on why NFL players had been protesting during the anthem, starting with former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year, who knelt to call attention to racial injustice and police brutality. Here's the tape.
TATE: You know, there's still issues. There's things that need to be worked on in this country.
GONYEA: Tate is a military veteran. He puts his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem. And he says he's fine with peaceful protest, but he's not sure what this protest is about now.
TATE: Is it about police officers and some - need some changes there? Is it about civil unrest? Is it about politics? Is it about patriotism?
GONYEA: Now, let's head up the block just a bit.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Anyone selling? Who's got extra tickets? Who's got extras?
GONYEA: I met Jennifer Maurer and Mike Caskey. They've been dating for a couple of years. She is wearing a Chicago Bears shirt. He's in a Packers jersey. Jennifer says not showing respect to the flag troubles her, but she also doesn't like the way President Trump inflamed the situation. Then there's the NFL and the players' response - linking arms, asking fans to do the same. To her, it's all just become a muddle.
JENNIFER MAURER: They haven't really fully explained what all that means. They just want you to stand up and do it with them. So, you know, what is their take on it? Why are we doing that, you know?
GONYEA: Maurer has lots of questions.
MAURER: How long is it going to go? How far is it going to go? I mean, what are we trying to accomplish? You know, where is it - what are we doing with this? Can we just watch football? Can we just have fun and watch football?
GONYEA: And here's her boyfriend Mike Caskey's take on it.
MIKE CASKEY: I watch football to get away from all this stuff. And I deserve that. I work. I listen to politics. I do my thing. So it's my right to have a good time. But, you know, this is in the background and we'll see what happens.
KELLY: Don Gonyea, it sounds like a lot of people just trying to make up their minds quite what to think of this whole controversy. Did you meet anybody for whom it's crystal clear?
GONYEA: Well, let's hear from Dale Van Lannen He's a retired Marine. I found him standing on the corner right at Lombardi Avenue, named after the Packers coach. He's wearing U.S. Marines football jersey. And he holds a sign that reads, take a stand with a hand on your heart.
DALE VAN LANNEN: I just want to give a little more attention to the flag. It means a lot. I'm a Vietnam vet, Marines. I'm proud of the country. I'm proud of what this flag stands for.
GONYEA: And as he stands there, he gets lots of praise from the big crowds passing by on their way to the stadium.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Semper fi.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Semper fi.
VAN LANNEN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Over loudspeaker) Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your 13-time world champion Green Bay Packers.
GONYEA: And about an hour later, the Packers take the field. The anthem played. Players locked arms. So, too, did some fans. And some saluted and put their hands over their heart.
KELLY: All right. That's NPR's Don Gonyea on the tailgate beat in Green Bay, Wis. Thanks, Don.
GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.