Last week, Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Ed Glazer hosted a fundraising event to raise money for Donald Trump’s re-election. The goal of the event was to raise $5 million, as attendees put forth $35,000 – $250,000 to attend. The event resulted in harsh criticism form Jemele Hill of ESPN, who wrote a column calling it “blatant hypocrisy.”
Hill believed it was hypocritical for the NFL – via Roger Goodell – to say it wanted to get out of politics, while an owner hosted a fundraising event at his home. “We’re not looking to get into politics, what we are looking to do is continue to get people to focus on football,” Goodell told reporters after meeting with the players to discuss the protests.
There are many layers here to dissect, but I do not believe this is an act of hypocrisy. I do not blame the NFL for wanting to end the players’ protest, as it clearly is not in the league’s best financial interest to divide fans. This is a result of the fans strongly disapproving of an intersection between sports and politics when it comes to the product being sold to the public.
What made the national anthem protest so damaging to the league is that everyone saw it occurring. The NFL’s political involvement created so much buzz – overshadowing coverage of the games – it blended over to create precarious situations for the outlets discussing the issue. So much so, it pushed the new ESPN President, Jimmy Pitaro, to stress that they need to focus “on serving the sports fan.”
The players kneeling during the anthem was a public protest that millions of consumers witnessed. That was the purpose of the protest — to maximize exposure to their cause by using the platform that could reach massive game audiences. It is not nearly the same as what happened with Glazer’s event. Glazer’s political involvement was the opposite, it was instead a private event that didn’t become a fixture in the living rooms of football viewers on Sundays. The apt comparison would be an owner publicly displaying a candidate or promoting a cause at a game.
Glazer most likely did not want his event to be publicized in the media. He was not publicly promoting the event; the Los Angeles Times broke the news. Glazer’s event appears to simply be him supporting his political beliefs in the most private environment — his home.
When reached by cellphone, a spokesperson for the Tampa Buccaneers declined to comment.
Glazer’s event is more similar to what occurred with various players of the Houston Texans organization when they donated $32,000 to a PAC to work toward issues important to NFL players. The donations were made outside of the stadium, were not intended to be shown to the masses – like Glazer’s event – and did not receive the pushback that the public protest did, even though they may comprise “politics.”
There would be no reason for the NFL to have an issue with Glazer’s actions, as they do not have an issue with the players being political in smaller settings. Michael Bennett, now of the Philadelphia Eagles, publicly supported Bernie Sanders at a media session wearing “Bernie 2016” gear. That smaller setting – not with millions watching – once again shows the NFL is fine with players being political as long as it does not create a black eye for the league’s bottom line.
Players can do what they want in their free time, and can even decide that they don’t want to visit the White House to meet with Donald Trump, as several did last year. That is expression outside of football, and players on all sides of the ideological spectrum have exercised that right in the past.
If the NFL begins to discipline, raise an issue with, or “blackball” one of the players for a private political activity, then there needs to be a serious discussion of hypocrisy. But Ed Glazer hosting a Donald Trump fundraiser is not remotely the same as Colin Kaepernick or Eric Reid taking a knee during the national anthem before an NFL game.