Vahe Gregorian

Playing politics: Chiefs' Reid gets vocal in Kansas governor's race but not in NFL anthem flap

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, left, is appearing at a couple of fundraisers for Kansas gubernatorial candidate Jeff Colyer in June.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, left, is appearing at a couple of fundraisers for Kansas gubernatorial candidate Jeff Colyer in June.

On Monday in Wichita and Wednesday in Mission Hills, Chiefs coach Andy Reid will mingle at fundraisers for Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer’s campaign, at which supporters will be splurging from $500 to $4,000.

As Reid tells it and no doubt sees it, this is merely a favor for a friend, similar to gestures he recalled occasionally making on behalf of some politicians when he was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I’ve gotten to know him since I’ve been here, and I appreciate the man,” Reid said in a brief interview Thursday, smiling and adding, “And so I’m going to dinner with him.”

Reid deflected any insinuation about political implications, saying he’s not “the guy who’s into politics” and “that’s not what this is about.”

Whatever his intent or perception, though, it’s a political statement.

And while reasonable minds can disagree about the prudence of putting himself in this position, rare among active Kansas City sports figures, it’s a stance to which he’s entitled, like anyone else.

Perhaps it would have gone largely unnoticed in a vacuum.

But it’s amid the whirlwind in the wake of the NFL’s gutless, short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating decision last month to stomp out peaceful protests for social justice during the national anthem, a genuflection to those falsely conflating those gestures with anti-militarism and treason.

Specifically, the NFL’s decision last month to muzzle that opportunity for expression was a bizarre bow to President Donald Trump, whose influence Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told Sports Illustrated “certainly initiated some of the thinking and was a part of the entire picture” and was on the minds of many others.

In banning the kneeling, the league is heeling before the guy its owners largely publicly repudiated last year when he called protesting players “sons of bitches.”

And in celebration of the new rules calling for all players on the field to stand “and show respect for the flag,” Trump offered the appallingly un-American notion that “maybe (players) shouldn’t be in the country” if they want to protest.

Our country, of course, was built and stands on and was defended for its values, not its symbols.

And there is something tyrannical and deeply distressing about the notion of forced loyalty oaths and proclamations.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new policy on the national anthem during a press conference Wednesday. Players are not required to be on the field for the anthem, but will be fined if they are on the field and not standing for the anthem.

Conservative or liberal, anyone should agree: We don’t do that here.

So much so that the Supreme Court in 1943 held that compulsory saluting of the flag violated the First Amendment.

“Words uttered under coercion are proof of loyalty to nothing but self-interest,” Justice Hugo Black wrote in a concurring opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette. “Love of country must spring from willing hearts and free minds, inspired by a fair administration of wise laws.

“These laws must, to be consistent with the First Amendment, permit the widest toleration of conflicting viewpoints consistent with a society of free men.”

This isn’t the government, of course, so the NFL is as free as it wants to be to stand on the wrong side of history.

But the advisability of squelching the spirit of free speech is another matter, one that figures to boomerang on the NFL.

Perhaps particularly so considering that by the end of last season, fewer than 10 players were kneeling in protest and that the NFL Players Association is on fire about not being consulted on a policy it says “contradicts statements made to our player leadership.”

The alternative of staying in the locker room or tunnel is a phony compromise, especially given that it was a one-way compromise administrated by the NFL. It’s effectively part of a gag order to appease those who don’t want the real world to inconvenience their leisure time.

All of which is the backdrop Reid and owner Clark Hunt stand against, one that reeks of a double standard for Reid (even if the parallel is imperfect, considering Chiefs players evidently are free to express their convictions safely away from their biggest platform).

If you didn’t know better, you might even think the message is that it’s OK to stand up for a political cause the owner and coach believe in but not one that they don’t.

In fact, it’s interesting to speculate who would feel differently on all sides if players were protesting against some other complicated and controversial social issue that spoke to a different constituency, isn’t it?

Now, Reid is known as a player’s coach and has never said anything publicly objecting to players’ rights to express themselves.

He’s also a smart and compassionate man who has done many things for former players that he prefers to keep private but that others have shared with me.

For that matter, he’s fond of telling players to let their personalities show.

But Reid is profoundly conflict-averse, at least publicly, and works for Hunt.

And Hunt is dug in on this.

Hunt may or may not have directly had anything to do with moving the controversial Marcus Peters off the team after last season but obviously was a factor in Peters no longer protesting on the sideline.

Moreover, he has declared his preference that players stand for the anthem, was on board with this reportedly unanimous decision among owners (San Francisco abstained) and has shown zero inclination to stand up for players in this contentious matter.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid comments on the new NFL rule requiring players who are on the field to 'stand and show respect' for the flag.

Unless and until Hunt demonstrates otherwise, his actions say he’s concerned only about the bottom line and uninterested in the greater good that could come with respect for the true meaning of the protests and further engagement and understanding.

But like other NFL owners, he may not have a handle on the repercussions of this action: Who’s to say how many fans have been alienated by this business decision to placate others?

Meanwhile, if this were purely about the "Star-Spangled Banner" or the flag for the owners, and Hunt in particular, wouldn’t the Chiefs close concession lines during the anthem and urge fans to stop disrespecting the song by yelling “Chiefs” at the end?

As for Reid, we’re left only with a vague stance avoiding the issue.

“We’re not going to get into all that right here,” he said recently when asked whether he’d talked to Hunt about the new policy.

When he talks to his players about it, he said, “that will be within the team, and nobody else needs to really know.”

Alas, that’s just not true, even if it runs counter to Reid’s intense penchant to make state secrets of the most mundane things.

In his heart, and behind closed doors, I believe Reid supports his players’ rights to expression and will work through this in a constructive way with them.

Kansas City Star staff photographer David Eulitt didn't know how the Kansas City Chiefs would react during Sunday's National Anthem before the Los Angeles Chargers. What he saw through the lens surprised him: several players took one knee but line

Maybe he thinks he can do more meaningful work behind the scenes than overtly in public.

Even so, now is a time to stand and be counted — just like he is with Colyer.

It’s the sort of thing you do for people you appreciate.

Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt doesn't like his players not standing at attention for the national anthem but understands the meaning of the protest.