SECOND UPDATE: Philadelphia Eagle defensive end Michael Bennett walked behind his teammates during the national anthem, then sat on the bench near its end. Most of his teammates were lined up along the sideline. Bennett protested last year during the anthem when he was with the Seattle Seahawks. Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins did not raise a fist, as he has done in the past. No members of the Atlanta Falcons protested during the song.
UPDATE: After an hour delay to tonight’s opening game start caused by rain and lightning fears in the Philadelphia area, the NFL season started with an a cappella rendition of the national anthem by Philadelphia’s Boyz II Men. No player protests were shown on camera by NBC, which also studiously avoided discussing any of the league’s lingering controversies while trying to fill time during the rain delay.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been among the more prominent teams to have regular anthem protests. The NFL and the NFL Players Assn. are still working on a compromise regarding national anthem behavior by players. No punishments will be given during this standstill.
EARLIER: It’s opening night for the 99th season of the National Football League. On tap: a big game, a national network (NBC) airing the battle, superstars on both sides of the ball, and 32 teams and fan bases that have hope of a playoff berth at this early stage. There’s also the joy of Philadelphia Eagles fans, who had the pleasure of finally raising their first championship banner before their game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Unfortunately for the league, some of the biggest stories on the evening are off the field. The ongoing battle over players and national anthem decorum, the controversial Colin Kaepernick Nike advertisement, and Kaepernick’s ongoing collusion lawsuit against a league that won’t give him a job all threaten to overshadow the game.
That’s not to mention television ratings that have been going down for the last few years, the concussion issue, the problem of youth participation in the sport dropping, and fans continuing to be angry at the perception of spoiled players ruining the party with their politics.
Here’s the good news: there’s a wave of exciting young quarterbacks entering the league; there are more ways to watch the games than ever before, with a proliferation of devices and media outlets; and the NFL, despite all its problems, still remains one of television’s most popular attractions, annually renewing our interest as new stars, key games and colorful characters emerge.
As if to foreshadow the league’s looming problems, the game’s start was delayed by a severe weather threat caused by lightning in the hot, steamy Philadelphia area. It won’t be the last storm facing the NFL in the upcoming season.