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Anthem protests: Time for players to be bigger than Pence

It's time for NFL players and other athletes to end their protests during the national anthem.

They have made their point, peacefully. And well.

That also goes for Lightning player J.T. Brown, who raised a fist during the anthem Saturday night to show support for those trying to bring awareness to inequality and police brutality.

Brown said he received racist remarks and death threats on social media afterward.

But only a true patriot would fly halfway across the country, at taxpayers' expense, to stage a walkout to protest those protesting during the national anthem.

Vice President Mike Pence's brilliant stunt politicized Sunday's NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers. I guess only certain people in this nation can stage planned protests. I'm all for the vice president's First Amendment rights. But pay for it yourself, dude.

RELATED: Vice President Mike Pence leaves Colts game after protests during anthem.

But it really is time for protesters to move on.

Not because of Pence and his immediate supervisor.

Because it's just time.

Anyone who is ever going to listen is listening.

This is a time for leadership. It isn't a time for stubbornness or self-absorption. It isn't a time for being spiteful or bullying or spoiled, qualities we would loathe in our children and walk away from, at great speed, if we came across them in anyone we met.

Know anybody like that?

Dissent isn't comfortable. Brown is the first NHL player to protest. Think that's easy, in a conservative league, with his career in no way set in stone? Dissent isn't convenient.

Brown didn't speak with media Monday morning. His teammate Ryan Callahan did.

"Whether you agree or disagree with what he's doing, as a team we support him," Callahan said. "We have his back, just as we would on the ice."

RELATED: Lightning's J.T. Brown says backlash proves protest during anthem is necessary.

Washington Capitals player Devante Smith-Pelly, one of about 30 African-American players in the NHL, knows Brown and reached out to him after Brown's protest.

"I mentioned before that it's a lonely feeling," Smith-Pelly said. "Without even doing a protest, it's a lonely feeling. So the fact that he stood out and put himself out there, I respect it a lot. I'm proud of him. It's tough any time, but in this particular sport, it's tough to put yourself out there like that."

But I'm serious about ending the protests. Look, the NFL protests were beginning to die out before the president and the vice president jumped in. If people are protesting just to spite our leaders, then they've lost their original intent.

I'd like to think that Colin Kaepernick, who basically began all this, would be ready to stand for the anthem if he was actually signed by an NFL team. The point has been made, and now it's time for the next set of actions, peaceful and even more meaningful. Town halls. Outreach. Fundraising. I bet plenty of athletes are ready to step up. Some, including Kaepernick and Brown, have already done that.

RELATED: Rather than criticizing anthem protests, we should be asking about the reasons for them, columnist Tom Jones says.

The protests worked. We're better for it. We're aware of the issues. They proved a point. Open minds are ready to listen.

My guess is that there are people who are potentially sympathetic to the cause behind the protests but who can't get past their emotions and deep-seated feelings that the protests are against people who fought and died for this country. I don't know when the anthem became synonymous with that and that alone, but a lot of people feel that way, including some people who might otherwise support these protests.

Here's what must happen: Our athletes simply need to be bigger than our leaders. I'd never thought I'd have to say that. Don't get drawn into this fight. It won't be easy, walking away from protest, because the other side will declare victory at the top of its lungs. But these protests have to give way to something more. It's a small price to pay in the name of advancing real change. It might even cost less than the vice president's trip to Indianapolis.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029.

Anthem protests: Time for players to be bigger than Pence 10/09/17 [Last modified: Monday, October 9, 2017 6:52pm]
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