This past Thursday, September 17, the Chicago Bears celebrated their team’s 100th birthday.
The team, the cornerstone of the National Football League (NFL) as founded in 1920 by Bears owner George Stanley Halas, also shares a birthday with the U.S. Constitution, signed in Philadelphia on Sep. 17, 1789.
And this year, the team will celebrate with a game that happens to coincide with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a two-day festival that runs from Friday night through Sunday evening.
According to the Jewish mystical tradition known as the Kabbalah, God spends a moment on Rosh Hashanah contemplating if He should allow the world to continue to exist. The NFL has reached a similar moment.
After years of criticism from those on the left who argued that football is simply too dangerous, too masculine to continue, the NFL faces mass defection by its own fans in response to the league’s support for “Black Lives Matter” protests, including those during the national anthem.
Should football continue?
The answer depends on what the purpose of football is. Like all sports, football is a pastime that encourages human beings — men, in this case — to push one another to excel, within an agreed set of rules.
The point is not merely to win, but to exemplify the elusive virtue of sportsmanship in doing so.
Football is different from other sports in that the rules are so intricate, the players’ roles so highly specialized. The game is a simulacrum of our industrialized society.
Politics has always been a part of football. The forward pass — the staple of the game today — was invented partly at the urging of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was alarmed at the number of serious injuries that the game was causing in scrimmage-line battles.
There have also been debates over the years about racial integration, the appropriate role of female cheerleaders, and so on. But never has the game seen a frontal challenge to the country itself and its symbols — until today.
Those debates will come to a head on Sunday, at Soldier Field, a stadium dedicated to “the men and women of the armed services.” If the Bears allow members of their organization to kneel during the Star-Spangled Banner, or to raise their fists to the flag, on their first homestand this Sunday, they will not only be insulting the taxpayers who subsidized the stadium and its various renovations. They will also be dishonoring America’s soldiers, and the dead who sacrificed for this country.
If a Bear takes a knee at Soldier Field — something “Papa Bear” Halas would never have tolerated — it is going to be tough for some of us to stick with the team.
As much as I love the Bears, as many good memories as I have, I may pack my jersey in a box and send it back to Halas Hall. I will take down my autographed photo of Coach Matthew Nagy — a man I have admired for his success on the field and for his positive attitude, his ability to manage difficult situations. He will have failed.
Some Bears feel the same way about the flag and the anthem. Coach “Iron Mike” Ditka has repeatedly said that players who cannot stand for the anthem should find themselves another country. Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher has said much the same.
Other Bears feel differently: I have interviewed Dennis MacKinnon, one of the heroes of the 1985 team, several times, and he and I have disagreed respectfully about the anthem protests. He sees it just another example of free speech.
But there is no reason the players have to protest during the anthem. A team that invented the T-formation can find a solution to this dilemma: a protest space at the stadium, perhaps. Or perhaps running back Tarik Cohen can deliver a speech before the game. He has been one of the more constructive supporters of Black Lives Matter — supporting black businesses, for example, rather than just criticizing police.
The Bears have a chance to save the league and redeem themselves. Can they do it?
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.