Different motives for kneeling? Faith-based logic for some Eagles to miss White House rite?

If you have been anywhere near social media (or a television) in the past couple of days, then you know that the latest media storm linked to America's Tweeter In Chief concerns the National Football League, the world-champion Philadelphia Eagles, kneeling and the National Anthem.

Of course, when it comes to the NFL and images of kneeling, not all kneelers are considered equal (based on past controversies). Hold that thought.

The current controversy centers on the fact that many Eagles players were not planning to go to a White House rite to celebrate their Super Bowl win. For some -- repeat "some" -- of the players, their decision was linked to ongoing #BlackLivesMatter efforts to protest disturbing acts of police violence against African Americans. But other players had other places that they needed to be. Hold that thought, as well.

In response, President Donald Trump did that thing that he does. Here is a bite from a typical news story, at ESPN:

The White House has blamed the Philadelphia Eagles for President Donald Trump's decision to cancel the ceremony to celebrate their Super Bowl victory. ... White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sensed "a lack of good faith" by the Eagles during discussions about the scheduled event.
According to Sanders, the Eagles notified the White House on Thursday that 81 people would attend the event, which was scheduled for Tuesday. A group of 1,000 Eagles fans also were scheduled to be a part of the ceremony.

Trump also took to Twitter to knock the NFL's decision to allow players, in the future, to choose to remain in the locker room during the National Anthem. This move accompanied an order attempting to shut down various forms of visible protest, including kneeling.

The president's next move was easy to predict. On Twitter, he added this:

What does religion have to do with all of this?

Well, there are several valid angles to cover, for reporters with the eyes to see them.

* One such reporter -- no surprise here -- was religion-beat veteran Bob Smietana, who wrote the following at the Facts & Trends website, noting that quarterback Carson Wentz may have had a faith-based calendar conflict linked to the White House gig:

Despite missing out on a trip to the White House, Philadelphia Eagles star Carson Wentz is still making news.
Wentz’s foundation recently donated $540,000 to Mission of Hope in Haiti -- so that the Christian nonprofit can build a sports complex for kids. ...
Wentz also announced plans to this week to fund “Thy Kingdom Crumb” -- a free food truck that will help those in need. The truck will be run in partnership with a local church.

Was Wentz already planning to be on a ministry trip to Haiti? That would be an interesting story to investigate.

* The Wentz angle pointed to another interesting religion-news hook. This Eagles squad contains a very high-profile core of evangelical Christians, as noted in a Washington Post story just before the Super Bowl. It isn't often that a high-scoring offense is directed by a coach whose previous job was leading a seminary.

* Come to think of it, did Eagles players actually kneel during the protests last season? The answer is "no" (other than one player in a pre-season game, and he didn't make the cut into the regular season squad). Two players raised their fists during the anthem. It's safe to say that many Eagles players prayed in silence.

* This leads to another journalism angle on this story that has burned up Twitter. I am referring, of course, to the decision by a Fox News producer to use an image of kneeling Eagles during a report on the White House controversy.

The problem, of course, is that the players were kneeling in prayer -- not a protest during the anthem. You can see the on-air Fox apology at the top of this post.

* Readers may remember that, in the past, NFL leaders have displayed a chilly attitude when it comes to prayers by players -- especially those huddles after games in which players from both teams kneel together to pray, as a sign of solidarity in faith.

You rarely, if ever, see images of these prayers in TV broadcasts because some NFL insiders worry that they might be considered offensive. In other words, kneeling in protest is news, but kneeling in prayer is controversial.

So, thinking ahead: What happens if, during the National Anthem next year, a player kneels and makes the Sign of the Cross (or raises his hands in Pentecostal fashion) and then starts praying? Would that action automatically be a banned form of protest? What if he did the same thing, but didn't kneel? What if he got down on both knees or prostrated?

Last year, people could see this happening during a Baltimore Ravens game when retired, Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis said that he knelt with current players, but then prayed. To my eyes, it appears that several other players may be praying. Who can say for sure?

So what's the point?

At the very least, reporters covering this White House firestorm need to probe a bit deeper into the actions of some of the Eagles players. I'm not sure that the president would care much -- when it comes to players whose protests were centered in faith as much as politics -- but many readers might be interested. The same is true of players who had other events in their lives, perhaps ministry events, that conflicted with the White House ceremony.

As always, it helps to ask religion questions when people start kneeling.

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