By Tim Baffoe–

(CBS) So we all woke up Monday and went back to the grind, packing away our #NeverForget-ing in the backs of our minds until next Sept. 11. It will be one that won’t have that nice round number anniversary to it in 2017. Fifteen years fits into the gravitas manufacturing so much better, and Sunday’s NFL experience was perfect for the intermingling celebrations of football and less coordinated violence.

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Meanwhile, during the extra special versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that we anthemed extra hard, there was a smattering of silent protests by NFL players, millionaires who live lives of certain privilege that money can afford (and ironically creates a certain lack of anonymity from, say, the very law enforcement they are protesting). But they’re millionaires who nonetheless also recognize their cash neither necessarily buys their way out of certain oppression nor disqualifies them from speaking up or sitting down for those without a voice.

When all of Sunday’s games were complete, the list of NFLers who chose to silently demonstrate during the anthem in Week 1 included:

— Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall kneeled on Thursday night.
— Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters raised his fist.
— Dolphins running back Arian Foster, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Michael Thomas kneeled.
— Patriots safety Devin McCourty and tight end Martellus Bennett raised their fists following a rendition of the anthem Sunday night in Arizona that was closer to summer stock than most subjective definitions of “respectful.”

The weekend also featured non-pro protests in various college and high school football games.

“Around the NFL, a lot of guys are doing different things,” McCourty said after the game, noting that he also wore American flag socks and has multiple immediate family members who are veterans. “It’s all for the same cause: different social injustices. We’ve talked as players throughout the league trying to make change in our communities one by one using our platform, not just doing it on Sunday’s and game days. We’ve talked about different things we’re going to try to do to help the country and help our communities out.”

And what’s the most amazing part about these acts of severe disrespect to (insert troops, first responders, flag, whatever object of fallacy you want)? Nothing was ruined.
Civilians killed by cops still will pass 700 for the year this month, and more Americans historically will have been killed by white terrorists than any other terror group. Current and former presidents still spoke in cliches. Hate crimes against Muslims still remain higher than before 9/11. The fighter jets that may be paid for with shady money still flew over the arenas. The wars spawned from 9/11 that we don’t hear much about still rage, and the byproduct of mass surveillance still quietly goes on. The field-sized flags still rippled.

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The sentient bumper sticker that is zealous patriotism mixed with football was displayed majestically above the truck nutz of Americana. We’re not worse off today as a country.

We’re probably a smidge better, in fact.  

As irrationally bothered as the protests make a lot of people — something that speaks to the deep-rooted issues of the bothered, not the protesters — what’s even more bothersome to them is that the gladiators aren’t being punished. In a rare show of decency, the NFL is taking a hands-off approach to its players acts of free speech despite them rocking the football U-boat. Some teams even have the protesters backs. The San Francisco 49ers donated $1 million to local charities working against inequality following quarterback Colin Kaepernick setting off the string of anthem dissidents (and he’ll likely not stand for Monday night’s anthem). The Dolphins tweeted out their support for their players.

Broadcast media as a whole is having a difficult time articulating the whole situation properly, usually treating the kneelings or raised fists as odd spectacle rather than opportunity for discussion. But those discussions are starting to happen, sometimes patronizingly:

But sometimes even productively so:

We’re inching along. Not acquiescing to the nacho-filled holes screaming for silence and sports-sticking is good.

And maybe, just maybe, someday we’ll focus on the roots and goals of the protests by these athletes willing to punt away endorsement money and expose themselves to retribution. You know, instead of being bothered by the specific form of protest.

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Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.