Free Speech, the NFL, … and what about Security Clearances

To be honest, my nose was never out-of-joint over the protests by NFL players during img_0042-1the  National Anthem.  But in the interest of honesty, I will admit I have been a fan of the NFL (Fly, Eagles fly!) since the 1960s.

It’s not that I agree or enjoy watching million-dollar athletes taking a knee or raising a fist in protest of a Country that enables their lucrative careers. There are quite simply expressions that madden me much, much more, such as the burning of U.S. flags.  However, I do reserve a special level of rage for the sickly Westboro Baptist clowns, who are fond of expressing their Rights in the most insensitive ways at the most inappropriate times.

Maybe I prefer reserving my wrath for the greatest threats to Free Speech. The rage and discomfort we endure is the price one must pay for belief in our Constitution and for faith in the world’s most successful free and open republic.

Amendment I, United States Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Free Speech requires an appreciation for Advanced Citizenship in the U.S. of A.  The more centered and focused you remain on the guiding principle of Free Speech, the more likely you will recognize that such citizenship sometimes requires herculean self-control when someone expresses thoughts and ideas in ways that infuriate.

It’s a concept a lot of people have a difficult time accepting, whether the issue involves a student opting to sit for the Pledge of Allegiance or a couple of knuckleheads burning an American flag.  And sometimes – maybe at when it’s needed most – a remarkable moment unfolds in a way that’s unexpected and ultimately memorable!

And yes, when Rick Monday swooped to the rescue of the national standard, he too was expressing his Right to Free Speech as well!  He spoke with his actions.

Advanced Citizenship – a level of patriotism fewer Americans seem to achieve of late – demands the ability to grit our teeth and chalk your outrage up to a higher national calling. Not that such a thing makes the demonstration any easier to accept. Consider these challenges a test … an opportunity to exercise your appreciation for the ability of those with whom you disagree to exercise their Free Speech, not matter how infuriating.

And no … the excuse that “They do it!” is insufficient.  Let their actions define their character and Patriotism. Don’t let your reactions negatively define yours.

Keep in mind, it’s the lesser of us who choose to shout down or violently suppress Free Speech. It’s a tactic favored by those who would rather tell us what to think or how to vote at the point of whatever weapon might be handy. White supremacists and elements of the Far Left, such as Antifa, have much in common in that regard.

In the case of the National Football League, their recent misguided attempts to rein in the pre-game protests in the face of withering public opinion (more free speech about Free Speech) actually exacerbated the problem. My opinion is that the Players would likely have allowed the protests to die had they not been confronted in such a direct and public way.

But even as I encourage a daunting level of civic sainthood, I cannot give those Westboro Baptist idiots a sliver of accommodation. They are vile, mean-spirited, and unworthy – in my estimation – of even being called Americans.

Yes, if nothing else, I am a flawed American. But I can live with that …

There are nuanced limitations to this Freedom of Speech thing.

  1. You cannot scream “Fire!” in the proverbial crowded theatre.
  2. You cannot express thoughts or opinions under the name of your employer, especially if they serve to somehow conflict with business or embarrass them among consumers of their products.
  3. You cannot defame an individual or organization with false statements. A student’s free speech rights are limited somewhat while in school.
  4. You cannot openly exhort people to violence.
  5. At events deemed to be National Special Security Events (e.g. political conventions, inaugurations, Super Bowl), your Speech can be restricted to specified protest zones.
John Brennan

former CIA Director John O. Brennan

The recent hullabaloo over the National Security clearance of John Brennan, former head of the CIA, appears to fall into several of the above exceptions. Brennan’s security clearance was revoked by the Trump Administration, likely at the direction of President Trump, for – among other things – making wild, unsupported accusations of Treason on the part of The President.

My rationale for accepting the Trump Administration’s action against Brennan comes from the following:

  1. Although precedent has set the standard that former National Security officials keep their clearances in order to assist succeeding officials in consultation during sensitive events, the same precedent forms a link (in my mind anyway) between the former officials and the current Administration. In some ways, the relationship mimics the employee-employer relationship ,,, in a quasi kind of way. If the former official becomes an embarrassment to the Government, the Government should exercise their authority to withdraw the privilege of access to sensitive information.
  2. Brennan was spouting a lot of unsubstantiated viewpoints that in essence defamed the Government and The President. It would be impossible for anyone to successfully argue that Brennan – or anyone else – deserves to retain such access as they openly and continuously cause embarrassment and suggest treason unencumbered by any attempt to factually document the accusation.
  3. Yes, rescinding such access is a bit retaliatory in that it can affect Brennan’s ability to benefit monetarily. Yet that very sentiment underscores in a way that quasi-employer-employee exception to Free Speech. Ask yourself if any Administration (the quasi-employer) should allow a pointed and factually unreliable critic the ability to earn money using the very information managed, controlled, and heavily relied upon by the current Government? Seems like a slam dunk …
  4. Removing his security clearance does nothing to restrict Brennan’s Free Speech. He can still appear in forums, on cable TV, in print media. Brennan can say anything he wants, subject to the restrictions the rest of us are expected to observe. He might not make as much money doing it as he did before (in theory), but nothing about removing his clearance affects his ability to express his views.

And there you have the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of a beautiful Freedom instilled upon a Free People to ensure their freedom prospers and perhaps spreads to freedom lovers the World over!

Andy Reid’s Eagles Legacy

Friends, BooBirds, Tailgaters, lend me your ears. 

I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him!


This literary audible on the famous words of renown football commentator, Bill Shakespeare, is a fitting summary of what this humble post will attempt to accomplish.  The obvious, sorry state of The Philadelphia Eagles makes it all but certain that Andy Reid will lose his position as Head Coach, as well as his other hat as Executive Vice President of Football Operations.

Some will view Reid’s departure from Lincoln Financial Field as the End of an Era.  A few – for some reason – will view it as the End of an Error.  And many will see it simply as the final comeuppance for The Emporer Without Cloths, Philly’s own Football Caesar.

The pressure will be on Laurie to find not just a replacement, but an improvement.

No doubt those who would rather subscribe to the original Shakespearean version (i.e. to Bury, not to Praise) lost patience with Andy Reid a long time ago.  They soured on Andy Reid’s tight-lipped, team first, “I have to do a better job.  Time’s yours.” public persona.  To many fans this media approach was seen as a refusal to take responsibility, an attempt to avoid the kind of painfully in-depth scrutiny Philadelphia sports fans thrive upon, perhaps even a touch of how-dare-you-question-me football hubris.

The act worked just fine for Reid when the Eagles were regularly advancing deep into the NFL playoffs, not so much once The Birds started to moult.

The Fall wasn’t really precipitous in my opinion; more like a long, slow glide down the Slope of Mediocrity.

A few facts and observations before I get to the objective of this post.

  • I have always been a fairly passionate defender of Reid’s, at least until recently.  Again, this change wasn’t an overnight development.  My dissatisfaction has been slowly building as The Eagles slid down that aforementioned slope.
  • Personally, I suspect that the Reid family problems played a significant role in Andy’s inability to stay atop the NFL coaching pinnacle.  This is not an attempt to provide an excuse, simply an observation.  It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to maintain their focus at the highest levels in any profession when there is trouble at home.
  • The REAL and most over-riding problem however has been the failure of Reid’s most recent decision-making.  From

    An intriguing move that simply didn’t work out.

    poor draft choices, through questionable free agent signings, to truly mind-boggling coaching staff decisions …  The development of Michael Vick into Quarterback That Can Run vs. Running Quarterback has not worked.  The Juan Castillo Experiment was an abject failure.  Danny Watkins, Nate Allen,  Jaiquawn Jarrett …???  Please …

And yet, none of the above is what I really want to write about here.  I’d much rather concentrate on what went right early on in Reid’s tenure, and how it turned around a team and captured a city that – for some reason – so closely associates its image with those of its sports teams.

That’s not to say the trip was a bed of roses.  Five appearances in the NFC Championship with only ONE Superbowl appearance – and a loss at that – will stick in the craw of many an Eagles fan (mine included).  One wonders just how much brighter Reid’s star would have shined had he won just ONE of those five elusive Superbowl opportunities.

The question perhaps comes down to this … Is it better to be a Marv Levy (Buffalo Bills – Superbowl appearances: 4, Lombardo trophies: 0) or Jon Gruden (Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Superbowl appearances: 1, Lombardi trophies: 1)?  That the Reid version of Marv Levy involves five NFC Championships and just one Superbowl, not four or five Superbowl appearances certainly makes the issue a bit thornier, I admit.

I have always found it interesting that so many Philadelphia Eagles fans defined a “succesful Eagles season” – especially during the Reid Era – as one that absolutely, positively had to end in a Superbowl.  There rarely seemed to be any credit from so many fans for getting to the NFC Championship, which essentially defines an NFL team as one of the four most successful organizations in a given season, which always starts with a field of 32!

That simply never seemed to be enough, at least not after that first one.

Once simply wasn’t enough

There seemed to be little recognition of how hard it is to simply GET to the NFL’s Final Four, let alone what it might take to beat the other three very successful clubs in the Lombardi Tournament.  Perhaps that was the result of Andy Reid’s phenomenally quick success in reaching the NFC Championship (2001) in only his third season as Head Coach.

I cannot recall ever hearing that only a World Series Championship or a Stanley Cup would qualify as a “successful season” for the Phillies or Flyers.  Would Reid’s star retained its luster longer had his Eagles’ success been built slower – over say 6-8 seasons – as opposed to an NFC Championship Game in just three?

But I digress …

No, thank you …

When Andy Reid was hired in 1999 by new owner Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles were coming off 3-13 and 6-9-1 seasons under Ray Rhodes.  Before Rhodes the head coach position had been held by Rich Kotite and Buddy Ryan.  All three had coached to varying levels of very limited success accompanied by frustrating failure.  The only playoff showing among those three coaches had occurred in 1988, under Buddy Ryan, when the season ended in abject depression with a loss to the Chicago Bears in the game still known as The Fog Bowl.

Before the 2001 season, Philadelphia Eagles fans had to travel all the way back to the Dick Vermiel years (1976-1982) to scrounge up the last memory of playoff success with the 1980 Superbowl loss to the Oakland Raiders.

God, no …

Andy Reid, hired “off the board” as a Quarterbacks Coach under the tutelage of Mike Holmgren with the Green Bay Packers, was able to change most of that depressing history.  He impressed Jeff Laurie and Joe Banner with his binders full of detailed blueprints for the short-term revival of a lost football franchise.  In the end he completed the transformation of the Philadelphia Eagles into franchise that elicited talk of The Gold Standard.  Yet Reid could never quite get over the Lombardi Hump and bring Philadelphia an NFL Championship.

Just shoot me!

But the fact is he did an amazing job in a very, very short period of Football Time!  Not only did he get the Eagles into the NFC Championship in just his third year, he completely altered the Philadelphia NFL experience.  He made the Eagles FUN to watch.

His early drafts brought in many of The Right Kind of players … from taking a 3rd round chance on an undersized, local product with a questionable knee-injury in Brian Westbrook (Villanova) to grabbing cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in that same 2003 draft, and yes, even the drafting of Donovan McNabb, the quarterback the Philadelphia Eagles needed at the time.

The 1999 drafting of Donovan McNabb was a development over which Reid was initially criticized, as anyone familiar with Eagles history will surely remember.  When the talk radio yahoos clamored for the drafting of running back, Ricky Williams engineered that New York Draft Day debacle of “Eagles fans” booing the team’s first round decision to forego the University of Texas running back, Reid stuck to his plan and selected the quarterback he knew the Eagles needed.

The infamous boos were actually for the decision not to take Williams, not the drafting of McNabb!

The dopes booed the pick, not the man.

McNabb was taken second overall behind QB Tim McCouch (Yes, the correct response is “Who?!?”), and before QB Akili Smith (“Who?!?” again, no doubt!). 

The coveted Ricky Williams was not taken until the fifth overall pick by New Orleans Saints; was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2002 after two 1000-yard rushing seasons; and was – by 2004 – retiring temporarily after several failed drug tests and diagnoses of depression and social anxiety disorder.

Yet you rarely heard those very people giving Andy Reid credit for taking the best player that fit the Philadelphia Eagles needs at that time, even if McNabb also proved unable to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy to an NFL Championship-starved city.

And sure, there were enough Freddie Mitchell, Jerome McDougles and Matt McCoys in there as well; but every NFL draft is a mix of Can’t Misses and Hopeful Prayers.  Yet Reid’s early drafts were composed of many more successes than failures in the premium “money rounds” that enabled the team to compete at a high level from 2001 through 2010 (off years: 2005, 2007).

The possibilities are enough to make this Eagles fan cry.

For this Philadelphia Eagles fan, who lived through the Eddie Khayats, the Marion Campbells, the Mike McCormicks, the Rich Kotites, there is no desire to return to the years of revolving-door coaches and clueless player development (See Pete Liske, Leroy Keyes, Kevin Allen, Mike Mamula).

You had to live the late 1960s, 1970s and 1990s to develop a true appreciation for a Head Coach/General Manager who can think and chew gum at the same time.  Those have been few and far between for Philadelphia Eagles fans!

These experiences – growing up with football futility in northeast Philadelphia – probably goes a long way towards explaining my advanced Sports Anxiety at the prospects of another potential period of Head Coach Experimentation.

So it will be interesting to see how all the Andy Reid critics will react should their beloved Eagles spend the next several seasons wandering aimlessly in the NFL desert, going through head coaches like the late Al Davis and his Oakland Raiders.  Hopefully it won’t come to that.  But if it does, part of me will be smirking; reminding all those haters about The Reid Years; and checking out Andy Reid’s new team, as he surely won’t last very long on the open market.

Dick Vermeil

So where will Andy Reid settle in the pantheon of Eagles coaches?  Certainly, he will never be considered “The Best”, if NFL Championships are the only measure.  Greasy Neale (a football name if ever there was one) won back-to-back pre-Superbowl NFL Championships in 1948 and ’49.

Here are the highlights from Andy Reid’s Eagles reign:

  • Regular season record 129-89-1 (only 10-9 in playoff games)
  • NFC East Division Champion 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010
  • NFC Championship 2004
  • Coach of the Year 2000, 2002  (Maxwell, Sporting News, Associated Press)

The most interesting discussion will revolve around Dick Vermeil-Andy Reid comparisons.  Vermeil – like Reid – achieved a Superbowl berth only once, but he never enjoyed the run of playoff successes that Reid did.  Some will undoubtedly give the nod to Vermeil, citing Reid’s four failed NFC Championship appearances as testament to Reid’s poor in-game management.  One could argue that Vermeil might have pulled off more than one success out of those five Conference title games; then again Vermeil only managed to get there once himself during his Eagles tenure.

For me, the list will read NFL Hall-of-Fame member Greasy Neale, Andy Reid, Dick Vermeil, Buck Shaw (1960 NFL Championship, but only three seasons with the Eagles) and a whole lot of frustration.

But this is perhaps the only context in which I will freely admit I have no desire to relive the ’70s!

Good luck, Big Guy, wherever you land!