The NFL is trying to head off any kneeling controversies this fall with new league rules requiring all players to stand if on the field for the national anthem, and precisely nobody on the left or the right is happy about it.
At their spring meeting on Wednesday, NFL owners caved to President Donald Trump’s relentless criticism of players protesting racial inequality and police brutality during the national anthem, approving a new policy to fine teams if players or staff refuse to “stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”
According to a new rule unanimously approved by owners (San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York abstained from voting)*, team personnel are no longer required to stand on the field during the national anthem. In other words, the league would like players who plan to protest to do so in the locker room, out of sight—or else likely face the backlash from their organizations.
“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. He noted: “It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.”
The league’s new rule is aimed at stopping a movement that began with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Kaepernick’s silent kneeling during the anthem set off a wave of demonstrations and activism among players and drew the ire of the president, who criticized owners for not punishing players.
At a league meeting in October, owners seemed hellbent on figuring out how to prevent Trump from blasting the league again. “The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America,” said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, according to audio obtained by the New York Times. Kraft, whose Kraft Group contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee, called the president’s rhetoric “divisive” and “horrible.”
The new policy allows teams to come up with their own rules for players who fail to comply, leaving open the possibility that teams could fine players, coaches, and other personnel for not abiding by the rule. At least one owner, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Art Rooney II, says he thought that other types of protests, like raised fists or linked arms, could also fall under the league’s new policy.
The NFL players’ union noted in a statement that it wasn’t consulted before the policy was put into place, and that it would “challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”
The new policy is already a disaster.
The New York Jets say they won't enforce the rule, Jets owner and chairman Chris Johnson says he'll pay any fines for players that kneel and San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York abstained from the vote saying he wants to hear more from players. The players weren't consulted at all and the players' union is furious.
“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy.’ NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about.
“The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.
“Our union will review the new “policy” and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”
At a brief press conference after the release of the statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said there was “incredible engagement” with players about the anthem issue and said any response to the union would come in direct conversation with them. He was also asked who would be the arbiter of what it means to “show respect” and said the “general public has a very good feel” for what that is without delving into a detailed discussion of what that might mean beyond kneeling.
It's a mess. Trump and the deplorables will "claim a win" and they right will continue to attack black NFL players and those who support them, and this policy is tantamount to First Amendment censoring, so the NFL really does deserve what's coming to it. I don't feel bad for the billionaire owners at all, they literally voted to do this to themselves.
It was never about the "disrespecting the flag".
Trump on NFL players who don't stand for the national anthem: "You shouldn't be playing. You shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country." (via Fox) pic.twitter.com/xx6eJ9qXNY— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 24, 2018
"Maybe you shouldn't be in the country."
Guy in the White House suggesting that residence and citizenship be taken from those people for protesting is something authoritarian dictators do, and yet this will slide right by as Trump continues to push us towards a fresh new hell where the majority of Americans agree with him and that maybe he should follow through.
Maybe the players union can put a stop to this, maybe they can't, but if Commissioner Roger Goddell could have made the worst possible policy here, he did it this week.