The NFL wants to put its national anthem controversy to bed.
What started in 2016 with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest during the national anthem, eventually spreading to other teams and players, has created a rift among NFL fans—a rift not likely to be healed by the league’s decision.
The protests—an outgrowth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement—were intended to highlight the mistreatment and deaths of African-Americans in the U.S. at the hands of police.
Team owners voted this week to require players to stand during the anthem or stay in the locker room.
Amid repeated protests during the playing of the national anthem over the past two seasons, the NFL on Wednesday passed a revised policy that mandates players and team personnel present on the sideline “shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”
The revision allows players who would not wish to stand to remain in the locker room. Also under the revision, each franchise will have the power to issue their own policies, which could include fines for players protesting the anthem, under the conduct detrimental provision of the league’s personal conduct policy
Now the league is set for a showdown with players who might continue to speak out.
USA Today continued:
The NFL Players Association has already taken issue with the policy, which was reached without the union present.
“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy,'” the NFLPA said in a statement. “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.”
The move also threatens to antagonize players who were not actively protesting but silently supported those who chose to kneel.
One player, a seventh-year veteran who was currently an unsigned free agent, said he had never knelt during a game before but was a quiet supporter of Kaepernick’s message and freedom of speech. The other two, fourth- and sixth-year veterans, also had not been active kneeling participants but said they were irritated or confused by the league’s recent policy change.
“They didn’t first talk to [the NFLPA], which makes me think they just want to push us around,” Player A, the fourth-year vet, said.
Added Player B, the sixth-year vet who has been an active participant in NFLPA matters in the past: “I am not sure if they have to do that, but what’s the harm in talking to the union before making this a rule?”
Goodell defended the vote.
“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We want people to stand — that’s all personnel — and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That’s something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices.”
Goodell said the vote was “unanimous” among owners, although San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said he abstained.
The New York Jets’ front office was vocal in standing behind players’ right to protest.
Jets chairman Christopher Johnson told Newsday on Wednesday that his players are free to take a knee or perform some other protest without fear of repercussion from the team. …
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson said. … “Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines.”
In September 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump criticized Kaepernick and other players kneeling in protest. He has called for pushback against those players ever since.
“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem,” Trump said in an interview on Fox & Friends. “The NFL owners did the right thing.”
Players who don’t stand, the president said, “maybe” shouldn’t be allowed to play and “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Some see the league’s move as detrimental to the idea of a national anthem performance:
The irony of the NFL owners’ action is that *they have now hyper-politicized the anthem, for not just every black player and ally, but every potential anthem singer or Super Bowl halftime performer. That few minutes before a game will now look like a forced nationalistic display.
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) May 23, 2018
Some players are already speaking out:
Chris Long says the NFL’s new anthem policy isn’t about patriotism. pic.twitter.com/AazD4hvbWz
— SB Nation (@SBNation) May 24, 2018
Others hope the move will depoliticize their weekend pastime:
I can’t believe I’m saying this but the NFL owners got it right. NFL owners made a business decision. Anthem protests were turning off the fans, so the owners stopped them. Can we get back to football now?
— Angelo Cataldi (@AngeloCataldi) May 24, 2018
What do you think of the NFL’s announcement and the various responses?