The National Football League released its new policy requiring staff and players to stand during the national anthem – finally. The league has set a definitive and enforceable policy that still allows anthem protestors to exercise their free speech rights in a way that is not disrespectful or disruptive.
After a few seasons of players kneeling, sitting, or raising fists to protest injustices in our criminal justice system (and whatever else has been lumped into the mix), NFL owners unanimously voted on a new policy this week: Everyone must stand for the anthem if they are on the field, otherwise they can stay in the lockerroom.
The NFL's commissioner Roger Goodell explained:
"We want people to be respectful of the national anthem. 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."
President Donald Trump praised the decision during an interview adding:
"I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms but still I think it's good, you have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem and the NFL owners did the right thing if that's what they've done."
Vice President Mike Pence Trump tweeted that this was #Winning.
Sports analysts and football players see it quite differently. They paint this new policy as the NFL caving to White House pressure. The Bleacher Report writes:
Why is the NFL handling this so poorly, crafting a policy based on fear, not practicality? The answer remains clear, according to a variety of league sources: an intense fear of President Donald Trump.
This is a fact. This is the truth. This is the core basis for the NFL's decision. This has been told to me before, and it was reiterated by several people Wednesday.
"Our league," one team official said, "is f–king terrified of Trump. We're scared of him."
What does the NFL fear? It fears boycotts of games. It fears people not watching its product on television. It fears people not buying its products.
Yet that fear of losing money thanks to an angry fanbase, stirred up by the president and his supporters, clearly drove this decision.
Players have expressed the same sentiment:
Chris Long @JOEL9ONE: This is fear of a diminished bottom line. It's also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. Don't get it confused. These owners don't love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve. It also lets you, the fan, know where our league stands...
As you can expect, players are reportedly already plotting how they can "skirt" their new rules. If you think this policy stops the anthem protests, think again.
While this policy is overdue, it's sad that a uniquely American, unifying sporting event has been co-opted as a battlefront in the culture wars.
Standing for the national anthem should be about respecting the sacrifices of the men and women who defend our rights, freedom, and even existence as a free people.
Americans may want to vent their grievances with problems in our nation. They have every right to do so, but during the national anthem is not the right time. As I explained during last football season, these protests were out of place. For these players who are employees of a private company, the field is not the appropriate place for political statements.
Even if the NFL had the bottom line in mind when deciding on this policy, they were responding to feedback (i.e. market signals) from consumers of NFL programming and products that they were tuning out or turned off by the protests. Companies stay in business when they listen to their customers.
It's about time that the NFL came up with a balanced policy, but unfortunately, this is not the end of the story.