The NFL just announced a bombshell new policy over anthem kneeling, but there’s a major problem

Facing political pressure and declining ratings, the National Football League owners clamped down today on political protests by players during the playing of the national anthem before the start of the game.

Despite instituting tough new rules mandating that players stand or suffer stiff fines, the league didn’t bother to consult with the players through their union before making the announcement.

“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy,’ ” the players union 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 union was referencing an agreement reached last November after nearly two years of on-field protests meant to quell the players’ anger and desire to be heard on social justice issues. 

The NFL Players Association had stated last fall that it supported the right of players to peacefully protest after Vice President Mike Pence stormed out of an Indiana Colts game because of kneeling players.

Pence today gleefully tweeted out news of the NFL rules changes with the hashtag #winning, which he apparently borrowed from Charlie Sheen,

Last fall the NFL had announced it would give $83 million over seven years to various charities chosen by the players.

The actual amounts being put up by the teams was far less than that thanks to a split among the league and local teams, and a mandatory donation required from the players of about $250,000 per team per year, the same as the local team contributes.

At the time, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodall was feeling pressure from President Trump and some owners over the protests, which were being blamed for lower TV ratings.

“For months,” reported ESPN in November 2017, Goodell had “strived to find common ground with players.”

The owners whom Goodell serves “could have attempted to push through new rules regarding the anthem in the NFL game-operations manual during offseason committee meetings,” reported ESPN.

“However, for Goodell … trying to force players to stand for the anthem – which would have undoubtedly triggered a fierce battle with the NFL Players Association – wasn’t a fight worth having.”

“League sources also said Goodell, in particular,” wrote ESPN, “believes that fighting for social justice is the right thing to do, which factored into the decision to place no anthem attachments on the partnership.”

Now, the players are rightfully angry and feel that Goodell and the league played them by simply waiting to install the new rules arbitrarily months later.

As a compromise, the NFL owners agreed today that players can have the option of remaining in the locker room during the playing of the anthem, and then coming out for the actual game.

Goodell announced that the vote by the owners was unanimous but the owner of the San Francisco 49ers said he had abstained, and the owner of the New York Jets announced that he would cover any fines levied on a player who chooses to protest anyway.

At a news conference today, Goodell said, “We want people to be respectful to the national anthem… We have been very sensitive in making sure we give players choices, but we do believe that that moment is important and one we are going to focus on.”

In fact, the players were not given any choice in this matter, despite earlier promises.

It is also worth noting that Goodell constantly talks about respecting the flag and national anthem – which are just symbols – while the players talk about respecting the people, laws, and traditions that historically have stood for the right to speak freely on issues. 

Under Trump and Pence, of course, the idea of diversity, of the workers as well as the bosses having a say, has been shoved aside for a philosophy of making the rich richer and leaving everyone else to fight for the scraps.

NFL players are well compensated for their time playing in a brutal game that lends itself to short careers followed by years of medical problems, but the fact is all the owners are rich and white while nearly three-quarters of the players are blacks who usually come from low-income homes.

Now, the owners will have to face the “fierce battle” with the players that Goodell worried about last fall, and will find out if the lower TV ratings are really due to protests, or if the country has reached saturation with a greedy league that charges too much for tickets and puts too many games on too many different TV, internet, streaming and other media platforms.

The social justice problems the players were protesting have gotten a lot worse in the Trump era so the anger is not going away. It will be interesting to see how it is expressed in the NFL as well as in America in the future.

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Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.


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