N.F.L. To Fine Teams If Players Fail To “Stand And Show Respect” During National Anthem

The N.F.L. has come up with a dumb "solution" to a non-existent problem.

The National Football League has announced that it will fine teams if any of their players kneel during the National Anthem at an N.F.L. game in the upcoming season:

N.F.L. players will be allowed to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, but their teams will be fined by the league if they go onto the field and kneel, according to new rules adopted by owners on Wednesday in an effort to defuse an issue that escalated last season into a national debate catalyzed by President Trump.

Players had previously been required to be on the field for the anthem. Commissioner Roger Goodell said that owners voted unanimously to rescind that rule and to fine teams if their players are on the field or sidelines but do not “show respect for the flag and the anthem.”

“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of N.F.L. players were unpatriotic,” Goodell said in a statement. “This is not and was never the case.”

The new policy was adopted at the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta without involvement from the players’ union. It is unclear how individual players will respond to the new rules.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling for the anthem in the 2016 season to protest racism and police brutality. He was soon joined by several teammates and dozens of other players around the N.F.L., continuing into last season.

While some fans applauded the protests, many others were critical, saying the players were disrespecting the country. Among them was President Trump, who declared last September on Twitter, “Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!”

The protests were also discomfiting to largely conservative N.F.L. owners. Kaepernick has filed a grievance saying he was blackballed by league owners; no team offered him a job after he left the 49ers. Another former 49ers player, safety Eric Reid, has done the same.

The new policy was announced in a Tweet that contained a statement from Commissioner Roger Goodell:

The N.F.L. Player’s Association was quick to respond, criticizing the league for changing the policy without consulting the union and reserving the right to challenge the policy change:

Under the new policy, the league is stating that a team will be fined if any of its personnel are on the field and fail to “stand and show respect for the flag” while the anthem is being performed or played. As The New York Times notes in the article quoted above, the announcement doesn’t state whether other kinds of protests, such as raised fists or the locking of arms as many teams did early in the 2017 season, would also be considered a sign of disrespect. The new policy does provide, though, that players and other team personnel will not be required to be on the field for the anthem. In some respect, this is a return to the policy as it existed prior to roughly 2006 when the National Anthem was performed prior to the teams taking the field for all N.F.L. games with the exception of the Super Bowl. The new policy also states that players or other team personnel who choose not to stand will be free to stay in the locker room or other location off the field until after the anthem has been performed and leaves it to individual team to “develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” The new policy also gives the Commissioner the authority to impose “appropriate discipline” on league personnel who fail to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” This presumably refers to officials and other N.F.L. employees who don’t work for a specific team. Finally, it’s worth noting that the new policy does not seek to discipline players, but this was apparently due to the fact that the current N.F.L. players contract would apparently discipline players for changing the rules regarding how and why players can be disciplined.

As nearly everything else today, all of this is tied up in politics and is, at least in some respect, related to the rhetoric of President Trump. As noted, the kneeling protests began in the 2016 season when Colin Kaepernick, then a Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began kneeling during the National Anthem. While he didn’t explain his actions at first, Kaepernick soon after explained that his action was a form of protesting racism, police brutality, and the treatment of African-American men by police across the country, an issue that had come to the forefront in the wake of the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2015. During the season, Kaepernick was joined by a handful of other players, but after the first few weeks of the 2016 season the issue largely disappeared from the headlines and the season went forward without significant controversy.

When the new season started last summer, there were sporadic cases of players such as Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem, but as with the majority of the 2016 season, it wasn’t a big news item. Then, Donald Trump decided to get involved. At a campaign speech in Alabama in late September of last year, Trump went after the players who were kneeling during the Anthem, calling them “sons of bitches” and calling on the league and/or the teams to fire or otherwise discipline players who don’t stand for the Anthem. In response, the league, the NFL Players Association, and pretty much all the team owners voiced support for the protesting players. Additionally, the weeks immediately after the President’s statement saw the kneeling protest expand as players of all races either knelt during the Anthem or engaged in some other form of showing solidarity with those players who chose to do so. It was during this period that Vice-President Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game when some players knelt during the Anthem, in what was obviously a staged photo opportunity by the White House to further stir the pot. Several weeks later, the league announced that it would not discipline players who continued to kneel during the Anthem, and polling in both September and October showed that most Americans opposed the position taken by the President.

Notwithstanding this, there was some contention on the part of those who agreed with the President that the league was being hurt because of the protest but there is no direct evidence to support this contention. During the early part of the 2016 season, for example, there was some evidence that ratings for individual games had reduced, and that trend continued somewhat into the 2017 season. It’s not clear, though, why this was the case, and there are likely a number of explanations for the drop in viewership. For one thing, the drop is happening at the same time that an increasing number of Americans are “cutting the cord” and canceling their contracts with their cable companies in favor of various video streaming services. Additionally, it has become far easier for fans to watch games online or on their mobile devices over the past several seasons, meaning that they are can watch their favorite team even if they live somewhere where some other game is being aired on a Sunday afternoon. Other reasons for the decline in viewership that have been suggested include the increased press that has been given to the concussion issue that many former N.F.L. players have been forced to deal with later in life and the fact that, in many cases, the quality of play has simply not lived up to the hype that the league has given it. Because of all that, it’s hard ot say that the kneeling controversy was the primary reason for the ratings decline, or that it even played any role at all in that phenomenon.0

As Ed Morrissey notes, this new policy is unlikely to please anyone:

This new rule doesn’t sound much like a solution anyway. It provides an out for players who just don’t want to participate in the national anthem ceremonies, but that’s not been the problem. Players really do want to participate in the ceremony, some more than others in order to make their protests all the more visible. The penalty is even more laughable; the fines will go against the club rather than the players directly. That was clearly an attempt to get around the NFLPA, which might work legally but not for the desired outcome of ending the embarrassment for the league. Players aren’t going to be disincentivized by fines on owners, and might even have more incentive to embarrass them further, especially after this.

There really isn’t a rules-based solution to this issue except to bar the players from the field during the national anthem. It’s curious why the league didn’t do that; perhaps Goodell and the owners want to keep pushing patriotism as a league brand, but the NFLPA’s response will likely backfire in that sense. If the union successfully challenges this rule, perhaps the owners will fall back to that position. Under these rules, though, the players will still protest, and the league will find itself with the same set of headaches as it had before, only with even more demonstrated impotence.

I tend to agree with Ed on this one. As I noted above, prior to roughly 2006, teams were not even on the field for the National Anthem except during the Super Bowl. While this policy does give players, and presumably teams, the option of staying in the locker room or another off-field location, by which I assume the league means the tunnel from which players emerge when entering the field, during the National Anthem, it basically sets up a trap for teams and players that only seems likely to lead to issues in the upcoming season. The best solution for that, of course, would be for teams to make the individual choice that they will not allow players on the field until after the Anthem has been performed, but it would be even better if the league just decided to return to the old policy and keep the teams off the field altogether until after the National Anthem is completed.

The other option, of course, is a more radical one but one that I think would solve this issue entirely. As James Joyner suggested when he first wrote about this issue back in 2016, we ought to end the whole practice of playing or performing the National Anthem before sporting events or similar events. Sporting events are not government events, they are public events that have little connection to patriotism or the flag. Although it’s worth noting that the N.F.L. in particular has taken to turning its games into displays of hyper-patriotism that it sells as a “tribute to the troops” even though it turns out that the league charges the American taxpayer for these events even when they involve the use of military personnel as honor guards or military hardware during flyovers as happens typically during playoff games and the Super Bowl. Eliminating the Anthem, as well as the post-9/11 practice of playing “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch that was adopted in the wake of the September 11th attacks and which some teams still do, would solve the kneeling problem, and it would stop the politicization of what’s supposed to be a form of entertainment.

No doubt, President Trump will view this as something of a win for him. There’s been no response to this announcement from the White House, or from the President via his Twitter feed as of yet, but I’m sure something will be forthcoming. Vice-President Pence, though, has responded with an obvious celebratory tweet:

As I said when this all started, Trump’s attacks on Americans who are exercising their First Amendment rights and trying to bring attention to an important issue were entirely inappropriate. This was especially true given the fact that he was referring to players who chose to kneel in protest, the majority of whom were African-American, as “sons of bitches” was especially offensive. It was little more than red meat for Trump’s mindless base, and the N.F.L. has played right into Trump’s hands with this half-hearted policy change.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Entertainment, Politicians, Popular Culture, Sports, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Unless there is a game between national teams or between teams from different countries the National Anthem has no business being played on a sports events. It makes no sense. If there are foreigners playing in the NFL then they would have to stand to other country anthem?




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  2. Mark Ivey says:

    Forced patriotism! That’s the ticket..




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  3. PJ says:

    Well, if there is more than one player protesting in a team, then they should just stand up and lock arms. Then if they get fined, the NFL gets to explain how it is disrespectful to whatever to lock arms…




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  4. Kathy says:

    Does it occur to anyone that forcing people into expressions of patriotism is a trait of dictatorships and totalitarian states?

    I’d love nothing better than for whole teams to defy this rule, or to stay off the field for the duration, or to come up with a different kind of protests. But we probably won’t see anything like that.

    On the other hand, keep in mind what Kaepernick’s original protest was about, and that piece-meal protests do little other than draw attention to an issue (mass protests are another matter). Further national anthem protests would be anti-Trump rather than for their original purpose.

    Lastly, if politicizing a policy issue like school shootings is anathema to the right, then politicizing all aspects of life should be even worse. I wonder why they insist on doing it?




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  5. Kathy says:

    Oh, and it feels like the whole idiotic flag burning debate of decades ago. It was effing stupid then, and it’s even worse now.

    If principles or ideals are as fragile as their symbols, they’re not worth holding on to.




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  6. SenyorDave says:

    I seem to remember that there was a baseball owner (Bill Veeck?) who didn’t play the anthem before games, and when asked, responded by saying that Macy’s and Gimbel’s didn’t play the anthem when they opened for business, so why should he.

    I would like to see NFL players in postgame interviews mention what the kneeling was about. I think the league has lost whatever fans they could lose, and most of them probably aren’t coming back. No question in my mind that the league was hurt. It certainly didn’t help, and there is the Fifth Avenue effect with Trump (most of his base will support him on anything even when he clearly is lying because he’s sticking it to liberals).




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  7. Erik says:

    I’ll be interested to see if players, regardless of where they come down on the anthem issue, just choose to stay in the locker room longer to prepare for the game. Maybe coaches will choose to use that time to work on strategy, or trainers to warm up players a little more. We could see whole teams missing until right before kick off. I suppose the owners won’t like the loss of “emerging from the tunnel” pregame hype. Especially if they call a star players name and he doesn’t appear.




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  8. Leonard says:

    @Mark Ivey: Not forced patriotism – optional non-participation. (Same comment to Kathy)




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  9. Mister Bluster says:

    I pledge allegiance…

    (Groening…rhymes with complaining)




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  10. Mister Bluster says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
    If you want to live in a country where Citizens are forced to stand for the National Anthem move to North Korea!
    You won’t be missed and they will be glad to have you.




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  11. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The best thing is Pence quoting Charlie Sheen in the midst of a drug-fueled meltdown.
    #WINNING




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  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    New York Jets co-owner and chairman Christopher Johnson announced that he will cover any of his players’ fines should they decide to kneel. “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. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t.”




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  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Kathy:

    Does it occur to anyone that forcing people into expressions of patriotism is a trait of dictatorships and totalitarian states?

    Welcome to Trumpistan




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  14. Todd says:

    It really shouldn’t be a big deal (beyond the inevitable short period of intense howling from conservatives) to not play the anthem before most sporting events. I think baseball would be an exception. The national anthem, followed by the umpire exclaiming “play ball!” has been a tradition for too long.




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  15. Hal_10000 says:

    Poor Mike Pence. Keeps selling his integrity for nothing.




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  16. Leonard says:

    @Mister Bluster: Not forced patriotism – optional non-participation. (Same comment to Daryl)




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  17. MarkedMan says:

    It looks like I’m going to play the contrarian on this one. The NFL is a business and the management is obligated to make sure that they present that business in the best way possible. A policy that says “no political demomstrations by representatives of the league” when on duty and in front of the public seems like common sense to me.




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  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @PJ:

    the NFL gets to explain how it is disrespectful

    Too easy–because we said so. Were you never in middle school?




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  19. Mister Bluster says:

    @Leonard:..Not forced patriotism-blah, blah, blah

    Pastrami, salami, baloney!




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  20. Kathy says:

    @Todd:

    How about replacing the anthem with “American Pie”?




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  21. Tyrell says:

    @SenyorDave: Bill Veeck was a great owner as was Ray Kroc and George Steinbrenner.
    The players work for the owners. Any actions should be up to them. Jones – what does he think?




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  22. mattbernius says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    I just became a Jets fan.




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  23. Mister Bluster says:

    @MarkedMan:..“no political demomstrations by representatives of the league”

    Get rid of the military flyovers at all sporting events. It is a waste of taxpayer resources.




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  24. Leonard says:

    @Mister Bluster: D’ya think they were lying about players being able to stay in the locer room? Are they going to round them up and force them onto the field?




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  25. An Interested Party says:

    In a stunning victory for President Trump…

    Oh my! You tell ’em, Mr. #1 Toady! That’ll really show ’em! And don’t forget to lick his boots on your way out…

    Poor Mike Pence. Keeps selling his integrity for nothing.

    Oh? When did he ever have integrity…




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  26. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    A policy that says “no political demomstrations by representatives of the league” when on duty and in front of the public seems like common sense to me.

    The “It’s a Private Business” card took long enough to get played 🙂

    Seriously, I agree. But that is not the policy that was announced. Rather the NFL has enacted a Donald Trump rule, limited specifically to standing during the anthem and nothing more.

    People being people, I’m sure there will be many attempts to flaunt the spirit while adhering to the letter of this rule. Linking arms, as has been mentioned, but other things like standing with one’s back to the field, carrying a banner, wearing a BLM t-shirt or cap, stuff like that.

    And then the NFL should worry whether Trump will throw a tantrum about that or not.

    It all seems like a lose-lose proposition to me. But the NFL as a private business has the right to shoot itself in the foot if it wants to.




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  27. Tony W says:

    I think you may see the NFL teams reorder some of the pregame hype.

    1. National Anthem (done while everyone is still milling about and taking their seats)
    2. Bringing the home team out of the tunnel with much fanfare
    3. Coin toss, etc.

    Ask most non-Americans about the national anthem pregame tradition, they’ll tell you it’s weird.




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  28. James Pearce says:

    Pretty bold of them to enforce an off-the-field, before-game violation with an in-game yardage penalty. So they want to end the protests and have decided that dividing locker rooms is the way to do it….

    Brilliant.




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  29. Todd says:

    @Kathy: Love the song (will probably be stuck in my head now for the next hour or so, thanks). But it’s a bit too long to play before a game, and not sure how its themes would be relevant to that setting. http://people.com/celebrity/don-mclean-talks-american-pie-song-meaning-before-manuscript-auction/




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  30. Todd says:

    @MarkedMan:

    … seems like common sense to me.

    If we lived in normal, common sense times, sure. But you know if players are “made” to stand for the anthem, the President and his supporters won’t be quiet about their “win” … there will be much taunting, and plenty of further controversy.

    I don’t see how this argument ends at all … much less ends “well” for the NFL owners.




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  31. Kathy says:

    @Todd:

    “Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
    While sergeants played a marching tune
    We all got up to dance
    Oh, but we never got the chance
    ‘Cause the players tried to take the field
    The marching band refused to yield
    Do you recall what was revealed
    The day the music died?”

    Doesn’t that almost seem fitting to the current controversy?




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  32. Stormy Dragon says:

    @MarkedMan:

    A policy that says “no political demomstrations by representatives of the league” when on duty and in front of the public seems like common sense to me.

    Requiring everyone to stand for the national anthem is itself a political demonstration.




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  33. teve tory says:

    OT: House conservatives yesterday introduced a 12-page resolution calling for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton and Robert Mueller.

    linky




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  34. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Kathy:

    Does it occur to anyone that forcing people into expressions of patriotism is a trait of dictatorships and totalitarian states?

    Not only that, it also helps to breed cynicism. In Brazil the same people that want to have the National Anthem being played on schools are the same people that want to pack everything and buy homes in Miami.




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  35. PJ says:

    @mattbernius:

    I just became a Jets fan.

    Are you aware that the owner is Christopher Johnson’s brother, Woody Johnson, who currently is the US Ambassador to the UK?




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  36. Moosebreath says:

    I think Chris Long got it right:

    “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.”




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  37. Leonard says:

    I can agree with the first sentence. The rest relies on assumptions.




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  38. teve tory says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    New York Jets co-owner and chairman Christopher Johnson announced that he will cover any of his players’ fines should they decide to kneel. “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. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t.”

    Johnson is pretty baller.




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  39. teve tory says:
  40. Pete S says:

    This is not an original thought by me, I originally saw it on Andrew Brandt’s twitter feed. I definitely agree though. I hope out of respect for the flag and anthem that beer and concession sales will be completely stopped during the playing of the anthem so that fans can be at their seats standing.

    I also hope that the NFL shows traditional respect for the flag by not using it on clothing or in advertising.




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  41. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This is fvcking chilling…

    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.

    The POTUS is saying that taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem is a deportable offense.
    Or, I suppose, we could just execute them. Isn’t that what they would do in N. Korea?
    What about making fun of his stupid fvcking hair?
    BTW…this comment came in Dennison’s 23rd interview with State TV. The other networks?
    ABC – 1
    CBS – 1
    CNN – 0
    NBC – 4 (if you count CNBC)




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  42. teve tory says:

    OT: the North Korea meeting for June 12 has just been cancelled.

    The Nobel Committee is reported to be scrambling for a replacement winner.




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  43. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The new rule says players have to stand. All they have to do is turn their back, or make some sort of hand signal. There are ways around this.




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  44. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: My understanding is that the NFL has a rule, one that the players union signed off on, disallowing political demonstrations. You can’t wear T-shirts, arm bands, pins or ribbons except under very specific circumstances (ex: black arm band to commemorate the death of a colleague). The people who refused to stand and later kneeled found a loophole.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think Kaepernick is an admirable person. He is risking his job in order to call attention to a real wrong. But that commercial, as opposed to civil, disobedience drags the NFL as an entity into the whole discussion.

    Should ushers be allowed to wear MAGA hats? Or only anti-Trump ones? Should hot dog vendors be allowed to wear “Build the Wall!” T-Shirts or only ones that support Dreamers? This is such a quagmire that I certainly understand why the entertainment business that is the NFL, like virtually every other business, has said they will not risk that business and the jobs of tens of thousands of people by losing their focus. They spend literally billions of dollars to present themselves in a certain way, for reasons solidly based in commercial realities. Believe me, when most commercial entities decide to endorse a cause outside of their business it is not done lightly.




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  45. wr says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: “The new rule says players have to stand. All they have to do is turn their back, or make some sort of hand signal. There are ways around this.”

    I vote for the Black Panther salute. (The original one, not one connected to the recent movie…)




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  46. Leonard says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: “The POTUS is saying that taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem is a deportable offense.”

    Yeah? Where’s the legislation or executive order? If there isn’t one, then he’s not saying it’s a deportable offense. You can dislike something even if you’rs President without making it law.




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  47. Tyrell says:

    @Stormy Dragon: All this stuff started with that Colin Kaepernick’s stunt.
    But the NFL has been having big problems before this latest problem:
    Viewing ratings in decline
    Slack attendance at many stadiums
    Too many mediocre games on tv
    Players getting in trouble and misbehaving
    Poor sportsmanship and self centeredness
    Overpaid players
    Increasing popularity of college football and other sports
    High costs of going to a game: tickets, parking, and $3.00 hot dogs!
    The NFL does not need more problems like the anthem antics have caused




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  48. al Ameda says:

    Presumably teams will be required to have cameras sweep the stands to see which fans are openly disrespecting the Anthem by chatting, going to get food, going to the rest rooms, or failing to put their hand over their heart? It’s important that fans honor our Anthem. Those who don’t should be forcibly removed from the stadium.




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  49. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @MarkedMan: That’s the main problem with playing the National Anthem. There is nothing that you do while the Anthem is being playing that’s not going to be extremely political. Standing for the anthem is political, ignoring it is political, protesting it is political.




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  50. wr says:

    @Leonard: ” You can dislike something even if you’rs President without making it law.”

    That’s odd. Could you explain why ten years later people like you are still complaining about how Obama said police were acting stupidly by arresting a black professor for being in his own home?




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