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:
Statement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pic.twitter.com/1Vn7orTo1R
— NFL (@NFL) May 23, 2018
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:
— NFLPA (@NFLPA) May 23, 2018
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:
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) May 23, 2018
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.